Maine’s spring wild turkey season will open early and the required tagging of the big-game bird by hunters will be suspended this hunting season in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife announced Tuesday.

The requirement to tag birds at registration stations is being suspended in order to comply with social distancing guidelines during the pandemic.

There will be two youth hunting days this spring – this Saturday and Monday – and adult hunters will take the field on May 2, giving both youth hunters and adult hunters an extra day to hunt. The season will conclude as scheduled on June 6. All license and permit requirements apply, as do spring bag limits: one to two birds, depending on the part of the state where the bird is harvested.

Biologists use the tagging process to gather information about harvest numbers and the health of the turkey population, but the one-time tagging suspension is not expected to impact the state’s turkey population, Maine Wildlife Division Director Nate Webb said.

Maine’s wild turkey population is estimated to be about 70,000 birds, and hunters generally harvest between 3,000 and 6,000 birds, the IFW said.

“It does make enforcement a little more challenging,” Webb said. “But it’s not dissimilar to other species where there is no registration required, like with brook trout. We believe these measures are in the best interests of the hunters and the tagging stations” because of the pandemic.

In an attempt to gather the biological data lost through the suspension of the registration requirement, the IFW may ask turkey permit holders to fill out a post-hunt survey about how many birds they harvested and the locations.

Hunters also will be asked to report a banded turkey if they harvest one. Information on how to do so is on the band.

The IFW banded male wild turkeys as part of a study it started in 2018 with the University of Maine to help get more refined turkey population estimates across Maine’s 29 Wildlife Management Districts. The study has one more year left and the IFW hopes to have updated turkey population estimates in two years, Webb said.

There are roughly 250 banded male turkeys in the field right now spread out across the state, Maine Wildlife Biologist Kelsey Sullivan said.


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