October 3 marked the beginning of Maine’s turkey season, and higher bird numbers have prompted state wildlife officials to drastically loosen hunting restrictions. Lasting until November 1, the extended fall season allows hunters more time and better opportunities on a wider parcel of state lands. Following a successful spring hunt, the bag limit is set at two wild turkeys of any age or gender. The state’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (DIFW) hope to cut down on the turkey population, which have been causing no small amount of trouble in the state over recent years.
It is hard to believe that at one time only a handful of turkeys called Maine home. Now, according to the Associated Press, over 60,000 of the birds reside in the state’s forests. It is not Maine’s prized state parks and wilderness that residents are concerned for, it is instead suburban gardens, city roads, and homes where the wild birds are unwelcome. As the turkey population swells, more and more of the birds are coming into contact with humans. While the outpouring of turkeys may be a welcome sight to hunters in preparation for the season, it is not as appreciated by homeowners dealing with broken windows and ravaged gardens. There have even been reports of attacks on humans.
Maine appears to be a case of what happens when restoration efforts go a bit too well.
“Originally we thought they’d only survive along the coast,” said George Smith, former executive director of the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine. “They’re all over the place.”
Still, wildlife officials are calling the state’s turkey population a runaway success and hunters could not be happier with the news.
“You know hunting is how we manage wildlife populations. So you know as we’ve seen the turkey population grow, we’ve been able to expand the turkey season, and that’s why we’re seeing more areas open to hunting. A longer hunting season and the ability to take two birds,” Mark Latti, a reactional access coordinator with the DIFW, told WMTW.
To deal with the increased population and hunter demand, Maine has also stepped up hunter safety programs. It is part of a national trend that has seen turkey hunting-related incidents nearly disappear.
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Rob Keck, “turkey hunting has become one of the safest outdoor activities whether you’re talking about team sports, other types of hunting, or outdoor hobbies such as mountain biking. The incident rate for turkey hunting has fallen to 2.95 injuries per 100,000 hunters, even though the number of turkey hunters has increased dramatically.”
Image courtesy U.S. Department of Energy