Biologist expects good turkey season

Maine’s wild turkey hunting season is in full swing — Youth Turkey Day was last Saturday, all hunters can hunt until June 1 — and biologist Brad Allen said he expects hunters to have lots of success this year.

Allen, the bird group leader for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said last week that in order to understand what’s happening today, you have to think back to conditions that existed two years ago.

“I think it will be an excellent season … because 2011 was a really good production year, and that means there are a lot of 2-year-old males out there. There are a lot of longbeards,” he said.

Younger male turkeys, called “jakes,” as well as mature “longbeards” can be legally shot by hunters during the season.

Allen said all reports he heard before the season began led him to believe that there are plenty of birds available.

“[There is] an excellent number of birds everywhere,” Allen said. “Everyone’s telling us there are too many, but from a hunter’s standpoint, I think it’s just right. It’ll be a great season.”

Allen explained that the weather during the nesting season, when turkeys are sitting on eggs, plays a big role in turkey population growth. In 2011, he suspects the weather was particularly favorable.

“Although wild turkeys are classified as big game animals in Maine, they’re just a big ground-nesting bird that has a lot of eggs,” Allen said. “Most of the birds with that life history strategy rely on good nesting conditions. That’s typically average moisture to a little drier than normal. I can’t remember what the weather was like in 2011, but I’d bet it was slightly drier than normal, which would have led to [population growth].”

Allen said turkeys fare much better during dry nesting seasons for a couple of important reasons.

“One of the interesting aspects of weather in spring, is it’s easy to think eggs chilling, baby birds getting cold and hypothermic [during a cold, wet year],” Allen said.

“But if you dig a little deeper into those conditions you find that a turkey has to sit on the ground, protecting those eggs, for weeks,” he said. “And if you have a really moist April and early May, it creates really good scenting conditions for nest predators. When it’s wet, the foxes, bobcats, coyotes have an advantage of being able to find the hens, and you get hens killed on nests.”

In dry years, that threat is reduced, and the turkeys flourish.

And two years later, lucky hunters like us get to enjoy the results.


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.