Maine’s turkey hunting season will begin on May 1st this year. Turkey hunting has a special place in my heart. It’s the hunt that got me into hunting. It’s the hunt where my oldest son got to see his mom shoot a turkey for the first time. It’s the hunt where my oldest son and I shared a hunt together and each shot a turkey at the same time. It’s the hunt that started it all. But what’s most special is that this is a hunt that John and I continue to do together to this day.
Let’s go back to 2002. Maine was holding a lottery drawing for turkey hunting. John asked me if I would put my name in for a permit. I said “sure, but if I get a permit, I get to decide if I’ll shoot it.” Back then you had a sub-permittee who could also shoot if the permit holder didn’t.
Sure enough, I was the only family member drawn for the permit! Even better, I was picked for season A, which meant the first week of the hunt. So the real test came when I had to fire the shotgun. If I could shoot it, I would shoot the turkey; if not, then John would get the honors. Although he never let on, I’m sure John was somewhat disappointed (although he denies it to this day) when I shot the 12 gauge and hit the milk jug…and I was still standing afterward. I would be hunting for turkey!
John and I started scouting for turkeys by driving around Albion since that’s where we always saw them. Unlike now, turkeys weren’t throughout Maine and were found primarily near big silage piles on big cattle farms. We managed to get permission from several places but some of the other farms were pretty free about giving permission to everyone who asked, so the chances of hunter interference was pretty certain. We got sole permission at this farm where a monster tom strutted regularly for the hens on the farm. This farm required us to drive into a gravel pit, then hike up the hill to the other high side of the pasture and set up for the hunt. It was a physically demanding climb without my gun in tote. I knew that was going to be my biggest obstacle once I would be carrying all of my hunting gear.
We signed up for turkey school through Inland Fisheries and Wildlife which was a lot of fun. We were clueless about turkey hunting. No orange required, but don’t wear blue, red or white either…and all kinds of other do and don’t rules meant to keep hunters safe. We also learned about turkey poop which I’ll never forget. Toms and jakes poop “J” shaped and hens poop ice cream cone shaped poops. This really is important when scouting for turkey!
I bought my first set of camouflage clothing including a hat, a mask and gloves. I even bought John some camo since we didn’t have much, and I’ve never lived down that camo became ‘important’ only after I started hunting. Okay, I admit it…I enjoy buying camo (not pink either) especially when I buy it for me…lol. Everything was the new camo pattern, but everything was also cotton; I had a lot to learn about hunting clothes. We bought turkey box calls, locator calls, turkey shot ammo, turkey vests, seats, turkey decoys, slates…we were prepared. All we needed was a turkey.
We set up the blind under a bunch of hemlocks that hung over a fence line the weekend before the first day of the big hunt. We placed a big camo drape in front with brush concealing our bodies. We had perfect cover. The first day of the season was almost at the end of the April so the field was not only free of snow, but also greening up.
The Sunday night before opening day, we were hit with a freak spring snowstorm. I mean it snowed about five or six inches. We had not counted on needing winter clothes, or rain coats since the temps were supposed to rise into the 50’s later that day. Any way we looked at it, it was going to be a gross wet mess. But we threw together some rain ponchos, rain pants and off we went. The snow didn’t help hide us as we crossed the field, but we were there before daylight and that’s all that mattered. John strategically placed our one hen decoy out about 20 yards, the distance for a great shot.
As soon as the sky began to lighten and daylight broke, John began to work his magic on the slate call. He purred, and did the fly down with his hat just like we learned. The then slowly added clucks and yelps. Turkeys gobbled! John began purring and calling on that slate call and just like text book, out of nowhere, that huge tom came barreling over the hill on a dead run headed right for our decoy. He was so fat that he waddled from side to side as he ran. Once he got to the decoy, he stopped, plumped himself up and began strutting. John purred. He dropped his feathers, stuck out his neck and let a gobble and I shot. The hunt was over in about five minutes. We barely made it past legal hunting time, but we had a turkey. A beautiful wet turkey. By the time we retrieved him, his feathers were soaked from the flapping of his wings before he died.
John carried my turkey out because I knew when I held it that I’d never make it to the truck. He still carries my birds…two last year! We knew he was big. My turkey topped the scales at 24.5 pounds! The state record was just over 25 pounds at the time. Unfortunately, I never had the man at the tagging station certify my weight and records are only kept for 10 years, so I never got my Maine Wild Turkey Club patch. It’s a club for all turkeys over 20 pounds. I mounted his beautiful tail and 9-7/8 inch beard. His spurs were 7/8″ long but I did not keep them.
Within five minutes of returning to the truck we were met by two game wardens. They knew of this big bird and they heard me shoot. It was an interesting conversation because they assumed it was John who shot the turkey and kept directing questions to him. When John told them I shot the turkey their eyes showed the surprise, and then came the questions. I really did shoot that turkey Mr. Game Wardens! My how things have changed since then! I’m glad to see more women are out there so that I’m no longer the exception to the rule.
We baked Mr. Turkey but it wasn’t all that good; he was pretty dry. Unlike a store bought turkey, wild turkey has a much deeper and narrower breast so laying him on his back to roast was near impossible. We’ve since adopted other ways to prepare wild turkey; my favorite is just putting it in a stew with lots of gravy.
This girl still holds the family record for the biggest turkey, but I haven’t shot one with a bow. Perhaps 2016 will be the year! I hope no matter who you are, that you’ll get out and try turkey hunting. Don’t forget to bring a wife, husband, daughter, son, or a friend. Even if you don’t get a turkey, watching the sun rise above the horizon on a brisk spring morning, and watching the world awaken before your eyes, is enough to get you hooked.