Hey, all you hunters, there may now be some big game hunting out there that you have overlooked or just not aware that they have quietly slipped into the area in great numbers during the past few years.
They qualify as big game in the bird category, they are wily creatures and require a little more skill on your part to have a successful hunt than the other “big game” in our region. There are about 30,000 of them across the State of Maryland, thanks to trapping and relocation programs conducted by the DNR.
I am talking about the Eastern Wild Turkey. The Spring Hunting season for turkeys is coming up and I thought I’d pass along to you some of the things I know about our wild gobbler how to go about adding one to your big game resume. The Eastern Wild Turkey is not the same as the domestic bird that is pen raised or free-ranged and harvested by the millions for our Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas dinners.
The turkey we have for Thanksgiving traces its heritage to about 1500 when Spanish Explorers took a shipload of Mexican turkeys that had been domesticated by the Aztecs for hundreds of years, back to Spain. They were larger than most of the 6 or 7 species of turkeys living today.
In the beginning, the elite were the only ones who ate turkey. Soon it spread throughout Europe and Asia and when the Pilgrims landed on our shores, they knew of the gobbler and how good he tasted. One big difference, they found the Eastern Wild Turkey smaller that the bigger European birds and they could fly high & fast and ran like a deer.
Over the past few years small groups of the Eastern Wild Turkey have been spotted in the fields and forest and now I have talked with my friends and relatives who live and hunt in Maryland and they report seeing flocks of a dozen birds or more around Kingsville, Bradshaw and Joppatowne. In northern Harford County there are tracts of farmland that are dedicated to the propagation of Wild Turkeys so start scouting…but, as with all hunting, remember you must have written permission to hunt on private land and hunting is forbidden on State Park land.
Your regular hunting license is all you need to hunt turkey and the Spring hunting season for the Eastern Wild Turkey is approaching so you need to prepare. The regular Spring Season begins one half hour before sunrise on April 18 and ends on May 9 at noon. You may hunt every day during that period but only from one half hour before sunrise until noon.
The Junior season opens on April 13 and ends on May 23 and shooting is allowed from one half hour before sunup and lasts until sundown. Junior hunters are 16 or under and must be accompanied by an unarmed adult, 21 years of age or older. You can shoot only turkeys that sport a beard (males) hanging from their chest and your daily bag limit is one. You have to check in the turkeys you kill and there is a seasonal bag limit of 2.
You may only use a shotgun with shot size #4 or smaller in the Spring shoot. A regular bow is legal as well as a cross-bow. I keep mentioning “Spring Season” or “Spring Shoot”, because there is a Fall Season in a more limited area and the rules are slightly different.
Turkey hunting is a sport where caution and common sense come into play more than other shooting sports. They are hunted when they are in “cover” and also sometimes you hunt them from “cover”. If you hear an old “Tom” calling incessantly from the bushes, it is probably another hunter working his caller, so go elsewhere, lest you are mistaken for another old “Tom’ on the prowl and get a load of #4 or an arrow. Besides, you can’t sneak up on a turkey anyhow, he’s much smarter in the area of sneaky than you are.
If you are lucky enough to bag an old bearded Gobbler, don’t just throw him over your shoulder and walk out through the bushes with your trophy. There may be a pumped up hunter around the bend who hears the rustling and sees those bright feathers spread out and once more there could that fatal mistake. There are other rules you should familiarize yourself with, like the regulations on baiting, no electronically recorded calling devices or mechanical decoys and know your tagging procedures.
They are out there, guys and girls, and it may take a little skill and expertise on your part but you can be the first in the neighborhood to say you bagged an Eastern Wild Turkey.