As a result of recommendations in the recently completed Big Game Species Plan, the Department has been working to generate a data rich method of estimating the size of our wild turkey population to best inform hunting season regulations at the wildlife management district (WMD) level.
To achieve this goal, wildlife biologists worked with the University of Maine at Orono’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology to band almost 400 wild turkeys during this past winter. Trap sites were maintained throughout the state and turkeys were captured using rocket nets and drop nets. The trapping and banding required a significant amount of effort by our wildlife staff, game wardens, University of Maine staff, and many volunteers.
After the spring turkey hunting season, we were able to apply the harvest rate of banded birds to the number of turkeys registered during the season (6,612), which generated an estimate of how many male wild turkeys were available for harvest in the spring. Here’s how it works: at the start of the spring turkey hunting season, there were 216 banded male wild turkeys dispersed throughout the state as far as Houlton. Of those 216, 41 banded turkeys were harvested representing 18.9% of the banded sample. When we extrapolate that proportion to the 6,612 turkeys registered at tagging stations we are able to estimate that just under 35,000 male turkeys were available for harvest.
The estimate is still preliminary at this point as we work to incorporate other factors such as survival from time of capture to hunting season start, but, we are well on our way to having a better understanding of the number of wild turkeys on the Maine landscape. In addition to the spring harvest rate, we will be able to generate a fall harvest rate for both males and females, when both are legal to hunt during the fall season.
We plan to band turkeys again this coming winter, with the goal of increasing our banding sample and refine the population estimate by wildlife management district for future harvest management and season setting.