Once upon a time in the woods of a far north land, there lived a young man of modest means who made his meager living as a game keeper, watching over the many creatures that lived in the fields and forests.
One day, while tending to some of the wild fowl that lived in a nearby woodlot, the man came upon a stranger. The two exchanged pleasantries, then the stranger explained that he too was a gamekeeper, in the lands to the south, and that should the north woodsman ever venture his way, he would be welcome to visit.
Some time passed until one day the woodsman found himself near the flatlander’s home and decided to pay him a visit. He was in awe of the home, much larger and finer than his own. And he marveled at the abundance and diversity of wild creatures that lived around the flatlander. One in particular caught his attention, a large, strange-looking bird.
“This bird,” said the flatlander, “has been the source of great wealth and enjoyment for the people in my community. Like grains of wheat, its eggs grow into a crop that if properly tended continues to provide without end.” Seeing that the woodsman was enamored, he offered to make a gift of a pair of them, cautioning that he must always be a good steward of this gift.
The woodsman’s new flock grew slowly at first, but in time proliferated and spread across the land. Soon he began receiving requests from people who offered to pay him for the privilege of hunting and harvesting some of the strange birds. He was hesitant at first but then remembered the fine house the flatlander lived in, and so gradually began granting the privilege to a select few. He also remembered the flatlander’s words of caution, so while some birds were taken, enough were left to ensure there would always be more.
Years passed and the population of strange birds continued to grow in range and number, to the point where fees for the privilege of hunting them provided modest wealth not only to the gamekeeper but to those who lived where the birds thrived. Both men and birds might have lived happily ever after, were it not for a dark cloud that suddenly appeared.
One day, an avaricious orator from the forest fringe proposed a plan. First, he tried to excite the villagers by falsely proclaiming that the strange birds had become too numerous. Then he tried to rouse their ire by announcing, “The gamekeeper promised us these birds would make us wealthy, but they have provided us only with a meager income and a minimal source of food for all these years.” Some responded that the birds’ mere presence and the modest-but-steady-income they provided was wealth enough, but the orator wanted more. “If we bargain for the privilege of harvesting them all, just think of the money we’ll make and the feast we’ll have. It will be … golden.”
Seeing successful reintroduction efforts in other New England states, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife first brought wild turkeys back to the state in 1977 and 1978. Results were slow at first, but the population grew enough that by 1985, Maine held its first modern spring turkey season. Five hundred hunters who were awarded permits that year bagged a grand total of nine birds.
As the state’s flock slowly grew over the next three decades, IFW gradually increased hunting opportunity by expanding the areas open to hunting, lengthening the seasons, increasing permit numbers and bag limits, and eventually implementing new fall seasons. Their approach was always conservative, knowing how tenuous populations at the fringe of their geographic range can be. One bad winter, not unusual in the northwoods, could be disastrous.
Their conservative approach has paid off and we now have a very healthy, stable to slightly increasing turkey population that generates a substantial income in license sales, and a tremendous recreational opportunity. Seasons, bag limits and hunting effort are for the most part keeping pace with populations. Winter severity has not dealt a significant blow in some time, though the combination of hunting and winter has thinned bird numbers in some areas in recent years. In short, Maine’s wild turkey restoration program continues to be an unqualified success. But there’s a dark cloud looming.
There are some who, like the avaricious orator, think it’s time to cash in on our investment, to significantly increase turkey hunting opportunities at the risk of, or perhaps with the intent of significantly decreasing turkey numbers. Time will tell whether the fairy tale has a happy ending, but such fables are intended to teach us a lesson.
There’s a similar one about a lad who found a goose that laid golden eggs, and we know how that turned out.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: