We rounded the corner into the Jugtown Forest trailhead parking area. A man was unloading his dirt bike for an afternoon cruise on the same trails we’d be using to (hopefully) connect with a late-season Maine longbeard. Bummer, I thought. Looks like we’ll have to go somewhere else. But my local guide and new friend Jim Wescott didn’t skip a beat. “Are you planning to hit the main trail or the pipeline?” he asked the man. Without further ado, they struck a friendly deal: We’d hunt the main trail, he’d hit the pipeline.
It was 8:30 a.m. and already a balmy 70-plus degrees. We started down the pristine pathway to 5,000 acres of privately managed forest open to public hunting and multi-use recreation. The sandy trails revealed tracks from hikers, ATV riders, whitetails, wild turkeys and even a black bear on this particular morning. It looked as if we were the only hunters leaving boot prints behind, which isn’t surprising, seeing as much of Maine’s public land hunting opportunities are widely overlooked.
Robb Cotiaux, Jim’s best friend who also happens to be the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Maine state chapter president, boiled over with excitement as we visited piece after piece of public ground. “Aren’t you worried about revealing all your honey-holes?” I asked. His response: “Are you kidding me? We can’t even scratch the surface of what’s available here.” After 3 solid days of canvassing extensive, longbeard-littered properties, I started to understand how Maine’s potential for topnotch turkey hunting might really be endless.
The Jugtown Forest, along with more than 7,000 additional acres of timberland in southwestern Maine, has become turkey hunting heaven—and not by chance. As Jim explained it, “Every time a chainsaw fires up, more turkey habitat is created.” Selective cutting of eastern white pines for lumber leads to a rich understory and early successional habitat, allowing turkeys to thrive. In this case, hens, jennies, jakes, gobblers and especially poults can tip their beaks to Hancock Lumber. This family owned timber company has found a way to balance a successful American business with bountiful benefits for outdoorsmen, notably hunters. Their sustainable timber management strategy aligns remarkably well with goals of conservation groups such as the NWTF.
Sure enough, as we reached a corner of Jugtown, a chainsaw echoed through the woods. But just minutes later, a roaring gobble sent our hearts vertical as we scrambled to find a setup. We played, the bird won.
It was time for me to hit the road and catch a plane in Portland, so we began our reluctant walk back to the truck. The mercury had risen to 84 degrees. Turkey season was a day short of closing in Maine—among the latest-running seasons in the country. It felt more like summer than spring as a group of sweaty mountain bikers appeared, questioned our luck and offered us some of their own before pedaling away.
Before reaching the wide-open pipeline clear-cut, I began a cautious creep to peep around the corner. Sure enough, there stood a group of jakes and hens in the distance. After a short stalk through the dense edge foliage, I poked my head up to find a periscoped jake in range of my 12 gauge. I tagged my Maine turkey on the same trail where a dirt biker had just enjoyed a morning ride.
In the final hour, I was glad to fill my cooler with a fine Maine jake.
This experience served as a shining example of the NWTF’s new initiative: Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. The new mission is all about habitat conservation and hunter recruitment. If the rest of the country’s land leaders can follow the responsible charge of companies like Hancock Lumber, and individuals can follow the generous footsteps of men like Jim and Robb, our turkey hunting heritage will hold strong.
Steamed lobster and pan-fried turkey makes for the ultimate Maine surf-and-turf.