How Can These Turkey Hunting Laws Be Legal?

By author of Turkey Blog with Steve Hickoff

A word or two on turkey call apps, baiting birds, and roost shooting

Game laws are intended to limit certain equipment and hunting tactics to ensure a certain degree of fair chase. Unfortunately, some hunting gear and strategies, while legal, stray over the line of sporting ethics. As the saying goes, “Legal ain’t always right.” Take the following examples, for instance.

We should be careful. The decimation of wild turkey flocks in the 20th century resulted from unbridled tactics, baiting and roost shooting included. Image by Russell Graves

In Maine, It's Legal to Use an E-Caller

In Maine, the use of electronic calling devices for hunting wild turkeys is legal. Yep, you heard right. I was surprised, too, the first time I read this regulation listed under “equipment” in the lawbook. Fact is, I thought it was a misprint. Predator calling, sure, but turkeys?

The turkey calling tradition — one many of us respect — is founded on using hand-held box calls, or pot and striker combinations, often custom-built, well-crafted devices that are nice to look at and hold. Some are folk art, with painted gobblers and hunting scenes. Mouth diaphragms, difficult to run for some, add to the challenge.

If you can call well enough to master the vocalizations of wild turkeys, and a bird slips into range as a result, that’s fair chase. Using an app on your phone to call in a turkey is not fair chase. Apart from this, it sends a bad message to youth or new hunters.

Upside is, no one I know does this. No one I know would.

In Texas, You Can Hunt Over Bait

Supplemental feeders aim at keeping wild turkeys on private properties — especially ranches monetizing hunts.

For instance, in Florida, a wild turkey “may not be taken if the hunter is less than 100 yards from a game feeding station when feed is present.” Oklahoma is even more specific, saying:

Turkeys may not be hunted or taken within 100 yards of any bait. Baiting is the placing, exposing, depositing, distributing or scattering of shelled, shucked or unshucked corn, wheat or other grain or other feed so as to constitute for such birds a lure, attraction or enticement, on or over any area where hunters are attempting to take them. The taking of turkey over standing crops, grain crops, properly shucked on the field where grown or grain found scattered solely as the result of normal agricultural operations is permitted.

In others however, like neighboring Texas, wild turkeys are baited to private ranch feeders without apology. You can sit right there and kill one if you want. Fact is, it's encouraged ... though it's sure not fair chase. Yeah, in some ways, baiting turkeys is a geographical deal, even an accepted philosophy of game management.

Down South, baiting is more common on private properties; again, even legal. Up North, in places like Vermont, baiting turkeys is illegal. The Green Mountain State regulation reads: “No person shall use electronic calling devices, bait, live decoys, or participate in cooperative drives” for turkeys.

Is it fair chase setting up the legal distance from a feeder? Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t. Doing so tips the scales in your favor a bit more. Fair chase baiting a turkey directly to your setup? Uh, no.

In New York, It's Legal to Shoot a Turkey Off the Limb

Wild turkey prohibitions should include the words it is illegal to shoot a turkey in a tree. Maine makes it illegal. Many states prohibit it. A good number of states don’t. Possibly errors of omission?

In New York state, unlike Maine, you can’t use an electronic calling or amplifying device to locate or hunt turkeys. But it is perfectly legal to shoot one out of a tree. Why? Because it’s not specifically stated as being illegal.

As turkey hunters know, it’s not all that hard to approach a roosted bird under the veil of darkness. Shooting a turkey out of a tree is not fair chase.

Easy Does It

We should be careful. The decimation of wild turkey flocks in the 20th century resulted from unbridled tactics, baiting and roost shooting included. Then again, wild turkey call apps are likely just a quirky feature in our world of hand-held devices. Right?

What makes Realtree.com the best online resource for turkey hunters? See for yourself. We cover all things turkey right here.