Safety Rules for Turkey Hunters

How to avoidturkey hunting's gravest danger

My huntingpartner belted out a series of hen yelps. Just across a wooded hollow, a tomdouble-gobbled, and soon added a third. The day was full of promise.

We were on aspring hunt in northern Missouri. I was a bit nervous, partly because I was aguest on private property and didn't know the terrain, but mainly because thepremises were a little crowded. Ten hunters were utilizing 1,500 acres. At 150acres per hunter, there wasn't much room to roam. But each hunter, or two-hunter team, had been assigned a specific area and asked not to stray fromit.

There was noanswer to our next calls. With decades of hunting experience between us, weknew this didn't necessarily mean the tom had fled. More likely, he was movingin silently.

We waited."There he is," my partner said. A bronze-and-black shape was anglingdown the opposite slope of the draw in our direction. I was the designatedshooter. Sitting against a tree, I extended the shotgun across my knee.

No more than 70yards away now, the turkey appeared in and out of the gaps in the tree trunks.When the bird reached the bottom of the hollow, he'd be in range. I slipped offthe safety and took aim. But I would wait until the tom was closer, in a clearspot, to make sure I saw a beard, a glowing head, and other identifyingfeatures.

Suddenly,something didn't look right.

"My God, it'sa man," my partner gasped.

Indeed, it was ahunter with a gobbler slung over his shoulder. His camo blended in perfectlywith the wooded backdrop, and the turkey's colors stood out. I shakily broughtmy gun down as a hollow, fearful feeling swept over me. I'd pointed a gun atanother human being for several seconds. I was stunned.

We hailed thewalking hunter and talked to him. He was taking a shortcut back to camp. Hereadily acknowledged that he'd spooked a gobbling tom, but he never heard ourhen yelps nor guessed that somebody might have been calling to it. Although allhunters in camp had discussed our morning destinations, we hadn't gone over ourroutes back to the lodge.

PREMATURECLOSURE It's an illusion to which even a veteran turkey hunter can fall victim: Agobbler gobbles. And again. You see something approaching, and youautomatically assume it's a bird. This process is what experts in turkeyhunting safety call "premature closure."

Though accidentaldeaths and injuries among turkey hunters have declined dramatically in recentyears, premature closure still poses a serious hazard, particularly to seasonedhunters. "It's a common factor in reported accidents," says Tom Hughes,a National Wild Turkey Federation biologist. "And hunters who have had somesuccesses are more likely to react to a similar set of stimuli. They connectthe dots in their heads without positively identifying their target."

Never assume youwon't be susceptible to premature closure. That's the kind of attitude thatcould get somebody killed. Memorize the checklist below before your nexthunt.

RULES FOR THE WOODS

So that you don't ever mistake a human for a gobbler,resulting in injury or a fatality, NWTF hunting-safety experts advise thefollowing: [1] BE AWARE. Realize that it can happen to you. [2] BE SKEPTICAL. Always question what you see and especially what you hear.Top-notch callers sound very much like the real thing. [3] CLOSE THE DISTANCE. Try to call a gobbler to within 40 yards or less,making identification easier. [4] MAKE A POSITIVE ID. If you see what you think is a turkey, be sure toidentify specific features such as its head, beard, wings, tail, and eye. Don'trely on just shape and color.