Ethical Turkey Hunters are Safer and Happier

There is nothing quite so beautiful to see than a three-year old Tom Turkey on the opening day of turkey season in your state. Now, to control your heart rate! Spring turkey hunting is exciting, but please be sure to stay safe and ethical. Joe Forma Photo

Ethics are important for all hunters, but for turkey hunters, they can make the difference between a pleasurable outdoor experience and disaster.  If you don’t believe it, ask David Bozoian.

He was hunting on his land in Lewis County, Missouri, when two men who lacked ethics came onto his property.  The trespassers stalked close enough to Bozoian that he could hear their voices.  Instead of shouting to alert the trespassers to his presence, Bozoian sat quietly.  Moments later, two shots rang out and lead pellets hissed over his head.  The violation of trespass law and hunting ethics earned one of the shooters a $200 fine.  That wouldn’t have been much comfort to Bozoian if the shots had been a little lower.

Deficient hunting ethics play a role in about three-quarters of all spring turkey hunting accidents, according to statistics from the Missouri Department of Conservation.  That is the percentage of firearms-related turkey hunting accidents that involve a victim mistaken for game.  In these incidents, the shooters failed to observe the most basic rule of hunting safety – positively identifying their target.  Instead, they shot at a flash of color, a movement glimpsed through undergrowth or a sound they thought was a turkey.

Positive Identification

Positive identification requires waiting to see the entire animal.  Good hunting ethics also dictate waiting for a clear shot to ensure a clean kill. When you can see the whole turkey, in the open, inside your shotgun’s killing range, it’s pretty hard to mistake it for another hunter or a decoy.

Because safety is an integral part of hunting ethics, ethical hunters avoid actions that could put anyone – including themselves – in harm’s way.  For example, safe hunters don’t wear white, red or blue – colors associated with gobblers’ heads.  T-shirts, handkerchiefs and even socks in these colors have been cited as contributing to turkey hunting accidents.

Turkey hens sitting on their bed will stay absolutely motionless, often with eyes closed, to let hunters and predators walk right on by. Nature at work protecting their own. Joe Forma Photo

Avoid Becoming a Target

Head-to-toe camouflage is another must for turkey hunters. More than one hunter has been injured when another hunter noticed an un-camouflaged hand moving while operating a turkey call.  Another way to avoid being shot is to hang a hunter-orange hat or vest in nearby vegetation before settling in to call.  Turkeys only associate orange with danger if it is on a moving hunter, so advertising your presence to other hunters won’t decrease your chances of tagging a gobbler.

Any turkey hunter who values his or her skin should bring hunter-orange clothing to the field and wear it when moving from place to place.  That is among the easiest ways to reduce the chances of being mistaken for game.

One sure way to attract the attention of every hunter in your area is to use a gobble call.  If you do, you should take extra precautions to avoid becoming a target.  For starters, always position yourself to minimize the chances of line-of-fire accidents.  Sitting with your back against a tree that’s wider than your shoulders eliminates the possibility of being shot from behind.  Also try to position yourself with substantial barriers, such as brush piles or hillsides, to your sides.

Decoys Work – Use Caution

The use of decoys requires extra safety awareness, particularly if you include a fake jake or gobbler. These look like targets to other hunters.  Even a hen can draw fire from an inexperienced or unethical hunter.

When using decoys, try to position them behind some visual screen so they would be invisible to hunters approaching from directly in front of you. This reduces the likelihood of line-of-fire injuries. Placing decoys in a spot lower than your calling position also helps keep you out of the line of fire.

Make sure decoys are completely hidden when moving between hunting spots. You don’t want another hunter to see a turkey’s head bobbing through the woods under your arm.

Never Stalk a Turkey

On the other side of the equation, your first thought when you hear a gobble should be whether it might be coming from another hunter.  Don’t be the one who puts others in danger.  It’s not a good idea to try to stalk within shooting distance of a gobbler.  For one thing, the odds are against you, because gobblers’ vision is much keener than yours.  More important, your stealthy movements could make another hunter think a tom is approaching, and you have made yourself a target.

Whenever possible, set up to call in spots that offer a clear field of view ahead and to your sides.  This way, it will be impossible for another hunter to approach unseen.  If you do see another hunter, shout to advertise your presence.  Yes, you will spoil your chances of shooting a turkey at that spot, but that probably was already ruined by the interloper.  Waving a camouflaged arm can make you look like something to shoot at.

Resist the temptation to split up when hunting with a partner.  The ease with which you can lose track of your buddy’s location is evident in hunting incident reports where friends or family members shoot one another.  It happens every year.

These defensive measures are particularly important when hunting public land, such as conservation areas or national forest.  But don’t be lulled into complacency if you are the only one with permission to hunt a particular spot.  Remember David Bozoian’s near miss and take every possible precaution to avoid being or creating a victim.