Dos and Don'ts of Safe Turkey Hunting
By Ron Eakes, Certified Wildlife Biologist, Retired
It’s almost that time of year again when hunter’s thoughts turn to love. Probably not the type of love you are thinking about, but to the love of spring turkey hunting. There’s nothing quite like the hair-raising thrill of a tom’s gobble booming through woods or the heart-pounding suspense of a drumming gobbler coming to your call. This love affair begins in most Alabama counties on March 15. For most who participate in this annual rite of spring, turkey hunting is special. It is also special in several ways from the standpoint of safety.
You may be familiar with the standard firearms safety and safe hunting practices associated with any type of hunting: handle your gun with care; always keep the muzzle of your gun pointed in a safe direction; never shoot at a sound or movement; and always positively identify your target before pulling the trigger. Some additional defensive tactics should always be used when spring turkey hunting.
Turkey hunting safety begins when you even get dressed for the hunt. Never wear red, white or blue clothing that could be visible to another turkey hunter. These are the colors of a spring gobbler’s head and neck. An irresponsible hunter might think you are a turkey and aim a gun or even shoot before properly identifying you as a hunter and not a gobbler. Avoid wearing white tee shirts or socks that may unknowingly become exposed while hunting. These items of clothing as well as the exposed skin of your hands and face might be mistaken for the white parts of a gobbler’s head. Dark socks and undershirts as well as a head net and gloves can camouflage you from the sharp eyes of a turkey, as well as avoid the potentially dangerous and unwanted attention of another hunter.
Select a calling site that is as tall as your head and wider than your shoulders, like a large tree, stump or rock. Objects such as small trees won’t hide slight movements of your head, hands or shoulders when calling. Another hunter could mistake these movements for a turkey. Using a background larger than your seated silhouette when calling also helps protect your back, where you can’t see. In addition, don’t hide so well that you can’t see what is happening around you. You can’t harvest a turkey that you can’t see, and should you call in another hunter you both want to know about it.
Don’t try stalking or sneaking in on a turkey for a shot. The odds that the bird will see you and spook go way up. If the sounds you were hearing turn out to be another hunter, you might be mistaken for the turkey he’s been calling to. If this happens, your chances of becoming involved in a hunting accident increase greatly. Also avoid using a gobbler call when you know other hunters are in the area. When you gobble, the roll of hunter may be reversed and you may become the hunted.
Always assume every sound you hear and movement you see is another hunter. If you see another hunter approaching, sit still and speak to them in a loud voice. Never wave, stand or use your call to announce your presence. Any of those signals might be mistaken for a turkey.
Be aware of “turkey fever” and its prevention. Hunters have been known to hyperventilate or suffer tunnel vision in close encounters with turkeys. During the excitement of the hunt, it is easy to see what you are looking for, rather than what is actually there. The right attitude, with safety foremost, greatly reduces the odds of a mishap. Disregard any kind of peer pressure that could cause you to take chances or do things you shouldn’t in an effort to harvest a bird. Better to miss a chance at a shot than to take one that you end up regretting the rest of your life.
Spring turkey hunting is an exciting and challenging s port. Following the basic rules of firearms safety as well as defensive turkey hunting tactics will help ensure it’s also a safe spring for all concerned.