The #1 rule in every hunter safety course is “Be sure of your target and what’s beyond.”
If you hear an approaching bird, whether it’s footsteps or calling, you must assume it’s another hunter until you see the entire turkey. Not just the head. And not just the fan. The whole thing.
Today I want to talk about the most important part of hunting: safety. There are specific things you should do and some you definitely should not do to make sure you are safe and responsible while turkey hunting.
Turkey hunting safety is a subject that I’m passionate about, so I’m not going to apologize for being assertive in telling you these dos and don’ts. It could save a life.
Save Patriotism for the Parade
I’m as proud as anyone to be an American, but the turkey woods is no place to show your patriotism. That red, white, and blue could get you shot. For safety’s sake, don’t wear the colors of a wild turkey while you’re hunting, not even in a logo on your hat. With the rest of you in camouflage, that small area of color could be mistaken for a gobbler’s head.
Even wearing these colors under your camo can be dangerous. If there’s an area of color sticking out that you don’t notice, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way.
Here’s a hunter who’s worn a blue polo shirt and red hoodie under his jacket. But, oops, his collar is sticking up and didn’t get covered by his face mask.
See how similar the hunter looks to our turkey decoy in the brush? Think you could tell the difference at 30 yards?
Wearing black clothing on a hunt is not a very smart idea either. It’s the body color of a Tom. Remember, the cardinal rule of turkey hunting safety is be 100% sure of your target and what’s beyond it. Unfortunately, excitement sometimes clouds good judgment, and the results can be deadly.
Popularity Breeds Bad Habits
On the whole, turkey hunting has become more popular. With all the sporting goods stores’ merchandising and all the TV shows, there are a lot of new enthusiasts joining the hunt. It’s great that folks are getting out there, but it’s clear that not everyone is following one of the biggest rules of turkey hunting:
DON’T STALK TURKEYS…EVER.
That message has been printed in bold in just about every hunting guide, in every state. And yet, several times a season, I will encounter another hunter stalking in on my setup.
IT’S INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS. DON’T DO IT.
Both the caller and the stalker could get shot. In reality, there is very little chance a hunter could sneak up on a live gobbler anyway. Besides, the art of the hunt is to call the bird in close to within shotgun or bow range. We’re not going out there to shoot a turkey; we’re going to hunt turkeys.
I speak about turkey hunting safety from experience, having had some close encounters, and I’m not talking about with turkeys.
Two particular instances are forever etched in my mind. They’ve made me more cautious when hunting turkeys. However, I’d rather learn turkey hunting safety lessons from a book than from dangerously close calls.
The first incident occurred one year in late spring season. The ground ferns in the area I was hunting had grown a couple of feet high. It was a swampy area between farm fields with a mix of hemlocks and red brush. The turkeys sometimes crossed through this area on their way to feeding and roost sites.
It was a foggy morning, and the birds weren’t talking. Although the spot had thick cover, I had set up in an area with some shooting lanes. Sitting at the base of a large hemlock, I had been calling off and on for about 45 minutes.
I began to hear slow and methodical steps approaching. Through the fog, I spotted a dark “fan” coming toward me through the ferns.
As it got closer, I made out the shape of another hunter crawling toward me. His seat cushion had flipped up on his back as he crawled in on his stalk, and in the fog, it looked just like a turkey fan.
It was an unnerving and eerie situation there in the early morning fog. I halted him with a loud “Stop!”
I don’t know if it got through, but I gave him a lecture on turkey hunting safety and the incredible danger of stalking turkeys.
It makes me a little sick to my stomach to think about what could have happened if I hadn’t waited to be sure of my target.
Remembering another close call still makes me shudder. Hunting on private land, I just didn’t expect to have to worry about other hunters. But one nimrod, hearing my calling, had snuck in behind me. It was spring gobbler season, and I was only making hen calls, but apparently he didn’t know the difference.
In my peripheral vision, I spotted the motion of him raising his gun, ready to shoot my decoy. Thank God I saw him and was able to stop him. To put it nicely, I clearly expressed my dissatisfaction with his conduct.
Had I been in his line of fire and not seen him…well, you probably wouldn’t be reading my blog right now.
Halt! Who Goes There?
If you do spot another hunter trying to stalk in on your setup, in a loud voice, say “Stop!” Don’t wave your hands or arms. The motion may prompt the excited stalker to further misidentify your movement as that of a turkey.
Make sure you educate this person on how they have put both your life and theirs in grave danger. This is a big deal.
Don’t worry about spoiling your setup by hollering “Stop!” The careless stalker has already blown it for you. After a little conversation with the other dangerous hunter, it’s time to move far from that area and try again.
Now, in the next few words, I may tick off some decoy manufacturers, but they’re not being responsible. Neither are the TV channels offering shows featuring their products. It seems it’s all about sponsors and ratings. How about safety?
Many of the turkey hunting shows now trending on the outdoor sport channels feature gobbler decoys that are designed to be held while stalking. Some are umbrella-shaped, and some are just turkey fans. Others are designed as half a gobbler with tail feathers.
In the mania for manufacturers to come up with the latest and greatest, they’ve recklessly compromised the sportsman’s safety. Several companies are at fault.
I know, no one is forcing the sportsman to buy and use these products. But they shouldn’t be made, and they shouldn’t be advertised.
Let’s compare turkey hunting safety to that of deer hunting. Ask yourself, would you send your kid out in the woods to run around with a mounted deer head during deer season? Then would you let him craw through a field with it to stalk deer? Would you buy him one of these get-ups, just because it’s the latest and greatest thing being promoted? Is it worth it, if even one person gets shot? I don’t want to end on a somber thought, but I’m cringing before it happens. Because it will.
Risk vs. Reward & Turkey Hunting Safety
If you’re doing something unsafe, like stalking or using a handheld decoy, just for the possibility of maybe shooting a turkey, you could easily get shot. Would it be worth it?
Or, you might shoot someone else, and you’d have to live with that for the rest of your life.
I don’t think the possible (and improbable) gain is worth the terrible, life-and-death risk.
Be safe, hunt turkeys, bag gobblers, and have fun. And don’t ever stalk or use one of these dangerous handheld decoys.
Do you have any other turkey hunting safety tips? Share them in the comments below.
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