By Capt. Larry Case
Hunter safety while turkey hunting is serious business. I know this because I’m a conservation officer who has seen the unfortunate results of some tragic turkey hunting accidents. For the last 33 years, I’ve served with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Section. If every turkey hunter who went afield observed the following eight rules, the woods would be a much safer place to be each spring.
1) Positively identify your target before you pull the trigger. Plain and simple, if all hunters followed this one, there would be no more “I thought I saw a turkey” shootings. Don’t fire because you think you see a turkey’s red head or a beard. Be certain the target is a turkey before you pull the trigger.
2) Refrain from stalking spring gobblers. A turkey that hangs up and refuses to move but continues to gobble can tempt us to keep going and slip up on him. Don’t do it! You don’t know who is in the area. One hunter sitting and watching and a second hunter crawling to this turkey is a recipe for tragedy. I know. I have seen it too many times.
3) Avoid the colors red, white and blue in your hunting attire. These are the colors of a mature gobbler’s head, so don’t wear a cap that includes any or all of them. And for heavens sake, don’t have a white handkerchief sticking out of a back pocket. Remember, too, the old nemesis white socks. When you sit down, your pants leg will reveal the color that could get you shot. I have seen it more than once.
Turkey hunters avoid blaze orange like the black plague. They shouldn’t. When we are walking and calling, trying to toll up a gobbler — or carrying one back to your truck after a successful calling session — a blaze orange hat or vest could save your life.
4) If you arrive at your area and other hunters are present, move to a different spot. It’s the simple law of averages: the more turkey hunters in an area, the more likely there will be an incident. Put the truck in gear and try that place down the road you were saving for just this occurrence.
5) If you do encounter another hunter, speak to them in a loud, clear voice. Never wave or otherwise move to alert another hunter to your presence, especially if the other hunter is stalking the sound of your calls.
Most hunters don’t want to speak out because they are afraid of spooking the turkey they’re working. No old gobbler is worth getting shot. Call out to the other hunter, “Try this turkey another day!”
6) When setting up on a turkey, select a tree, rock or other object larger than your body to hide and protect you from the rear. The tree you lean against should be wider and taller that you are. You also need some clear area in front of you to watch for the approaching gobbler – and also hunters who do not follow rule No. 2.
7) Be cautious when transporting and setting up decoys. Decoys work, which is why they have become so popular. We need to be careful about carrying them in the woods. Don’t let that red head stick out of your vest. And when setting the decoy, think how another hunter may approach so you are not in the line of fire.
8) Calling that you think might be another hunter yelping could be just that. Leave the area. Taking the chance is not worth it. We all know that turkeys occasionally make some bad calls, but if you are just not sure about that hen out there, get up and leave.
This is not a complete list of safety tips. Most of us would be well served to call our state game agency and take a hunter education course. Hunt smart and hunt hard, but above all, live to hunt another day.
In addition to being a West Virginia Natural Resources Police Officer for 33 years, Capt. Larry O. Case III has been addicted to turkey hunting for even longer.