Spring turkey season starts in the Midwest in just a few weeks. After a long winter, nothing beats the excitement of heading out in the early hours to try and find your tom. However, in your excitement to head out to hunt, you may want to practice some basic safety precautions to ensure you are not one of the dozens of turkey hunters injured each year. While accidental shootings during turkey season are rarely fatal, they do occur at a higher rate than during hunting seasons for other animals. This is likely due to a variety of factors, but if every turkey hunter practiced the following steps I believe this statistic could be drastically reduced.
- Always know your target and what is beyond. This one is crucial during turkey season as hunters in many states are not required to wear orange. Once you pull the trigger, there is no taking it back. Do not ever fire unless you are 100% sure that you are firing at a turkey and that there are no humans or other animals behind that turkey. Most states have requirements for the spring season that you can only hunt turkeys with beards, so there is no excuse to shoot at movement in the trees.
- Use caution when setting and moving decoys. Modern turkey decoys are so realistic-looking that they could be easily mistaken for a turkey by an overeager hunter. Keep in mind that when you are handling them, you are at risk. Pack your decoys into your hunting spot in bags instead of loose. Consider wearing an orange hat or vest when setting up your decoys.
- Don’t gobble on public land. I’m not going to pretend that you should never gobble to draw in a hen in the hopes of attracting a tom. It can be an effective tactic. However, it’s just not worth it to do unless you know that you are the only hunter around. If you are hunting public it’s best to just avoid gobbling altogether. It’s too easy for someone to hear that gobble and start moving in on your position with their adrenaline pumping.
- Know where your hunting partners are at all times. If you hunt with friends or family, come up with a plan if you head in separate directions. After you make a plan of who will be hunting where, stick to it until you can communicate to the others that you want to change things up. If you go walking towards someone else who doesn’t know you’re coming and you’re breaking brush, it increases your risk of being shot.
- If successful, pack out your turkey carefully. I highly recommend buying a cheap orange patch or keeping a spare orange vest with you. After you kill your tom, put on some blaze orange and wrap the bird in orange as well. This will avoid anyone deciding to shoot at the floating turkey moving through the woods with a hunter attached to it.
As you can see, most of these safety guidelines center around the fact that turkey hunters in Michigan (and many other states) do not wear orange. Increasing your visibility when not actively hunting and especially when handling anything that looks like (or is) a turkey is a great habit to get in. In a perfect world, every hunter would properly identify his target, but in reality, sometimes you have to act defensively to keep yourself safe from the small percentage of idiots in the woods. Most hunters are extremely conscientious and cautious and safely hunt each spring turkey season. Taking a few small steps can keep you from becoming a statistic.