Focus on Safety for a Successful Spring Turkey Season

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The two most critical ingredients for a successful spring turkey hunt are a detailed hunting plan in one hand and a firm grip on firearm safety in the other, state recreation safety officials say.

“Planning your turkey hunt is critical when two or more hunters are jointly hunting the same area – and then agree to separate if the birds are not spotted,” says Tim Lawhern, longtime hunter education administrator for the Department of Natural Resources and now administrator of DNR' s Enforcement and Science.

Lawhern notes that accidents can happen when the plan is abandoned. “Soon, one hunter is stalking either the decoy or the call of the other hunter.”

The best way to avoid this potentially deadly situation, he says, is to “have a clear understanding and agreement on the areas each hunter will hunt, and then stick to that plan.”

Such a plan also will help hunters be certain of their intended target. “In nearly all incidents where a person is shot by a turkey hunter, the shooter later said they thought they were shooting a turkey,” Lawhern says. “With the introduction of more realistic turkey decoys, a turkey hunter must make every effort to verify that what they are shooting at is a real bird and not just another hunter’s decoy.”

Plus, Lawhern says, the eyes can play tricks when combining lighting, colors, and angles. “Imagination coupled with a strong desire to see a turkey produces a momentary image that isn’t real. This moment, while short, lasts long enough for some to pull the trigger.”

DNR statistics show that 80 percent of accidents during turkey hunting seasons involve hunters mistaking other hunters for game or hunters failing to positively identify their target. The only legal turkey during the spring season is a male or bearded turkey.

Hunters also are encouraged to remember that a successful and enjoyable hunt has more to do with safety skills and turkey expertise than with loading up on the latest hunting gear and gadgets. Ultimately, it’s a hunter’s knowledge, skill, patience, and well-practiced abilities that make or break the hunt, Lawhern says.

Not sure where to start? Lawhern recommends making use of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s collection of turkey hunting tips and videos.

Warden Jon King, the new hunter education administrator for DNR, also says that turkey hunters – as is the case with all hunters – must practice four basic safety guidelines when handling their firearms: “Treat every firearm as if it is loaded, always point the muzzle in a safe direction, be sure of your target and what’s beyond it, and keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until ready to shoot.”