Wisconsin DNR Hoping for Accident Free Turkey Season

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More than 100,000 hunters will take to woods and fields over the next six weeks in pursuit of the wild turkey with 2007 marking the 24th year of modern turkey hunting in Wisconsin.

"Turkey hunting has become the fastest growing outdoor sporting opportunity in the country. Each year, more and more specialized equipment and methods become available for the turkey hunting enthusiasts to try and outwit this quarry," says Chuck Horn, Department of Natural Resources conservation warden supervisor at Dodgeville.

The spring hunting season in Wisconsin runs April 11 through May 20, with the season divided into six 5-day Wednesday through Sunday time periods.

However, as the sport grows, Horn says, so does the possibility of hunting accidents.

"When you consider that a turkey hunter is usually dressed in complete camouflage and makes sounds that imitate his or her target, it is easy to see why hunters need to be safety conscious," notes the warden.

Since the first modern turkey hunting season in 1983, Wisconsin has experienced turkey hunting accidents, including several fatalities. The primary cause is hunters failing to follow one of the key safety rules: be sure of your target and what’s beyond it. The victim was mistaken for game in almost 80 percent of these accidents.

Avoid being a victim

What can a hunter do to avoid being a victim? Horn offers several points to stay safe. First, avoid making gobbler-type calls.

"There are still a few hunters around who try to stalk gobblers, in spite of the fact that it is never successful," says Horn. "By gobbling, a hunter might not only attract a turkey, but he might also attract another hunter."

Another activity to avoid, he says, is sudden movement, "especially if you spot another hunter. Holler, whistle or yell, but don’t wave or call with a turkey call. The other hunter might mistake your movement for a turkey."

Another safety measure is when looking for an area to hunt or call from, it's best to set up with your back to a tree that's at least as wide as your shoulders. This will usually protect a hunter in the event that someone is hunting behind them.

"Wearing a blaze orange hat or coat when you are moving around from one hunting spot to another or back to your vehicle can also make other hunters more aware of your presence," according to Horn.

Horn adds that using something orange also holds true for carrying a turkey you've bagged or a turkey decoy. There are inexpensive blaze orange mesh bags on the market for toting decoys and turkeys that will help identify them as non-targets to another hunter.

Avoid being the shooter in an incident.

To avoid the possibility of shooting another hunter, Horns says "first and foremost," turkey hunters should never assume they are the only hunter in the woods, even if hunting on private property for which they are the only one with permission to hunt. That's because hunters on adjacent land may not be familiar with property boundaries and inadvertently wander across the line. And sadly, not everyone asks a landowner's permission to hunt, points out the warden.

"We had a situation several years ago, where two hunters received permission to hunt the same parcel of land from two brothers who co-owned the property. Neither brother knew the other had given permission to anyone else to hunt and each hunter assumed he was the only one with permission to be there. As one hunter was walking across a field, the other hunter shot him. He lost his sight in one eye from his injuries. The shooter was so sure that he was the only human out there that he thought the other guy was a turkey," Horn says.

Hunters should never shoot at sounds or movement. "Assume that everything you see or hear is another hunter until it is proven otherwise. We've had several accidents where the shooter shot a victim because he heard him calling and thought the victim was a turkey," Horn says.

He emphasizes that hunters should become thoroughly familiar with what a tom turkey looks like and how it should act.

Several years ago, a hunter was adjusting his camouflage head net when another hunter saw this and shot him. When a warden interviewed the shooter, he said thought the victim was a gobbler with its tail feathers fanned out.

"Everyone has heard of buck fever. Unfortunately the same thing can happen to turkey hunters. The mind starts playing tricks on the eyes and makes turkeys out of things that just aren't turkeys. Think safety and have a safer and more enjoyable hunt," added the warden.

Finally, hunters always need to remember the four basic rules of hunter safety:

  • * Treat every firearm as if it were loaded;
  • * Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction;
  • * Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire; and
  • * Always be sure of your target and what lies beyond it.