My post about the Haint gobble call made me think about turkey hunting safety. When I started turkey hunting back in the 80s it had the reputation for being very dangerous since it is an activity where you hide in the woods and make sounds like a turkey while others are doing the same. While you would think the use of gobble calls and strutter decoys might increase the danger, I’m not sure they do. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, turkey hunting keeps getting safer. Accidents occurred at a rate of 8.1 per 100,000 participants in 1992 and had fallen to 2.95 per 100,000 by 2005.
I think turkey hunting is safe precisely because we know it’s dangerous and act accordingly. Hunters tend to be on their guard and most follow the rules of turkey hunting safety that have been drilled into our heads: don’t wear red, white and blue, be sure of your target, sit against a tree wider than your shoulders, and so on.
Whatever the case, I have hunted the same public reservoir near a large–by Iowa standards–population center for 25 years and never felt unsafe. I do think public land gets an unfair rap as dangerous. For one thing, nobody sneaks onto public land. While the area gets lots of use, people park in plain sight, giving you a general idea of where everyone is hunting. Of course, there are extracurricular activities on public ground. For instance, I killed a turkey by a meth dump once, but by and large when I go turkey hunting, I don’t fear for my life.
The key to keeping turkey hunting safe is to remain aware of the possible dangers at all times. Turkey hunting has more than its share of “mistaken for game” accidents. The only person I know who was shot while turkey hunting was hit right in the hand by his hunting partner when he waved at him.
Until it happens to you, you have no idea how anyone could mistake a human being for a turkey. Having done it once, I can tell you it’s frighteningly easy. There were four of us hunting a farm in Illinois and we split up into pairs. My partner and I were taking a break when the other two hunters came walking up a trail in the woods looking for us. Mike, in the lead, was a farmer whose face had already been burned red from days on the tractor that spring. He was completely camouflaged and had his headnet on but pulled down under his nose. All I saw was a round red thing bobbing through the woods. My imagination saw that as the head and it filled in the rest of a gobbler just for an instant before I realized what I was looking at. Nothing happened, but the incident scared me anyway and stays with me as a sobering reminder to be sure of my target and to keep on turkey hunting defensively.