Stay Safe Out There This Turkey Season

By author of Turkey Blog with Steve Hickoff

As the old saying goes, sometimes the best offense is a good defense

Fortunately, I didn’t pay the price of mistaken identity. But heck, in all honesty, it took me a minute to puzzle out the situation.

Coyote, I first thought. The distant movement was low to the ground, stalking the weeds like a predator. Then I had the sudden realization it was a trespasser on the property, shotgun in hand, crouch-crawling toward the sound of “my bird” and calling on a box as though it might conjure the gobbler right out of the woods and a hundred yards in the air into his lap. The knucklehead seemed to assume the gobbler couldn’t see him, which it likely could, as the woods grew silent then.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what he was doing, there in the wide-open field, arriving late, moving fast. I called to let him know another guy was in there: me. My first mistake. He jerked his head up and now veered in my direction.

Maybe the trespasser had finally realized he wasn’t alone. I froze, looking down the shotgun barrel ... Image by John Hafner

State Your Position

I won’t lie to you: Anger and disappointment kicked my once confident thoughts into Plan B mode — and then fear. I stood (not the safest move, mind you, my second mistake), blowing my chances at this hard-earned scouted gobbler. I then shouted, “HEY!”

Did he react? Nope. He just kept coming, crazily yelping the whole time.

I cussed under my breath. Just then, another gobbler fired up, a good distance off on the nearby hill. I gathered my gear and hustled straight in that direction. He could have the other bird, now silent. I called and the other gobbler answered. I made my setup. Maybe my Plan B would work after all. I watched as a handful of far-off hens pitched down within view — then a jake. The big boy flew down last. They all milled about, and I yelped, momentarily forgetting safety concerns, cutting hard on the finish.

Heads shot up, and the lead hen started pulling them my way. I felt satisfied that this hunt might lift itself right out of the ashes of defeat. Maybe the trespasser had finally realized he wasn’t alone. I froze, looking down the shotgun barrel at a wedge of turkeys with one full-fan strutter following. It was only a matter of time before the longbeard was in range.

Then, game over. They stopped, started alarm-putting, looking through the woods in the direction of the field. And they ran off like sprinting Olympians. Less than a minute later, the guy appeared again, calling urgently. I could hardly believe my ears and eyes.

And then, he stalked my way, zigzagging through the woods just above me, calling crazily the whole time on that blasted box call. Should I have said — even shouted — something again? Maybe. But it hadn’t worked the first time. And yes, maybe I still thought I had a chance at a bird, tamping down the safety concerns.

[History's Biggest Turkey Poaching Busts]

What to Do Now?

Did he think he was alone in here with the turkeys, even though I’d shouted “Hey” at him on his first appearance? Possibly. Maybe he didn’t care. After all, he’d trespassed already, ignoring the private-property signs. I’d parked a mile in the other direction, with landowner permission to hunt this land, while this guy had used the posted off-limits access — or so his initial direction had indicated.

Unmoving at my position, silent now, I let him walk past, and as his footsteps faded with his calling, I quickly gathered my stuff and marched the long walk back to my truck, never to hunt there the rest of the season.

Good news is I killed a different gobbler later that morning, elsewhere. But I still think of that morning and what could have happened.

Have a Look (Again)

It’s standard fare in hunter-education courses to follow these safety rules while turkey hunting. All of us can improve each time we hit the turkey woods.

Let’s all keep the basics in mind this coming season.

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