There is no day outside of today when more Kentuckians are trying harder to hide in plain sight.
This being the opening day of the state’s spring turkey season, lots of folks are out there now, camouflaged to the eyeballs, hoping to call in wary gobblers, yet to avoid being seen by the birds’ own acute eyeballs.
It is a deceptive game they play. Sights and sounds tease both the hunters and the quarry. Sensed movement, glimpsed through greening spring colors, can set nerves on end. Pulses race. Oh, the anticipation.
As deliciously exciting as gobbler hunting pursuit can be, honest but errant behavior on the part of the hunter can make it unnecessarily dangerous.
Overall, hunting is far safer than detractors might assume — much less prone to injury than scores of other activities. But turkey hunting is the pursuit among our game options that most lends itself to possible shooting accidents if special caution is not employed.
It has to do with proper and conventional tactics of spring gobbler hunting. The wild setting for now is that turkeys are engaged in the breeding season. The males make themselves known, calling with the gobbles with which they earn their name, fanning their feathers, strutting and huffing to attract and impress the ladies.
In nature, hens ready for breeding will go to the gobblers. For hunting purposes, only gobblers are legal game in the spring season, so the ploy typically used is to make hen-like calls and get a gobbler to go against the grain and approach what he thinks must be a stand-offish hen.
Turkeys have such sharp senses that it is impractical to walk up on a gobbler. Therefore, the ticket is to call the tom in with hen sounds, waiting motionless in full camouflage, shotgun propped on a knee and ready, until he walks into shooting range.
As unlikely as it sounds, that hunting method sets the stage for the mistaken-for-game shooting accident if basic precautions are forgotten in the heat of the moment. Hunters have shot other hunters, thinking they were approaching gobblers.
Now, people don’t look like turkeys. That seems ridiculous. But with hunters camouflaged and partially obscured by spring cover, a piece of a human might look like a piece of a turkey in the mind of a hunter expecting and wanting to see an approaching gobbler.
The obvious rule broken when a rare mistaken-for-game accident occurs in turkey hunting is that one should never, ever decide to shoot until one can clearly see and identify the target. The visual confusion and excitement that can occur have been known to nullify this basic safety premise.
There is a standard list of safety measures that are critical to turkey hunting. This guidance is not new by any means, but new turkey hunters must know it, and turkey hunters who are all but new must be reminded of it for the sake of life and limb.
A turkey hunter should assume that any movement seen or sound of movement is that of another approaching hunter. There are other people out there and they must be anticipated to avert tragedy. If it is a turkey gobbler that you see, decide you want him only after you are 100% certain that it is your intended legal game.
Many safety measures are to protect you from others. Among them, avoid the temptation to stalk a turkey. You can’t slip up on a turkey, but you might approach another hunter who isn’t careful about identifying his target. He could blast you.
When you set up to call a turkey, try to pick a place at the base of a thick tree where you don’t stick out in part when seen from behind. Try to have clear vision about 180 feet in front of you.
Do not look anything like a turkey. That is, don’t wear anything red, white or blue, colors found on turkey heads. Don’t overlook a white T-shirt at the collar or offending colors of socks that might be seen when you are seated against a tree.
This one is hard for me, but honestly, if you see another hunter, do not wave or in other ways move to get his attention. If he is a reckless sort, he may think you are a turkey and blast you. Instead, stay still and speak out in a clear human voice that you are present and hunting there.
Remember that camouflage does not hide you; it only obscures your outline.
It is legal, but I would discourage using a gobbler call. Why would you want to sound like the exact thing other hunters want to shoot?
A decoy may be really helpful in diverting a gobbler’s attention, but set it up 20 yards from your seated position. And keep it out of sight or wrapped in fluorescent orange when carrying it through the woods.
Break out a hunter orange item if you take a turkey and bring him out through the woods. Indeed, it is not required, but any time you are coming or going through the woods, it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra fluorescent orange cap to change into during travel.
Just as you do not want to shoot at movement that isn’t a turkey gobbler, you do not, repeat, do not want to confuse anyone’s vision and have them think you resemble a turkey in any way.
Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at email@example.com.