Field Notes: Turkey Hunting
In May 1995 in Ohio, Bill Baum's brother mistook a red and blue can in Baum's hand for the head of a tom turkey and fired a shotgun blast at him from 30 yards away.
Baum survived what he describes as "friendly fire." But he quit hunting, and some of the nearly 50 shotgun pellets that ripped through his upper body remain visible under the skin.
Although Baum turned down an offer to press charges, a judge called the accident a clear case of neglect. The brother spent three days in jail, had his hunting privileges revoked for five years, and had his gun confiscated. Baum said his brother refused to take firearms safety training as a youth, which at that time was not mandatory in Ohio.
At the request of Ohio officials, Baum visited various area schools in Ohio to encourage kids to take firearms safety training.
"Turkey-hunting accidents can happen to anyone is my message," said Baum, who now lives in Minnesota. "That's why I'm a strong proponent of hunter safety training, especially Minnesota DNR turkey clinics."
Despite Minnesota's record of only 13 turkey-hunting accidents with no fatalities since 1981, safety is always a concern. Growing numbers of turkey hunters are taking to the woods and fields each year, and many have an overwhelming desire to bag a bird. "Mistaken for game" is the leading reason for mishaps, said DNR conservation officer Dan Book of Rushford.
"There's a lot of pressure to bag a turkey," Book said. "That causes some hunters to shoot before identifying the bird, which can result in someone being seriously injured or worse."
A record 25,261 turkey hunters took 8,434 gobblers in Minnesota in 2004. DNR officials think permit holders who attend a turkey-hunting clinic improve their chances of having a safe, successful hunt.
The clinics, taught by volunteers, are not mandatory, but the DNR recommends them. Attendees learn about turkey-hunting safety, turkey behavior, the types of foods turkeys eat, and where turkeys live. They receive a copy of Turkey Hunters Handbook, with information on regulations, tagging, and registration. All ages are welcome to attend a clinic, though turkey hunters must be at least 12 years old.
Tips for a safe turkey hunt:
- Assume everything that moves is another hunter until you can positively identify it.
- Cover your entire head and body in camouflage. An exposed face or hand can be mistaken for part of a turkey.
- Don't wear red, white, or blue because these colors are associated with toms.
- Wear a hunter-orange vest and hat when moving in the woods.
- Cover harvested turkeys with camouflage or hunter-orange cloth to carry them out of the woods.
- Identify yourself to other hunters by shouting. Never wave because the movement could draw fire from a careless shooter.
- Attend a turkey-hunting clinic listed on the DNR Web site.
DNR Enforcement information officer