By Pennsylvania Game Commission Hunter Education Staff
The excitement of hearing a thundering gobble and watching the approach of a fired-up gobbler is enough to rattle hunters with even the steadiest of nerves. For turkey hunters, we thrill to the challenge of calling in a Wild Turkey and harvesting it at close range.
What is most important on an turkey hunt, however, is to keep safety at the top of your mind in all moments. Being dressed in full camouflage while seeking the sounds and movements of the elusive turkeys makes this type of hunting a potentially dangerous proposition if another hunter would mistake you for a turkey because you are making turkey sounds or movements that may resemble a turkey.
Here are our Top Five Tips for a Safe and Fun Turkey Hunt this Spring:
The objective of Spring Gobbler hunting is to lure a male turkey to you by imitating the sounds (by calling) or sights (through using decoys) of a real live Wild Turkey hen. During the Spring breeding season, gobblers are constantly on the search for hens. Stalking or sneaking up on turkeys is not allowed, as this could result in multiple hunters approaching and shooting at the same bird– a very dangerous scenario. Instead, use your calling skills to coax the gobbler to come to your stationary position.
2. Be sure you see the turkey’s beard
Only bearded turkeys are legal to harvest during the Spring Gobbler season. You must positively identify that the turkey you choose to shoot has a beard and is a male. Although bearded hens are legal to shoot, hunters are strongly discouraged from harvesting these female turkeys as they are the future of the species by way of reproduction. Male turkeys have an overall dark black body color, while hens are more brownish-tan overall. The colors on a gobbler’s head will be brilliant blue, red, and white. A hen will typically show head colors of light blue, gray, and pink. When in doubt, it’s best not to shoot and make sure that you can see all the diagnostic features of a gobbler before making the decision to pull the trigger. For this same reason, you should never wear any red, white, or blue clothing while turkey hunting. White socks peeking out from hiked-up pant legs while sitting is a common sight that should be avoided, so that another hunter does not see this color and mistake it for a gobbler’s head.
3. Use decoys with caution
Artificial decoys that imitate a real Wild Turkey are legal to use in Pennsylvania, when they are placed in a stationary position. It is not legal to use the “tail fan” decoys to hold in front of your body and approach turkeys with in order to ambush them. These type of decoys are very dangerous, as they place the hunter directly behind a realistic representation of a turkey’s body– the opposite of creating a safe situation.
Be thoughtful about positioning your decoys so that an approaching hunter would not be able to shoot at a decoy and hit your setup position. Avoid placing the decoy on a hilltop where there is no backstop for your shot, or for you to see another hunter approaching from the other side of the hill. Always give careful consideration to how a decoy could unintentionally convince an approaching hunter that you are a real turkey calling. If you hear or see a hunter approaching, shout “Stop” and do not wave or stand up. Simply communicating in a human voice is the best way to stay safe in this scenario.
4. Hide in a fully-enclosed blind or no blind at all
Using an artificial or manufactured blind is legal under this definition: the blind consists of manmade materials of sufficient density to block the detection of movement within the blind by an observer outside the blind. The blind must completely enclose the hunter on all four sides and from above to block the detection of movement within the blind. The use of blinds made by piling logs, branches, rocks or other natural materials is not lawful, as these create safety hazard by allowing parts of the hunter’s body and their movement to be seen by an outside observer.
Many accidents have occurred while turkey hunting that involve a hunter seeing movement from someone partially obscured at their calling location. For that reason, hunters either need to be in a fully-enclosed blind or rely on their camouflage clothing to help hide them when sitting on the ground. When sitting on the ground, it is highly recommended to sit against a wide tree trunk that hides your body movement from behind.
5. Share the Experience
Turkey hunting is an incredibly challenging and immersive outdoor pursuit, where hunters combine woodsmanship, knowledge of animal behavior, and interpretation of sights and sounds to try to lure a gobbler into range. The best way to improve as a turkey hunter is to take someone else with you on your hunt and share the experience. Every day in the turkey woods is full of lessons to be learned, and new memories to be made.
Hunt safely, have fun, and good luck with your turkey hunting adventures this season!