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Be Safe in the Turkey Woods

Despite some rainy weather that discouraged wild turkey toms from strutting on opening weekend, Idaho turkey hunters took to the woods in large numbers, according to field observations.

There are a few basics to keeping the growing enthusiasm for turkey hunting safe, offered here by Panhandle Region conservation educator Phil Cooper:

Turkey hunting is a sport rich in tradition that was begun long before settlers ever arrived in North America. Native Americans hunted the wild turkey for food as far back as 4,000 years ago.

When European immigrants arrived, they hunted this abundant bird for both food and sport. Populations declined with colonization and reached near extinction by the early 1900s following a century of habitat destruction and unregulated harvest. The few remaining turkeys lived in the most inaccessible habitats. By the Great Depression, only about 30,000 wild turkeys remained.

The regeneration of forest stands after the depression set the stage for the return of the wild turkey. Today, thanks to our nation's hunters, game agencies, and wildlife conservation organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, there are more than 4.5 million wild turkeys roaming the continent in huntable populations in every state of the U.S. except Alaska.

Turkeys have been transplanted into suitable habitats in states where they did not naturally occur, including those in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains. Today, turkey hunting is one of the most popular types of hunting in the U.S. with close to 2.5 million sportsman pursuing turkeys annually.

To fool the keen senses of wild turkeys, hunters dress in complete camouflage and make calls mimicking the call of a hen turkey to attract a gobbler into range. While hunting is statistically a safe pursuit, the use of complete camo clothing and the call of the quarry make turkey hunting the most dangerous type of hunting in North America. Thanks to particularly cautious hunters, Idaho has only experienced one turkey hunting accident. That accident was not fatal. One hunting technique which has become increasingly popular is the use of decoys to attract turkeys into range. While they can be effective, they can also decoy another hunter into thinking your decoy is a turkey. The National Wild Turkey Federation offers several guidelines on the safe use of decoys while hunting turkeys.

Decoys should never be visible while being transported. Never carry an uncovered decoy any distance. I use a collapsible decoy which I fold up and put into a backpack before moving. Consider the fact that you have taken every means you could find at the local sporting goods store to blend into the surroundings. Sneaking through the woods full of new growth while carrying a look alike for a hunted species can be dangerous. This is especially true if you are making turkey calls as you walk, something you should never do!

Decoys should be set 20 yards in front of the hunter in an area with a clear sight line of 100 yards. Sit down with your back to a tree wider than your shoulders. Should another hunter come into view, call out to them in a clear voice, do not use a turkey call to alert the hunter to your presence, and do not wave your hands. Your hand motions, in line with a decoy, could give the other hunter the illusion that the decoy is a moving turkey.

When you decide to move to another location, look around carefully to see that no other hunters are approaching before you move. You might even see a silent turkey approaching that you had not known was in the area.

Another safety precaution is to never wearing red, white or blue clothing. These colors are prominent on the head of a wild turkey. Blue socks or a red handkerchief in an otherwise green and brown woods could lead another hunter into thinking a turkey is present.