Safety tips to remember as you get ready for turkey season

Francis Skalicky, Missouri Department of Conservation
Angela Belden and her guide, Wes, wait for turkey during a spring turkey hunting season near McBaine, MO.

This year, as is the case every year, safety is the most important component of Missouri’s spring turkey season.

This season, which runs from April 19-May 9, is one of the state’s big outdoor events of the spring. The season limit is two male turkeys, only one of which may be taken during the first week of the season. Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise until 1 p.m. CDT.

As is the case with all of Missouri’s hunting seasons, spring turkey season is a time for hunters to focus on proper techniques for handling firearms, practicing good judgment in the field, and all the other safety aspects that are important parts of hunting.

Last year, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) received one report of a non-fatal hunting incident during the spring turkey season. It involved a hunter who mistakenly shot another hunter.

Though one hunting accident is still one too many, it’s better than the numbers that once were an unfortunate sidelight of Missouri’s spring turkey season. The period from 1985 through 1988 was a particular rough patch in terms of safety – during that span Missouri averaged 23 spring-turkey hunting incidents per year. That high average was one of the driving forces that, in 1988, led to hunter education becoming mandatory for all Missourians born on or after Jan. 1, 1967. (There are some exemptions to this regulation. A list of these exemptions can be found in MDC’s “2021 Spring Turkey” regulations booklet, a free publication available at all MDC offices and most places that sell hunting permits.)

The reason it’s always a good idea to be reminded about safety is that during the excitement of spring turkey hunting, there are strong urges for hunters to stretch the safety guidelines they’ve been taught (either in hunter education or by older peers). Less attention is paid by some to positive identification of a bird, particularly if their first few hunts have been unsuccessful. The definition of the term “effective range of your shotgun” tends to increase by a number of yards as the season progresses and more hunters begin to gamble that enough of their pellets will hold together over that extra distance to get a gobbler. And, along with all this, turkey hunting is all about concealment and camouflage, which sometimes add challenges to the task of identifying other hunters in the woods.

That being said, here are some frequently repeated, but always important rules of safe turkey hunting:

- Always make sure your firearm is unloaded when it’s in your vehicle.

- Be very cautious when approaching a wild turkey; or what you think are the sounds of wild turkeys. Remember, the calling you hear may be another hunter trying to call in birds.

- Never identify a turkey by sound, color, or movement. Always see the bird clearly before you pull the trigger. Also, since bearded birds are the only legal birds in the spring, positively identify the turkey as a bearded bird before pulling the trigger.

- Never assume you are the only hunter in an area, even if you’re hunting on private property. Assume every sound or movement is another hunter until it has been positively identified.

- Always take a moment to look beyond your target before you pull the trigger. This helps to ensure that a potentially occupied building, previously unnoticed livestock – or a previously un-noticed human – is not in your line of fire.

- Never take your safety “off” until a turkey has been positively identified and you are ready to pull the trigger. This helps to keep your shotgun from going off at an un-planned moment. In addition to the obvious safety aspects, this makes good hunting sense, too. All it takes is one accidental discharge of your shotgun to spook the turkeys away from your hunting area for the remainder of the morning (and perhaps the next several days as well).

More information about spring turkey season and hunting safety can be found in the above-mentioned MDC “2021 Spring Turkey” booklet. Information about turkey season can also be found at mdc.mo.gov.

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.