It all started innocently enough. I arrived at my intended destination well before daylight to find the place deserted – no other hunters.

It took a while but I eventually piqued the interest of a randy gobbler so I set out decoys, settled in and began a calling match that lasted some time. The gobbler answered my calls but hung up some distance away.

It was several hours into the hunt that I suddenly heard what sounded like another hunter calling nearby. He had apparently ignored my vehicle, parked on the roadside, entered the same patch of woods and was attracted by the gobbling bird. Perhaps he also thought my calling was authentic, though I’m not really that good. Regardless, he was moving in on me and my decoys, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

I tried calling loudly and unnaturally at first to alert him without scaring off the tom, who continued answering my calls. When he continued closer I switched to a crow call, which the gobbler also responded to. Then all went silent.

Several tense moments passed as I strained eyes and ears for any sight or sound of turkey or hunter. I called once more but the gobbler was now silent, likely frightened off by the interloper. Looking toward my full-strut decoy just 15 yards away I became more anxious. Then I heard soft footsteps and saw the top of a camo hat move just over the rise in front of me. My heart raced and in a quavering voice I shouted as loudly as I could, “Hey! Don’t shoot!” The hat vanished, followed by the sound of running footsteps.

After waiting several minutes to make sure all was clear I picked up my decoys with still trembling hands and headed back toward the truck. I was just out of sight of it when I heard a vehicle race off. When I finally arrived I realized the interloper had not only scared off the turkey I was calling and sneaked in dangerously close to my calling location, he also let the air out of my tires.

While it’s generally safe, turkey hunting can sometimes present risk. It shouldn’t, when you consider all that must occur before a trigger is pulled. The hunter must first identify the target as a real, live turkey, then confirm both that it is a male, not a female, and that it has a beard. Next the hunter must wait until that turkey comes within range, inside roughly 40 yards. Then and only then can they take careful aim at the base of the live, bearded turkey’s neck and fire.

Despite all that, failure to properly identify a target is the primary cause of turkey hunting incidents. Before you pull that trigger you must be 100 percent certain of both your target and what lies beyond. Anything less is not only dangerous, it’s illegal.

You can also decrease the potential for problems by the way you call. Though gobbler calls can at times be very effective, the International Hunter Education Association-USA advises that you not use them, as they’re just as likely to attract hunters. Stick to hen calling instead. It’s usually easy to tell the difference between a calling hunter and the real thing, but when in doubt, err on the side of caution. Sit tight and let the turkeys come to you.

That bears repeating. NEVER stalk a wild turkey. The chances of getting close enough for a shot are slim enough, but it’s also extremely dangerous. Let them come, and if they don’t, find more receptive birds somewhere else. If you see another hunter approaching don’t wave or move around. Alert them of your presence in a loud, clear voice.

Where you call from can also be a factor. Conceal yourself as best you can but make sure you can see what is happening around you. It’s better to be a little more exposed and remain still. Also try to sit against a background – tree, stump, rock – at least as wide as your shoulders and preferably one that will conceal and protect you from the top of your head down.

What you wear will also keep you concealed and safe. You should be wearing full camo, from head to toe, anyway. Also, never wear anything red, white or blue as these are the colors hunters use to identify a gobbler’s head.

Decoys can be very effective in luring a gobbler within gun range where you can safely identify and shoot it. If you employ them, try to place them so you are not in the direct line of fire should another hunter mistake them for legal game. And make sure they are totally concealed when you are moving through the woods. Also, if you do bag a bird, put it in the game pouch of your vest and don an orange cap, or cover it in some type of orange material before toting it out.

Fanning has become popular in recent years. This technique involves hiding behind the tail fan of a turkey while trying to sneak in on a live bird. It can be effective, but is dangerous and ill-advised.

Hunting is one of the safest outdoor sports. Far more people are injured playing tennis, baseball and even golf each year. Just remember the recipe for a safe, successful hunt includes a healthy dose of common sense and courtesy.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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