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Turkeys 365: Our Annual Turkey Hunting Safety Post

Safe hunting

Always follow the rules of safe hunting — always.

Editor’s note: Every turkey hunter knows they should be concerned about safety. In fact, our forum members just shared a great post about the topic.

But although everyone discusses safety and the proper protocols for safe hunting, few folks realize the horrible ramifications when safety is ignored. That’s why we’re posting this story, which appeared in Turkey & Turkey Hunting 12 years ago. It still rings loud and true today.

The Human Cost: When Turkey Hunting Accidents Occur

John Vanover, of Clintonwood, Va., was experiencing a typical fall turkey hunt in 1998. He had set up against a tree, and had been calling periodically for about 20 to 30 minutes when another hunter stalked his calling. The other hunter crawled on his belly toward Vanover. When the man was 67 feet away, he fired at what he perceived was a turkey. Eighteen pellets hit Vanover. Three were almost fatal, coming within a fraction of an inch of his chest and brain.

Vanover needed three operations to remove four pellets from behind his ear and over his eye.

“My life has been a nightmare since this happened,” he wrote. “I am so nervous, and I jump at any loud noise. The thing that has been taken away from me that I miss the most is my peace of mind.

“I don’t know if I can ever go hunting again. Maybe someday this fear will gradually leave me.”

For Ray Eriksen, the physical nightmare of a turkey hunting accident has been even worse. On May 16, 1987, Eriksen began wandering his property after a slow morning of hunting. He had seen a vehicle earlier, but hadn’t given it much thought. At about 9 a.m., he stood to stretch, gave one last series of yelps on his box call and headed down the hill.

A hunter was set up at the bottom of the hill, and fired a load of No. 4 shot at Eriksen after mistaking his movement for a turkey. More than 90 of the 120 pellets hit him, penetrating his skull and side. He was left with a permanent limp, problems with his right hand and epilepsy.

For the rest of his life, Eriksen must take antiseizure medication. He was out of work for almost a year, and was unable to drive for years until his medication was properly regulated. That medication eventually caused severe bone-mass loss, leaving his bones very brittle.

In an attempt to prevent more bone loss, Eriksen’s doctor switched his medication. However, in another chapter of the domino-like story, that medication caused a heart attack. Eriksen was only 47.

Since then, his health has improved, but the future is still a great unknown.

“All of the pain and expense could have been avoided had I not gone down that hill that morning,” he wrote. “All of it could have been avoided had the shooter clearly identified his target. You must remember that you cannot recall the shot once the trigger has been pulled.”

With that statement, Eriksen nails the point of turkey hunting safety: Know your target. It’s up to you to be a defensive hunter and a wise one.

— Jennifer West


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