Monday, May 18, 2009

Don’t Run Afoul Of This Turkey Problem


There is a problem that occurs every year somewhere across the country, and hunters seldom hear much about it. Fortunately, this situation doesn’t happen to very many people.

It does occur after a hunter has set for a long period or time, or even for just a few minutes, and a gobbler comes strutting in to the call. The shotgun bead or a scope’s cross-hairs centers on the base of the head where the head and neck meet.

A shot is fired, and the hunter jumps up. Most sportsmen eject the empty shell, chamber another shell, push the safety on, and reach down to heft their longbeard for a closer look at the bird and his lengthy beard.

Grabbing turkey legs quickly can be a serious mistake, especially with older birds. The bird may be dead but twitchy nerves may keep the wings flapping and legs jerking.

Spend much time in the south where hunters were hunting turkeys for many years before Michigan sportsmenĀ held their first modern-era turkey hunt, and you’ll soon learn about this problem by looking at enough turkey hunter’s hands.

Examine the palms and lower arms of enough turkey hunters and you’ll encounter some who look like they got in a knife fight and was the only person without a knife. Those, most likely, are not scars from knife wounds.

They are scars inflicted by a dead or dying gobbler. It usually happens with older birds, those monarchs of the oak ridges. These are the grand old gobblers of 3 or 4 years of age.

Gobbler spurs (also known as hooks) continue to grow as the bird gets older, and spurs of one-inch to 1 1/2 inches are fairly common on old gobblers. How sharp are they?

They can easily slice through exposed skin and even a hand wearing brown jersey gloves. A bird may be presumed dead, and still its legs are kicking and wings are flapping. Or, a hunter may get to the bird quickly before it dies, and it may start kicking or trying to run even though it is being held upside down.

Hunters who are keen on having a good gobbler mounted in a flying or strutting pose try to keep the bird from knocking all the feathers off the breast and tail. They pin the bird down by standing on its head and neck, and grabbing the bird by both legs.

This solves the problem of the bird beating the feathers off but it lays the hunter open to serious injury. Two or three rapid kicks with its strong legs can loosen the hunter’s grip, and as the legs slide through his hands, the knife-like hooks can carve up hands and arms.

Head-neck shots are almost always fatal but it doesn’t mean the gobbler dies instantly. It also doesn’t mean the bird can’t kick or try running.

Many hunters use one knee on the chest or back and one hand on the head and neck to hold the bird motionless. If possible put one boot-clad foot on both turkey legs to hold them down, one hand on the neck, and the other hand on the wings.

A properly placed shot often means the bird dies instantly, and this is obviously what the hunter should strive for. That way there is no flopping about and no human injuries.

For most birds, holding them down just takes a few seconds and once the bird is still, it is usually OK to let go of the gobbler.

A popular photo is of a hunter with the bird being held by the legs. The bird hangs over the hunters shoulder, and the hunter grins at the camera. All outdoor magazines use this type of photo, as have I, and it explains the mood of the hunt.

However, the hunter’s hand is dangerously close to the hooks. One final burst of energy by the bird could rip up one hand or arm, and cause serious injury.

Don’t be premature in taking this photo. Make certain the gobbler is stone-cold dead, and carefully position the bird for the photo. Position the bird so the beard is clearly visible.

Now is the time to get your picture. Hunters who have been slashed with long spurs tell me the healing process is long, and a good bit of blood is lost when you are hooked.

Think safety while hunting, and concentrate on safety once the bird is dead. Don’t become a victim of a gobbler taking some final revenge. It is not an enjoyable part of the turkey hunt.

Posted by Dave Richey on 05/18 at 07:21 PM
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