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Emphasis on turkey hunting safety

Published May 07. 2012 05:02PM

There is no danger - excuse the pun - of the Pennsylvania Game Commission board of game commissioners rescinding the regulation that requires the wearing of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back for the black bear and deer firearms seasons and going back to the good old days when black-and-red checked Woolrich coats filled the woods.

While safety is the primary concern of all hunters, many who enjoy the traditional aspects of hunting spring gobbler enjoy no longer being required to wear 100 square inches of fluorescent orange when moving or displaying an orange band that is visible 360 degrees when stationary is mandatory. For many years this had been a hot-button topic between veteran Pennsylvania gobbler hunters who also hunt in state with no orange regulations and the board and among board members themselves.

Now, wearing an orange hat or displaying an orange band is voluntary, and the fact the sport continues its track record for safety is a credit to the training programs of the PGC and National Wild Turkey Federation and hunter ethics. In fact, recent shooting incidents during spring gobbler season were the result of illegal activities, rather than hunting accidents.

For years, Don Heckman and other representatives from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the NWTF had petitioned the PGC for this change. They had presented evidence that showed there is no proof that the requirement to wear fluorescent orange prevented accidental shootings.

Ironically, there is some evidence that - in certain light conditions - wearing orange can increase the chance of an accident, as it can appear reddish in color and be mistaken for the head of a gobbler. For that reason, ethical turkey hunters have always had the responsibility to clearly identify their target and what lies beyond it in shotgun range before firing a shot.

While this was one of the reasons the NWTF and others had been presenting a case for the voluntary wearing of fluorescent orange, there were also other concerns. Perhaps the main one has to do with hunter movement that can occur when actually working a bird.

Stalking a gobbler is as illegal and unethical as it is futile, but there are certain instances when it becomes necessary for a hunter to make a move after the initial set-up. Depending on the situation, the move may be no more than 10 yards, but it could involve retreating, flanking or advancing 50-60 yards.

In either case, moving quickly and not wearing orange are the keys when changing locations to reduce the chance of being detected by a gobbler. No matter how much a hunter moved, however, they broke the game laws by not wearing an orange hat and could be charged with a violation if observed by a wildlife conservation officer.

Being busted by a gobbler, however, is a small price to pay for safety, but neither the NWTF nor the PGC believed eliminating the regulation requiring the mandatory wearing of orange would make the spring season less safe. Heckman said that is why the state chapter of the NWTF has increased its safety education campaign for turkey hunters.

"Because of the policy for the voluntary wearing of orange, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the NWTF has a more aggressive safety campaign," Heckman said. "We've printed an educational pamphlet entitled "Turkey Hunting Success and Safety," which can be downloaded from our Web site or obtained by mail.

"We want hunters to be thinking about safety, even before they enter the woods, and we're making sure the message is visible. In addition, the Pennsylvania chapter paid for the PGC to have signs printed that read "Positively Identify Your Target" and they are posted at State Game Lands parking lots and on trees in public hunting grounds.

"We're not saying "Don't wear orange," but we had been working for 17 years on having the regulation changed to give hunters the choice of wearing orange. Through our programs promoting safety, we've made inroads creating educated, ethical turkey hunters who both the NWTF and PGC believe will maintain their excellent safety record."

While Heckman appreciates not having to wear orange when working a bird, he said he wears orange when moving through the woods. He also does that when hunting in states that have no requirement to wear orange, saying he "feels better" knowing he is helping those he shares the woods with be safer hunters.

Information on all aspects of turkey hunting is available at the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation web site at

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