SNYDER: Make sure to be cautious when turkey hunting

  • Pennsylvania has a present-day wild turkey population of more than 250,000.
  • At the turn of the 20th century, the state's wild turkey population dropped to around 5,000.
  • Hunters are at a greater risk of being shot while turkey hunting than any other form of hunting.

It’s the last call for Pennsylvania hunters.

Saturday marks the opening of the spring gobbler season. To many hunters it means the last chance to get into the woods again until fall.

Saturday is the first day of the spring gobbler season in Pennsylvania.

Since the very first settlers came to the area, turkey hunting has always been popular in Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, the state's turkey population hasn't always been as healthy as it is today. During the 19th century, turkey populations were decimated because of improper game management and incredible amounts of land clearing.

Luckily, folks wised up and realized that they were quickly driving the beautiful bird into extinction. With the help of the newly formed Game Commission, turkey populations were on the rebound by the early 1900s.

Strict hunting regulations, better land management and stocking programs helped raise the number of wild turkeys in Pennsylvania from a low of 5,000 near the turn-of-the-century to a present-day population of more than 250,000. Wild turkeys are now found in every county of the state. Proudly, sightings here in York County are quite frequent.

Dangers: While turkey hunting is one of the most popular forms of hunting, it is also one of the most dangerous. A study conducted by Penn State College of Medicine concluded that hunters were at a greater risk of being shot while turkey hunting than any other form of hunting.

The most interesting part of the study showed that turkey hunters, while typically older and more experienced, had the least amount of hunter education when compared to other types of hunters.

In other words, experience doesn't save lives, education does.

Lasting memory: I remember during my hunter-education course (admittedly, it was decades ago) the instructor set up a "hunting obstacle course" to test the class. We carried wooden cutouts of guns from station to station. At each stop we had to determine if it was safe to shoot at the target placed in front of us.

Every one of us thought that it was safe to shoot at the turkey.  Unfortunately, none of us saw the man in camouflage sitting just a few yards behind the target. That experience opened my eyes. Because of it I am always aware of my surroundings and target long before I even think of pulling the trigger.

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Safety tips: In the spirit of hunter-education, here are a few safety tips all of us should know. If all hunters follow them, the upcoming spring gobbler season will be a safe one.

First, as I said, always know your target. Since it is illegal to kill anything but a male turkey in the spring season, make sure you positively identify its beard before you shoot. While I've seen some interesting "beard-dos" on some men, I have never seen one quite like a turkey's.  It’s the only way to truly identify your target.

Don’t ever stalk a turkey. Not only is it illegal, it is extremely dangerous. Other hunters, that hear you moving around and gobbling, will think you're their next dinner. Don't let somebody else's mistake kill you.

Finally, it may sound like silly common sense, but don't use a turkey call to signal a fellow hunter. You may get his attention, but it may not be in the way that you want it. Too many people have been injured or killed by careless hunters that simply shoot at a noise.

Be smart: Your best bet to having a safe and enjoyable spring turkey season is to be smart and go out and enjoy nature. Don’t take chances just to kill a turkey.

Remember, the greatest part of any outdoor activity is leaving the pressures of the world behind. Why bring them along on a hunting trip? I can guarantee they will be waiting for you when you get home. If not, drop me a line. You can have a few of mine.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at