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It’s a wonderful time of year to be a hunter in Pennsylvania.

As October rolls on, the opportunities get better and better. It seems as though a new hunting chance rolls in with each cold front that passes through.

One that’s quickly crossing the horizon is turkey season. It’s an opportunity that gets any diehard hunter’s blood pumping.

Since the very first settlers came to the area, turkey hunting has always been popular in Pennsylvania. In fact, the meaty birds were so revered that Benjamin Franklin wanted turkeys to be the nation's official symbol instead of the bald eagle.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania'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 birds 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. In fact, the population is growing quickly here in York County.

Turkey hunting can be dangerous: While turkey hunting is one of the most popular forms of hunting, it's 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 during any other form of hunting.

The most interesting part of the study showed that turkey hunters, while typically older and more experienced hunters, had the least amount of hunter education when compared to other types of hunters. That proves the vital importance of hunter-education courses. Experience doesn't save lives, education does.

I remember during my first hunter-education course, the instructor set up what can best be described as a hunting obstacle course to test the class. We carried wooden cutouts of guns from station to station. At each station 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.

Some tips: In the spirit of hunter education, here are a few tips that will help you and those around you stay safe this season. If all hunters follow them, the upcoming spring gobbler season should be a safe one.

First, always know your target. With folks calling turkeys, setting up decoys and doing everything they can to hide from the keen-eyed birds, it’s often tough to tell what’s a turkey and what’s not. Always know what you’re aiming at and what’s behind it.

Next, don’t ever stalk a turkey. Not only is it illegal, it's extremely dangerous. Other hunters, hearing 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 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. Too many people have been injured or killed by careless hunters who simply shoot at a noise.

In the end, while Pennsylvania’s hunting opportunities are some of the greatest in the nation, they’re not worth dying for. Be safe and hunt smart.

It will ensure you’re around to take advantage of the next great season.

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

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