Turkey season is almost here and it’s time to enjoy one of our greatest shooting sports. Many have been accidentally wounded or killed in turkey hunting accidents, and sadly this generally is a good friend or family member. Many of these sad incidents could have been avoided with common sense and clear thinking. Let’s examine reasons for hunting accidents:

WHAT ARE YOU SHOOTING AT: Hunter’s education class is necessary and required! Young and sometimes old students learn that you only take the safety off and touch the trigger when ready to shoot. But more importantly, only shoot when you are sure of your target.

Accidental shootings are reported every year by hunters who shot at sound, color or movement before positively identifying the target. Granted, this is more of a beginner’s mistake that an old pro – right? Wrong, even the experienced hunters make mistakes – sometimes fatal. I recommend that you hunt with youth for at least a couple years or until they understand the sport and its dangers.

Decoys are another issue to be aware of. I was shot by a hunter who was shooting at my turkey decoy. I had my back against a tree and the outside pattern of his shot raked my barely visible shoulder. I let him know my species with a stream of unprintable phrases. I was angry and happy to be alive. He managed to shoot a sizable hole in my decoy too.

STAYING CALM: Few moments will make you breath hard like a tom gobbling his head off. Staying calm will allow you to make that all-important one-shot kill and allow you to not make deadly mistakes. Taking deep breaths or simply calming yourself down is necessary.

Try quietly breathing through your nose and exhaling through your mouth when an incoming gobbler is close. Calming yourself down will aid in making a clean kill shot. I believe it is almost impossible to make an accurate shot without steadying yourself.

KNOW THE AREA: Hunters occasionally walk into another hunter’s area, creating a dangerous situation. Avoid sudden movement and never wave or speak to an approaching hunter in the woods. Some suggest that you whistle a popular tune. Waving or other types of movement may receive a shot of lead pellets or a bullet.

Hunters who are deeply concentrating on their hunt may be just as likely to raise and fire without thinking.

FATIGUE: Fatigue slows reaction and judgment, making a hunter less responsible when handling a firearm. For example, turkey hunting sometimes requires walking long distances.

Those in shape may feel fatigue. Others may feel like having a heart attack. Additional weight of a firearm or equipment is just as taxing on younger hunters who are trying to keep up with adults. The inexperienced hunter carries his firearm in a manner that potentially tires arms and shoulders. Experienced hunters use a sling or belt style shotgun butt rest.

CONTROL YOUR SHOTGUN: How many times have you watched a hunter lean on his loaded shotgun? This foolish act is flirting with death. No doubt you have also seen hunters rest their firearm against a fence or tree. Sadly, a smoothed polished barrel will easily slide, slamming down the loaded shotgun or rifle. An alert hunter will unload his gun and open the breech before leaning it against an object. Otherwise you will have a loaded gun falling out of control – a death trap.

REMOVING GAME: Turkey hunters occasionally carry a bird over their shoulder. This scene is often portrayed in magazines, on television and in newspapers. Be cautious of this potential death trap. Wrap turkeys that cannot be hidden in game pouches in hunter’s orange strips.

WALKING IN THE DARK: Unload your firearm before walking through dark woods. I once watched an experienced hunter step in a hollow while trying to reach his car. His gun went off on impact. The bullet hit a rock and dangerously ricocheted through the darkness. The hunter’s leg was broken.

Experienced hunters avoid careless nighttime walks by using a small flashlight like a Mag Lite or by simply taping a piece of red cellophane over their flashlight lens. Both make less light but give you enough vision to safely walk out of the woods.

Shooting may be compared to driving a car. A second of carelessness can cause instant death. Every hunter must remind himself that no wildlife is worth a human life. A calm, clear sight picture is always necessary before pulling that trigger. Otherwise you may contribute to a horrible hunting statistic. Don’t let your experience make you careless. It only takes one mistake.

– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at kieserkenneth@gmail.com.