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April 5, 2011

Firearm safety, being a sure-shot makes for better outing

MADISON - Some hunters may think today's high-tech gadgets are the key to bagging a turkey, but a state hunting safety specialist says the real key to success is being skilled in firearm safety and knowledge about the wild bird itself.

"Today's turkey hunter has about as many choices for gear as we all do when we want to buy a candy bar at the local convenience store," said Tim Lawhern, Department of Natural Resources conservation warden. "Ultimately it's a hunter's knowledge, skill and well-practiced abilities that make or break the hunt."

Lawhern, who has been working with hunter education programs in Wisconsin, nationally and internationally for more than 20 years and is a 49-year veteran turkey hunter, says the two biggest safety pitfalls for turkey season hunters are mistaking another hunter for a turkey and failure to create and honor an agreed-upon hunting plan.

"The majority - nearly 80 percent - of our spring turkey hunting incidents involve hunters not taking enough time to make sure the target they are aiming at is indeed a turkey," Lawhern said. "It is very easy for the eye to think a turkey is nearby in the spring when there are changing light conditions along with changes in vegetation."

Lawhern says he has seen plenty of cases where the strong desire to see a turkey produces a momentary image that isn't real. "That moment, while short, lasts long enough for some to pull the trigger."

Adding confusion to the scenario may be all the latest technology tools including decoys, fancy blinds and calls. Lawhern's choice to make sure you have a legal bird in your sight? Binoculars.

"The only legal turkey in the spring is a male or bearded turkey," Lawhern said. "If you don't see a beard on that bird, don't shoot."

Another key step to ensure a safe hunt is planning your hunt. "If you are hunting with two or more in a group, the plan is crucial. Obeying it is critical. If not, it is easy to end up with a potentially dangerous situation of one hunter pursuing the other hunter's decoy or call," he said.

Lawhern says the four basic firearm safety guidelines also are required and should be part of the hunters' reflexes.

Those four guidelines are: Treat every firearm as if loaded; Always point the muzzle in a safe direction; Be sure of your target and what's behind it; and, Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.

"It is great fun to see all the new choices for gear and technology for today's turkey hunter," Lawhern said. "However, all the fancy equipment will never replace the need for true skill and knowledge about the wild game."

The spring wild turkey season runs from April 13 to May 22.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Tim Lawhern, Administrator and Conservation Warden, 608-264-6133 or Joanne M. Haas, Office of Communications, 608-267-0798

Last Revised: Tuesday, April 05, 2011

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