A recent issue of Field & Stream magazine featured an article on a practice that could best be described as “run and gun” turkey hunting.
The story took place in the wide-open spaces of Nebraska, in grasslands punctuated by steep-sided ravines and occasional cedar thickets. To intercept flocks of Merriam’s turkeys, the hunters stayed in nearly constant motion, stalking flocks of birds and attempting to set up ambushes for them.
I have a special fondness for Field & Stream and huge respect for T. Edward Nickens, who wrote the article. I once served as a regional editor for the magazine, and I’ve judged Nickens’ award-winning work in several writing contests.
That said, I sincerely hope no one tries to adapt the hunting techniques outlined in the Field & Stream article for use in West Virginia. What works in Nebraska could be deadly here.
So says Glenn Jones, president of the West Virginia Hunter Education Association.
“It blew me away when I saw that article,” Jones said. “All the teaching we try to do about turkey-hunting safety, and [the article] destroys every bit of it. Right inside the front cover, on the title page, there’s a three-quarter page picture of a guy in full stride, running through the woods, dressed in full camouflage except for his face, with a turkey decoy in one hand and his shotgun in the other.”
The photo’s caption noted that the gun was unloaded, but that didn’t lessen Jones’ alarm.
“Whether you have your gun unloaded or not, going through the woods with a turkey decoy in hand will get you shot,” he said. “In our hunter education classes, we spend a considerable chunk of time going over turkey-hunting safety, and one of the things we cover is the danger of moving through the woods with a turkey decoy in plain sight.”
The photo of the running hunter wasn’t the only image that caused Jones’ hair to stand on end. Another photo, one that accompanied the article itself, showed a hunter in the prone firing position, shotgun at the ready, lying close beside a decoy.
“That’s crazy,” Jones said. “People shoot decoys. If you set up too close to your decoys — and this guy was right beside one — you could easily end up getting shot.”
Jones recounted a chilling tale that happened to one of his friends:
“He was hunting on a piece of land that had an abandoned house on it,” he said. “He set up a decoy in the house’s front yard, went inside and set up next to the window. All of a sudden — BOOM! The decoy started spinning on the wire. Then, BOOM! It started spinning again. My friend yelled, ‘You’re shooting at my decoy!’ Then, BOOM! Whoever was shooting shot that decoy a third time.”
The bottom line, Jones concluded, is that the tactics outlined in the article probably are effective in the hilly high plains of Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado. At the same time, they would be exceptionally dangerous in the heavily forested hills of West Virginia.
“Out there, you can see for miles,” he said. “Here, visibility is usually less than 100 yards, especially as the trees green up. ‘Running and gunning’ and setting up beside your decoys won’t get you a West Virginia turkey. It’ll get you killed.”