Turkey Hunting's Most Dangerous Moment
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 1, 2010.)
Adrenaline. It can be dangerous.
I used to sprint to the turkey after the shot.
I now coach myself to walk.
Adrenaline (also called epinephrine) is a hormone. It has been called “the fight or flight hormone.” It’s what prevents people from thinking about risk as they face danger. Without adrenaline, we wouldn’t have heroes. Without adrenaline humans would be far less successful, and possibly wouldn’t even survive.
Adrenaline is also what keeps a hunter awake as it trickles into the bloodstream the night before the season opener, and it’s what adds intensity to the moments before the shot.
Under a big dose of adrenaline, we go on autopilot. Think about that as you look forward to calling in and shooting that big tom turkey.
You’re sitting in the woods with a gobbler responding to your sweetest calls. Your adrenal glands sit atop your kidneys and release adrenaline into your bloodstream, boosting your heart rate and breathing rate. Your eyes focus intently. Dilated blood vessels prime your muscles for action.
As the big bird gets closer and closer you focus more and more on him, anticipating where he’ll become visible and when he’ll be in range. Once you see him, nothing else will compete for your attention.
You’ve mentally made a note of which trees he must pass in order to offer a safe and ethical shot. You’re functioning according to as many predetermined factors as you can anticipate.
Of course, this is turkey hunting, and you can’t anticipate everything. You can’t anticipate another hunter stalking your sounds, or closing in on the sounds of the gobbler you’re calling. That’s when turkey hunting accidents tend to happen. The caller’s focus is centered on the turkey while the careless stalker takes a stupid risk.
We don’t usually expect another hunter to stalk us or the turkey we’re calling to. That’s one reason it’s dangerous. We can’t predict it, so we give it little thought.
But another potentially dangerous situation happens virtually every time a turkey hunter pulls the trigger. I’ve done it myself, and I have to remind myself not to do it.
Bang! The turkey goes down, flapping his wings violently and tumbling amidst a whirlwind of feathers. Everything but the turkey is blocked from the hunter’s adrenaline-charged focus. In one fluid motion the hunter rises and runs to the gobbler to make sure it doesn’t get away.
What’s wrong with that scenario? The hunter is still under the influence of adrenaline, and unless he’s shooting a single shot shotgun, he may be running through the woods with a loaded gun. His finger is near the trigger in case a follow-up shot is needed. Heaven forbid that he should stumble and fall in the excitement.
We talk a lot about the potential danger of other hunters stupidly stalking the sounds of a turkey. We caution hunters to be sure of their targets. But rarely do we think much about that most adrenaline-intense moment – the rush to recover the turkey after the shot.
I used to sprint to the turkey after the shot. I now coach myself to walk. After all, if he was in range when I took the shot, if the shotgun properly targeted his head, and if the pellet pattern is dense enough, his head is jelly. He’s down for the count.
Of course, there are no guarantees. If the shot wasn’t lethal, and he somehow gets oriented and gets his head up, that’s the time for a follow-up shot.
I figure it this way. If I’m standing and have walked a few steps toward the bird, he’ll still be in range for that follow-up shot. If I’m running toward the bird, I’m introducing extra risks of falling and an accidental discharge of the shotgun.
Thankfully, I don’t know of any cases where an accident has happened under these circumstances. But it still makes sense after the shot to stay calm and approach the gobbler carefully. If you can’t keep yourself from running toward the gobbler, then I’d recommend shooting a single-shot, or a pump-action, and not chambering a new round until you know you’re going to need it.