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PA: Hunting accident report

May 4, 2010

Turkey hunter still in critical condition Agency won't identify shooter

NEW BERLIN A Union County man who remains hospitalized in critical condition was one of two turkey hunters shot on the opening day of the spring gobbler season.

Turkey hunting is the most accident-prone type of hunting, experts say.

According to state Game Commission statistics, there were 12 people accidentally shot while hunting deer in 2009, and 10 accidentally shot while hunting turkeys. But there were twice as many deer hunters as turkey hunters.

While exact statistics were not available, the Game Commission estimates that there were about 850,000 deer hunters and a total of 422,000 turkey hunters about 239,000 during spring gobbler season and about 183,000 in the fall.

The main danger comes when hunters shoot too hastily at movement, said Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser.

"Hunters must first identify their bird as legal," he said.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission Web site, it is illegal to shoot a female turkey, or a hen, in the spring. Hunters must look for the beard of the male gobblers.

"Some people are looking for sound or movement, not a bearded bird," Feaser said.

This was the case when a New Berlin man was shot with a shotgun early Saturday morning when he was hunting in Limestone Township, Union County.

Michael Hobbins was wounded in the upper body by a man who was also hunting gobblers. Hobbins is in critical condition at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville.

Shooter's name withheld

Phone calls to Hobbin's residence went unanswered and Game Commission officials would not disclose the name of the shooter.

Feaser said the agency will not release the shooter's name until a determination is made regarding whether to file charges in connection with the shooting.

The same day Hobbins was shot, a 67-year-old man was killed in a turkey hunting accident in Bradford County.

According to The Towanda Review, a 77-year-old old man was using a turkey call when he heard something approaching from the rear, saw red movement and turned to make the kill. The victim was wearing a red shirt under a camouflage jacket.

It is not a requirement to wear bright orange hunting clothing when looking for a gobbler, even though the Game Commission recommends wearing it when moving.

However, a spokesman for the National Wild Turkey Federation, a nonprofit conservation and hunting organization, said orange could be dangerous to hunters.

The bright orange makes it too easy to mistake a person for a turkey, the spokesman, Brent Lawrence, said.

Don't wear red

Lawrence said when hunting for turkeys that it is important to "never wear anything in the red family," blue or white.

"Wear full camouflage," he said.

Lawrence said, despite the number of accidental shootings, turkey hunting is still one of the safest sports.

"It all comes to making good decisions," he said. "When you shoot a turkey, you aim for the head/neck area."

However, when trying to call turkeys, hunters can mistake another hunter's turkey call for a real turkey's call, Lawrence said.

"That's why you have to identify your target," he said. "If someone sees the movement and hears the call, they could act on impulse."

Lawrence added that hunters should never shoot a turkey from farther than 40 yards away.

"If you can't see the beard and the head very clearly, there's no way you can make a judgment that you're shooting a gobbler," he said.

According to Game Commission statistics, the number of shooting accidents while hunting turkeys is declining in Pennsylvania, while the sport's popularity is rising.

In 2008, there were 10 nonfatal accidents and no fatal accidents. In 1986, there were 26 nonfatal accidents and three fatal accidents in Pennsylvania.

The number of turkey hunters in the U.S. has risen from about 2.4 million 10 years ago to about 3 million today.

In Pennsylvania, gobblers can legally be hunted from May 1 to 31. Bag limit is one a day with a total limit of two.

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