It's spring gobbler season and you're working through the woods before dawn, picking out a trail with your flashlight.
Up ahead is the tangle of brush you chose a few days ago, nearly the recent scrapings of a flock of feeding turkeys.In camouflage, you settle next to a tree and put on camouflage gloves and veil. You're as close to invisible as you'll ever be.
As dawn breaks you pull out a turkey call, a simple diaphragm resenator you work between your tongue and palate to sound like the clucking of a lovelorn hen. You squawk and gobble, and from the ridge just ahead, maybe a quarter-mile away, you hear a reply. Your blood pressure jumps, your eyes brighten. You've got one working.
For an hour and more you call the gobber and he answers. At last you hear him crunching through the brush. You stay stock still, heart thumping, adrenalin punping.
Suddenly there's movement in the woods just 40 yards away. You bring the 12-gauge slowly to your shoulder, over the front sight there's a flash of color. You fire. There's a groan. You race over - and find a wounded hunter braced against a stump. You've just mistaken a man for a turkey.
Sound far-fetched? It isn't. In Pennsylvania, where they worry about such things, the Game Commission has kept book on hunter accidents over the past five years. In more than half the cases of hunters mistaken for game and shot, the game was turkey.
The commission found 136 mistaken-forgame accidents since 1972; 83 of victims were turkey hunters, and 10 of them died. The common view is that the most dangerous time to be hunting is deer season, when the woods are crawling with hunters armed with high-powered rifles. But in the same five years there were but 25 mistaken-fordeer accidents in Pennsylvania, 11 fatal. For other game the figures are: squirrel 14, none fatal; bear 3, all fatal; woodchuck 3, 2 fatal; pheasant 3, none fatal; rabbit 2, none fatal; possum and fox 1 each, both fatal; and muskrat 1, not fatal.
A third of the turkey-hunting accidents were in spring gobbler season, when hunting pressure is light and the season closed except for bearded turkeys. Stan Forbes, of the commission, says in that season "There is no reason for mistaken identity." One factor has to be camouflage. Turkey hunters argue, with some evidence, that turkeys have the best vision of any game, and few wear blaze orange.
But Forbes, a turkey hunter himself, maintained that blaze orange shouldn't damage a good hunter's chances.
While conceding that turkeys apparently can differentiate colors, Forbes feels they "are more affected by motion," adding: "I can show you hunters that wear blaze and pick up their turkey every year."
In any case, it's obviously far better to walk home empty-handed than be carried out with a hole in you. Turkey season opens Oct. 29 in Pennsylvania, widely regarded as one of the top turkey states, and next month in Maryland and Virginia, Watch your step.