The number of turkey-hunting related incidents has dropped from 8.1 incidents per 100,000 hunters in 1991 to 2.95 incidents per 100,000 hunters last year, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation.
"Turkey hunting is actually one of the safest outdoor activities whether you're talking about team sports, other types of hunting or outdoor hobbies such as mountain biking," said Rob Keck, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Citing statistics from American Sports Data Inc., the federation claims hunting turkeys is less dangerous than football, ice hockey and even volleyball. The data was released in January during the third meeting of the National Hunter Safety Task Force at the Wild Turkey Center in Edgefield, S.C. Tom Hughes, a senior wildlife biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation in Edgefield, said the drop was due to greater awareness among hunters of the dangers of shooting turkey.
Accidents occur when hunters act on what they think they know, an effect called "premature closure," said Hughes. A hunter who pulls the trigger at the sound of rustling brush, or who shoots at the sight of the slightest motion, is guilty of "premature closure."
"The mind connects the dots without having all the information," said Hughes.
According to data collected from the International Hunter Education Association Web site, many people involved in shooting-related incidents are experienced hunters. Still, said Hughes, most get into trouble because they shoot first and then ask questions. Sometimes, shooters mistake a glimpse of a blaze-orange jacket for the male turkey's head.
Hunters running into trees while riding their ATVs in the course of hunting turkeys are a major source of turkey-hunting insurance claims, according to Glenn Sudol, president of the Westminster, Colo.-based agency Gillingham & Associates. "They (ATVs) are speedy and trees are hard," he said.
One of his agency's most severe claims stemmed from an incident about four years ago when a hunter fired on a game warden. "He mistook a game warden for a turkey and shot him up pretty good," said Sudol. The warden survived.
Turkey-hunting incidents are usually insured under a general liability policy taken out by the hunting lodges and rifle clubs who own the land on which many accidents occur. The liability policy is typically part of a broader commercial insurance package covering the business.
Outfitters and guides who take hunters out into the field to shoot turkey are likely to be insured by a monoline liability policy, Sudol said. The National Wild Turkey Federation has 525,000 members in 50 states and 12 foreign countries. It estimates that there are 6.8 million wild turkeys and approximately 3 million turkey hunters.
July 1, 2005
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