Ethics and Turkey Hunting

It is ironic that my spring turkey season is beginning to resemble my autumn deer season; already I have logged over 25 hours in the blind with not so much as a jake sighting. I truly hope to bag my first turkey before I hit the 40 hour mark! The greatest irony, however, is that the Saturday morning I spent in the blind two weeks ago armed only with my Nikon camera and box call produced multiple sightings and auditory confirmation of turkeys in the area. Hindsight is always 20-20, but I wish I would have brought my crossbow with me that Saturday and I could have shot a nice jake with a 6-7 inch beard that very day.

It’s rather like all the times I don’t have my .22 rifle with me and I see squirrels and rabbits, but when I do bring it, the critters seem scarce. Perhaps G-d’s creatures know that without a weapon I will look upon them with admiration and appreciation; but when armed I’m out for blood.

The greater issue regarding the absence of turkeys seems to be an ethical one, more than their keen intuitive powers. The military reserve land adjacent to my friend’s property, where I hunt, is archery only, as designated on the post hunting and fishing map. Yet every day I sit in my blind I hear shotgun blasts coming from those woods, much as I heard rifles during the extended deer season. Whether or not the hunters on the military side are aware that the area is archery only doesn’t seem to matter to them. This is one reason it is an ethical issue. It is also an ethical issue because no one should be hunting those woods without first knowing what the area is designated for. The map is available online, and Outdoor Education, as well as the Conservation Branch, have the information readily available. I learned today that prior to hunting on the installation, every hunter must watch a hunting video at the Conservation office. As it is written; ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Because the hunters are hunting with shotguns in an archery only area, they tend to hunt unethically as well; or so my ears tell me. The second day of turkey season I spent 12 hours in my blind. The shotgun blasts on the military reservation side of the woods were unceasing, and it sounded as if people were hunting in close proximity to each other and unloading ammunition on the powerless turkeys. Granted, the point of hunting is to find game, kill game, and dress the game so as to eat the game. But there are ethical ways to hunt, and non-ethical ways. I mentioned something similar in one of my initial essays, during deer season; an ethical hunter sights in on his or her target, breathes, and squeezes the trigger. It is our responsibility as hunters to ensure a humane kill, and not to hit and injure animals needlessly.

Part of the ethical hunting culture is the purchase of game tags, and each season has a specific limit. Spring turkey season allows for a two bird limit with two tags, and only turkeys with a visible beard are allowed to be hunted. With the shotgun blasts I’ve been hearing in the woods, I can only imagine hens and jakes are being injured, and hunters are taking more than their limit. Another ethical, and legal, issue is that Fort Riley has specific regulations regarding hunting on the reservation. No hunter can be within 200 yards of any other hunter who is not in his hunting party. I’ve heard people hunting at the property line, between the military reservation and my friend’s land. My blind is less than 200 yards from the property line, so any hunter hunting near the property line places me at risk and is violating post regulations.

The third major issue I have is that the hunters are careless regarding the boundary between the installation and the privately owned land. As with deer season, when my friend had to run hunters off his property, hunters have crossed over onto the privately owned land near my blind. Not only has the barbed wire fence at the property line been squashed for stepping over, it has also been cut, and I found a 12 gauge shot shell several feet from where I hunt. I am hunting with a 20 gauge, I’ve had zero opportunity to fire a shot, and my friend has been extremely kind in allowing me access to his property, but no one else. Even my friend, John, who owns the land, isn’t hunting because he wants me to have the opportunity to get experience and to feel safe.

It really burns my veteran butt when soldiers violate the very freedom they have sworn to uphold; in this case – property rights. The Third Amendment in the Bill of Rights protects against the quartering of soldiers on private property. Now I get hunting is different than quartering, but it supports my point. And the Fifth Amendment states that it protects against, in part, the deprivation of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. Ipso facto, trespassing on private land is a violation of the oath of enlistment which states, “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States….” And violation of one’s oath is a major ethical issue as far as I’m concerned.

In order to address the issue, I contacted the Director of the Conservation Branch of the Public Works Directorate and explained what is happening in the archery-only woods beside where I hunt. He seemed mildly interested and stated he forwarded my information on to the lead game warden so the game warden could contact me. I’ve heard nothing… but on-going shotguns in the archery-only woods. I did notice some new boundary signs were placed at the border between the reservation and my friend’s land; however the signs face the privately owned land and not the hunters on the military reservation who would normally cross over onto the private property. I’ve seen zero signs posted proclaiming the woods are archery only, which might help dissuade some hunters from using rifles and shotguns in the area, as they’re clearly not reading the map (or ignoring it). I’ve also notified my friend and the landowner on his other side about the woods being archery only, so if they feel inclined they can contact the Director of Conservation as well.

Since joining the minority of Americans who hunt, I have become addicted to the experience, and ready at a moment’s notice to don my camouflage apparel and hit the blind. But as with the other areas of my life, I believe in a strong code of ethics, and I believe ethics in hunting is of utmost importance if we are to maintain the right to hunt in an era when liberty is under attack much like the USS Liberty was in 1967.

Turkey season goes through the end of May, and I will utilize as much time in the blind as I can, until I can bag at least one long beard. And you can be assured that my hunt is an ethical one; with appropriate precautions and practice in place. One shot, one turkey. Now; hopefully I will see some soon, and they won’t all be stuck in the firing zone on the military installation side of the woods.

For a quick but worthy read on ethical hunting, I recommend, “Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic & Tradition of Hunting,” by Jim Posewitz.

In the blind by 0530 and calling turkey at 0630, using my Illusion box call, Mossberg shotgun in my lap.

In the blind by 0530 and calling turkey at 0630, using my Illusion box call, Mossberg shotgun in my lap.

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