When I Lost My Eye

Chip Gross was shot while turkey hunting 26 years ago. (Courtesy Chip Gross)

Anniversary of being shot comes with call for safety in turkey woods

This year will mark my 26th anniversary, but the specific date — May 5, 1986 — is not one I care to remember. It was the day I was shot in the turkey woods.

It felt and sounded like a firecracker exploding in my left ear. I was knocked down, but not unconscious, and my mind immediately tried to figure out what was wrong — what was happening.

At first, I thought my shotgun had blown apart. I had been turkey hunting and carrying the 12-gauge on a sling over my shoulder and thought one of the three-inch magnum shells in the magazine had detonated for some unexplained reason.

But I had been carrying the gun over my right shoulder, so why were my left arm and the left side of my face stinging as if a thousand hornets were attacking? I remember sitting up and seeing my camouflaged shotgun lying intact on the ground. It was then that my mind registered the terrifying and unbelievable fact, “I’ve been shot!”

To make a long, painful story very short, another hunter had mistaken my hen calling and movement for a wild turkey and nailed me at 30 yards. I was hit with about 20 lead pellets, most of which I still carry in my body today. But the worst of my injuries was a shotshell pellet that penetrated my left eyeball, permanently blinding me in that eye. It took four years for me to feel comfortable enough to once again step back into the turkey woods, but I’ve hunted every year since.

Hunt Defensively

The following eight tips will help you hunt more defensively in the turkey woods. And besides making you a safer hunter, these suggestions will also make you more successful:

1. Never stalk a turkey – Trying to sneak up on a wild gobbler is a hunting method that could easily result in you being involved in a hunting accident. Always attempt to call a turkey to your location, never stalk.

2. Dress for success – Eliminate the colors red, white, and blue from your hunting clothing, the colors of a gobbler’s head. Wear complete camouflage when calling from a stationary position, including headnet and gloves. When moving through the woods, display some hunter orange.

3. Remain still – When approached by another hunter, don’t move, wave, or make a turkey sound to alert him/her of your presence. Instead, yell or speak in a loud voice. And always assume that any turkey sound you hear could be another hunter.

4. Don’t use a gobble call – Gobble calls are great for locating birds prior to the hunting season, but should be left at home once the turkey season begins. Duh.

5. Choose a safe calling position – Whenever possible, select a large tree or rock to sit against when calling. The object will not only break up your outline from an approaching gobbler, but will protect your back from an approaching hunter.

6. Positively identify your target – In most states, only bearded birds are allowed to be harvested during the spring turkey hunting season. Make sure you see a beard before pulling the trigger, and never shoot at a sound or movement.

7. Know your range – Pattern your shotgun prior to the turkey hunting season using the same ammunition with which you plan to hunt. Numbers 4, 5, 6, or 7½ size shot are good choices. Know your gun’s effective range, and keep in mind that most turkeys are killed at 30 yards or less.

8. Where to aim – Always aim at a turkey’s neck and head. Wild gobblers are large, heavy, big-boned birds that are seldom killed by a body shot.

Hunting the wild turkey — America’s greatest game bird — should be a fun, exhilarating, rejuvenating time in the spring woodlands. Don’t let it be marred by tragedy. you are the victim or the shooter in a turkey hunting accident, your life will be changed forever. Mine was.

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