Turkey hunter Kenneth Dienst shot his brother, Gary Dienst, and friend, Justin Wiles, in the face on the opening day of turkey season in Crawford County, Kansas after mistaking them both for turkeys. All three men were using turkey tail feather fans, leading them to stalk each other while believing they were following real birds.
As reported by the Daily Mail, Kenneth fired a single shot from his 12-gauge shotgun, releasing multiple pellets that impacted the faces and bodies of Gary and Wiles.
Gary and Wiles were taken to an area hospital in critical condition, with Wiles being placed in a medically induced coma for five days. Wiles is now stable, and both men expected to survive the incident.
As reported by The Wichita Eagle, Kenneth fired his shotgun, then rushed toward what he believed to be a fallen turkey. Jim Bussone, a game warden with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism who investigated the incident, said, “Right after [Kenneth] shot, he thought he saw a turkey flopping on the ground, but when he hurried up there, he saw two guys rolling on the ground. He’d shot [Gary and Wiles] in the face.”
“[Kenneth] swore he’d seen strutting toms and some other turkeys right up until then.”
What appeared to be a bird in Kenneth’s eyes was actually a gobbler’s preserved tail fan. Gary and Wiles were using the fan for cover to help them sneak and hide as they hunted. Kenneth was also using a similar fan, leading the three men to pursue each other.
Initially, Kenneth was dropped off at a different property than Gary and Wiles, leading Kenneth to believe they weren’t in the vicinity. However, after initially hunting at a separate location, Gary and Wiles returned to the property where Kenneth was hunting and did not inform Kenneth that they had returned.
Each party was using turkey calls to lure in toms. Bussone said, “They were calling to each other and sneaking up on each other like two toms coming at each other.” The use of the fans and calls led all of the men to believe they were hunting real turkeys.
Ultimately, it was determined Kenneth violated several safety rules during the incident including shooting at movement and firing at a fan instead of the head and neck of a bird. Additionally, Kansas law only permits the hunting of turkeys with a visible beard, which was not present on the tail fan being carried by Gary and Wiles.
Only 11 people reported injuries obtained while hunting in Kansas last year, none of which were fatal. Turkey hunters in the state only reported nine incidents over the past 11 seasons.