GIRARD, Kan. — Opening day of turkey season in Kansas went horribly amiss Wednesday for a party of three hunters when one shot the other two, apparently mistaking them for their quarry.

Sheriff Dan Peak said the apparent accident happened on private property west of Girard in Crawford County and involved three men from Arkansas.

Peak said the sheriff's office learned of the matter when the shooter drove the two injured hunters to the hospital in Girard with potentially life-threatening shotgun wounds to their faces and upper bodies. They later were flown by medical helicopter to Freeman Hospital West in Joplin.

The names of the men were not being released Wednesday while their medical status remained uncertain and authorities sought to notify their families.

Peak said the three men came to Kansas to hunt turkeys and secured a lease to hunt the property where the accident happened. The sheriff said the shooter is the brother of one of the injured men and a close friend of the other. The shooting remained under investigation Wednesday afternoon, although preliminary indications are that it was a hunting accident, the sheriff said.

The man who fired the gun told sheriff's deputies that he was dropped off at the property by the other two about dawn. His brother and friend wished to hunt at a different spot and drove on to that location.

The brother and friend eventually set up just inside a wooded area, wearing camouflage and lying behind a fan made of turkey feathers.

The man said that he fired his 12-gauge shotgun about 8:40 a.m. at what he thought was a turkey that he had been "calling in." He told deputies that he then realized almost immediately that his brother and friend must have been hunting the same turkey and that he had shot them.

The sheriff said the single shotgun blast apparently struck both victims.

"They were positioned close together, trying to draw in what they thought was a turkey," Peak said.

The two wounded men were able to walk to their truck with the assistance of the shooter, who then drove them to the hospital.

The investigation has yet to determine the distance at which the shot was fired, the sheriff said. He also did not know whether an actual turkey was in the area that both parties were hearing or if they simply were "calling in" each other. 

He said that while alcohol is not believed to have been a factor, blood samples were obtained from all three men as an ordinary measure in the investigation of a shooting.

Opening day

Wednesday was opening day of Kansas' spring turkey hunting season, which runs through the end of May.

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.