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Take the Shot and Recover Your Turkey

More than a few turkey hunters will admit … turkeys can be tough birds to bring down. Whether your iron sights cover a gobbler at 40 yards, or you’ve drawn your bow at a tom less than 10 feet away, it only takes seconds for a shot to go awry.

One of the number one reasons turkey hunters miss is that they get excited. It’s an exciting hunt, no question about it, but calmly and carefully going through the routine of pulling that trigger comes with practice. Some hunters want a better look at the bird as they pull the trigger.

It’s pretty common to see a hunter pull his or her head from the stock of the gun to get a better look at the bird when they shoot. Once they pull their head, their eye is not straight down the barrel and more than likely they’ll shoot above the bird.

But, shooting above or below a turkey barely scratches the list of dos and don’ts when preparing for that decisive moment. For instance, setting up in a comfortable position for a shot is probably one of the most important elements when turkey hunting. If you’re right handed, you want to set up so the bird would most often approach from your left or straight ahead. You don’t want to make too much movement because of the turkey’s keen eyesight, so you want to be set up so your shot is a comfortable one. Without question, however, the most uncomfortable position in the turkey woods is missing a turkey. That’s why the NWTF offers the following shooting tips as you head into the turkey woods this spring:

  • Practice shooting from the same positions you would in a hunting situation. Wear your turkey vest, headnet and other gear to make sure nothing catches when you shoulder the firearm.

  • Pattern your shotgun from different distances. Each gun, choke and turkey load combination has its own pattern and range. Eight to 10 pellets at 40 yards in the vitals area should be enough to kill a turkey.

  • Tighter choke tubes are not necessarily better. While the new fangled super tight tubes offer high velocity and knock down power at greater distances, be cautious if a bird gets in too close. Tighter choke tubes can constrict the shot pattern so much that the pellets will not have enough time to expand if a bird is too close to your setup.

  • Sit against a tree that is wider than your back and taller than your head when you’re practicing and when you’re in the woods. Not only is this the safest setup, but the tree will break up your outline and provide a solid back rest when you take the shot.

  • Take the best and safest shot. Hunters should always be mindful that another hunter could be in the same area. After you identify your target as a gobbler, it’s time to take the best shot.

Wait for the gobbler to come out of full strut and extend his neck, because when a tom is strutting, his spinal column is compressed and his head partially hidden by his feathers, which makes for a smaller target area.

Recovering a Wounded Turkey

Sometimes your best shot at a turkey just isn’t good enough, and a wounded turkey can ruin a good day of hunting. Keep in mind that a turkey’s body is loaded with 4,000 to 5,000 feathers in multiple layers, not to mention muscle, cartilage and bone that provides thick shields of protection “Avoid body shots on turkeys,” said James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D., NWTF chief conservation officer. “Their breasts are heavily muscled and tough to penetrate with even the heaviest turkey load.”

The most ethical and effective area to place your shot is in the head and neck of the turkey, where lead shot can easily penetrate the skull and spinal column for a quick, humane kill. This is a small area, so possessing the ability to accurately place a tight shot pattern is crucial. If your shot doesn’t end up in this area, then follow the tips below to help recover your bird.

  • Don’t assume that you’ve missed the turkey. Be sure to watch the longbeard for as long as possible —: especially if the bird takes to the air — if you think you’ve missed the bird. Turkeys often leave a weak blood trail — if any at all — so feathers and tracks are also good sign.

  • Don’t sprint after a turkey that’s been hit. Turkeys can run up to speeds of 30 miles per hour, faster than any human. Be patient. Turkeys normally won’t run far if they’re hit, sometimes only 30 to 40 yards. Give the bird time to settle down and then begin your search. Look around fallen trees, thick cover or creek banks where a bird may have gone to hide.

  • Crippled turkeys will generally fly less than 100 yards and they will make noise on an attempted landing. Wait for about an hour then begin your search. If you spot the bird and are presented a safe shot, shoot for the head and neck.

  • If you’re having trouble finding sign or the turkey, call up your hunting buddies to cover more ground. Walk slowly, and look in thickets and other possible hiding spots.

  • Don’t give up. It’s a hunter’s responsibility to put in a solid effort to find his or her quarry.

“Passing up a shot now and then is the mark of a mature hunter and will leave you with much less regret than if you begin taking risky shots that leave the birds wounded.” — Rick Combs, outdoor writer

The Bow and Arrow Shot

Bowhunting for turkeys is a different game altogether, just ask Scott Vance, NWTF assistant vice president of conservation programs administration.

Vance has been bowhunting for deer nearly all his life, however, his resume also includes many years experience bowhunting for turkeys.

“For bowhunters who want the ultimate challenge, turkey hunting will test your nerves, accuracy and patience,” said Vance. “Making the right shot on a turkey with a bow is much different than shooting one with a gun.”

A turkey’s heart and lungs, combined, are not much larger than the size of an orange. Hunters who use a shotgun should aim at a turkey’s head and neck for a clean kill, but for the bowhunter, the kill zone is much different, posing a repertoire of three main shots:

  1. A straight-on shot through the chest of a turkey can be a high percentage shot. However, aiming for this spot does risk the chance of severing the beard from the turkey’s chest.

  2. If the turkey is broadside, aim for the base of the turkey’s wing. This shot will pin the turkey’s wing to its body, making it nearly impossible to fly away. A shot in this area will also penetrate the vitals area for a quick and clean kill.

  3. A turkey in full strut and facing directly away from a bowhunter still offers a presentable shot. An arrow placed up the backside of a turkey will either severe the spine or pass through the mid-section of the turkey’s body. With this shot, the broadhead is sure to slice through main organs, quickly making the bird immobile.




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