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Make Every Shot Count
Some tips for reducing misses and wounded birds

--by Rob Ramsdale--

Aiming Points

This may seem like a simple thing to most veteran hunters, but the aiming point on a wild turkey is critical, especially for those bowhunters out there. For shotgun hunters, there are really only a few basic rules to follow:

  1. Aim for his neck - The most lethal hit on a turkey is to his brain and spinal cord. Direct hits in these two areas will drop a turkey on the spot. Knowing this, the ideal shot on a turkey is at the middle of his neck where the skin stops and the feathers begin. By aiming here instead of straight at his head, there is a larger margin of error for a high shot and a low shot will still hit the base of the neck. Also, his head bobs and weaves a lot. If you aim at his head and the bird is in close you can miss it completely if its head moves. I generally aim even a little lower on his neck when the bird is in close to make sure I get a lethal hit. Yes, this may put a few pellets in the breast meat but it's better than missing or wounding a bird.
  2. Don't shoot a strutting bird. -- If possible, let the bird either naturally stand up and stretch his neck out or else cluck to the bird and force him to stop strutting and stand up straight to see what's making those clucks. A strutting turkey has its neck folded back onto itself. By standing and stretching his neck, the turkey presents a larger target of his vital area, the spinal cord (neck) and head. A larger target means you will miss less often.
  3. Pattern Your Gun -- Many guns shoot a pattern that is not centered with the sights. The pattern is either high, low, left or right of the point-of-aim or sometimes a combination of these such as low and left. You can adjust for this by using aftermarket sights or scopes that will allow you to get your gun shooting where you are aiming. Another important thing to find out is your pattern density and width of pattern at varying distances. Many of the current extra and super full-choked guns throw a pattern that is only inches wide at close ranges. If you have a gobbler sneak in within 5 yards before you can get your gun ready, it might be best to let him walk away out to 20 yards or so before taking a shot, simply to let your pattern open up a little.

Archery Aim Points

Walking Away Backbone/Spine Shot -

This is the ideal shot for a bowhunter since a shot to the spine will immediately immobilize the bird and it should die quickly. The best situation for this shot is with the bird standing erect with its head up and its back toward you. If it has its head down and is walking away feeding, it doesn't present a good target. A spine shot is best but the turkey won't always present you with this angle.

Broadside Shot at Butt of the Wing -

Many times the gobbler will present a broadside shot which can be good if you can hit the point where the wing butt connects to the bird's body. This point is at a relatively high position on the body where the arrow will either break a wing or the backbone or pierce the heart or lungs.

Standing Upright Facing Shot -

Sometimes the the bird will be facing you (breast-on). This isn't ideal for several reasons but aim for a point 4 to 5 inches below the base of the neck or about an inch below where the beard is attached to a male turkey. A hit in this location should break the back as it goes through and also damage the heart and/or lungs, or break a wing or leg.

Texas Heart Shot -

Shooting at a strutting spring gobbler is a risky venture. When a turkey struts his feathers are puffed out away from his body, making the location of the vital areas difficult to determine. You can usually bring a turkey out of strut by making a couple of clucks on a turkey call. If this doesn't work, the best shot at a strutting gobbler is to wait for him to turn his fanned tail toward you. With his back turned and his head hidden by the fan, you can draw on him without being seen. Then aim at the vent (anus) at the base of the tail. Your broadhead placed in this location should hit the heart, lungs or liver and maybe break a leg or wing too.

Strutting Facing Shot -

When you just can't get a bird to come out of strut and he won't turn around to give you a better shot from the back, you can still try the facing, breast-on shot. Just aim a little below where the beard protrudes from the feathers and remember to adjust your aim left or right if he is standing at an angle.

Broadside Shot at a Strutting Gobbler -

This is probably the least desirable but most often presented shot on a gobbler. When taking a this shot at a strutting gobbler, aim for a point in front of the secondary, bronze-colored, wing feathers near where the black-tipped body feathers begin. This point should be directly inline with the hip joint.

Learn to estimate distance

The wild turkey is a large, tough bird and if your aim is off just a little, you risk wounding the bird. A lot of turkey misses are results of yardage estimation mistakes. When the adrenaline is pumping and the hands start shaking, that big old tom will always look closer than he actually is. One good way to get better at estimating ranges is to simply practice.

Whenever you're out walking, pick an object along your path in the distance and estimate its range. Count your strides as you approach and see how close you guessed. (A walking stride for the average male should be about a yard.) If you do this often enough, you'll eventually get a very good feel for what 35 yards looks like and this will help you when you are hunting turkeys.

After you get set up in a calling location, pick out several references around you and estimate their distance so you'll have an idea when an approaching turkey is within 35 yards. If you plan on staying for awhile, go ahead and step off a distant tree or rock so you'll have a known marker to help you estimate range when the gobbler comes into your setup. If you use decoys, place them at about 20 yards out and then you'll have a known distance also. Many hunters will carry along a laser range finder and this is perfect, especially for those hunting with a bow.

Be patient!!

Last but not least is to be patient aiming and taking your shot. Take your time and be very sure about your target and what's beyond it. If you're hunting with a shotgun let him strut around awhile and enjoy the show before you pull the trigger. Always try and take the best shot possible. Make sure you're shooting at a turkey and there's not something behind it like a hen or a fellow hunter. If the turkey doesn't present you with a good shot let it walk away and try to call it up again in a new, better location.

Always remember, it's simply not worth wounding a bird or taking an unsafe shot when you can let him walk and come back and hunt him the next day.


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