Taking the Shot
March 16, 2004
Taking aim at a wild turkey just might be the most deceptive shot in hunting. Compared to a long-range shot at a white-tailed deer grazing 300 yards downfield or properly leading a mallard screaming through bottomland hardwoods, making a shot on a motionless 20 pound gobbler standing just 40 or less yards away seems like a pretty easy proposition.
Or Is It?
The most obvious shot to those unfamiliar with turkey hunting might be, just like with deer, trying to take a shot at the biggest part of the animal, the chest area and vitals beneath it. But that is a mistake that will more often than not wind up with a wounded bird.
“Avoid body shots on turkeys,” said Dr. James Earl Kennamer of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Thirty years of turkey hunting and expertise in wild turkey anatomy has made the Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs an expert on shot placement. “Their breasts are heavily muscled and tough to penetrate with even the heaviest turkey load.”
The only ethical and reliably 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 an area about the size of a five iron, so possessing the ability to accurately place a tight shot pattern is crucial.
“You should be able to put at least eight or 10 pellets in the vitals at 40 yards,” said Kennamer. He recommends waiting for the gobbler to extend his neck, because when the tom’s in strut, his spinal column is compressed and his head partially hidden by his feathers, making for an even smaller target area.
What if the bird doesn’t come out of strut? Give him a loud cluck with your call or a sharp whistle. Some hunters even simply shout a “hey you” at the bird. Either way, be ready when he looks, because the next thing you’re going to see after he lifts his head and realizes you’re a hunter is his tail feathers as he makes a quick escape.
The NWTF is a great resource for turkey hunting tips and other wild turkey information. Visit the NWTF’s Web site for information or call 800-THE-NWTF to become a NWTF member and receive one of their great magazines filled with turkey hunting tips and stories.