Some animals are just tough, others not so much. In the latter category, you could probably put cottontails, grouse, and pronghorn. While there are exceptions to every rule, those species seem to give in without much persuasion.
Other animals, such as whitetails, moose, various species of squirrels, and turkeys, don’t shed the old deadly coil as quickly. When it comes to turkeys, this stems from sheer force of will and a small life area design that allows them to ignore hits that seem deadly. This is something that newcomers will eventually discover and is always on the minds of experienced turkey hunters, regardless of which weapon they choose.
The big no-no
Mitch Boyum is not only an amazing turkey hunter and caller, he is also a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. When asked which turkey shot he would recommend to all hunters, he didn’t hesitate with his initial answer.
“With gunhunters, it’s a multi-bird situation,” Boyum said. “When you look at how effective modern turkey charges are, you realize how easy it can be to kill an extra bird during the heat of the moment.”
This scenario is something Boyum gets a few calls about every spring and it’s almost always avoidable. The key is not to focus so much on the target bird that any other nearby birds become an afterthought. It’s also important to recognize how far you can carry a load of turkey. More than one hunter has shot what they thought was a lone tom in his shot, only to realize an innocent bystander was also in the line of fire.
Another trigger situation that often results in a miss or injury occurs when the bird is moving. This is tricky, Boyum noted, because the turkeys are almost always on the move.
“Turkeys have clumsy, jerky movements where the head is always brought closer to the body. If you’re not used to seeing real birds move, it’s easy to aim for the head only to pull the trigger as it moves out of your window of vision. With kids and new hunters, this happens a lot.”
you can’t exactly mrrrp a turkey as you would a deer, although you can call them to stop and raise their heads. In fact, last year I gobbled up a bird twice so my daughter could shoot it when she stopped. It worked, but he was also sure that it would work and that she would be patient enough to wait for the injection.
Turkeys move around a lot. The best way to not shoot at the wrong time is to watch live birds as much as you can and allow the encounter to unfold naturally. A wary bird sneaking up on you might not present much of a target, but a longbeard bird that commits to the spread will eventually pause long enough for you to line up the red dot or put the pin in its chest.
A strutting tom can do weird things to us, like make us think it’s 20 yards closer than it is. This happens a lot with birds in the fields and is a great way to mess up a shot with a bow or gun. If you’re not good at judging distance, carry a rangefinder. Placing items in front of your roll before you call is a good strategy.
Many hunters don’t consider this with shotguns, but they should. Even though some hunters are now hunting turkeys at ranges never seen before, those birds are dying due to specialized chokes and high-end tungsten turkey loads (and hopefully plenty of range time to discover the weapon and the capabilities of burden). For the average hunter out with a reliable shotgun, it’s important to understand its maximum effective range.
When it comes to bowhunting, this is also essential. A turkey’s vital organs are small, covered in feathers, and often not easy to reach, even when a longbeard is 10 meters away. At 30, 40 or 50 yards, everything becomes a recipe for a blow or a not immediately lethal blow to the chest or leg.
Too far is too far. Pushing the shooting distance with a pistol or bow rarely works well. A better bet is to set a hard limit and then figure out how to get a bird within that range. You will have a hard time finding a really successful turkey hunter who takes long shots. They have probably seen how bad can go wrong.
Featured image via Matt Hansen.