More opportunities for taking a wild turkey are muffed by hunters during the last critical few moments before pulling the trigger than at any other time during a hunt. In most cases, a poor last-second decision is due to inexperience, a serious case of nerves, or both. That said, the following tips will help you avoid the mistakes many hunters make when a turkey is approaching those last few yards.
Don't move, Don't move, Don't Move!
Very few wild animals have the keen eyesight of a wild turkey, and if you think you can quick-draw one, you can’t. Believe me, I’ve tried. Several times. I once had three jakes surprise me on opening morning of the Ohio turkey hunting season, walking up to within 10 feet of me at first light, my shotgun still in my lap.
“No problem,” I thought, my chest heaving with excitement. “Surely I can kill at least one of these three.” I gripped my shotgun tightly, then counted to three in my head. “One, two, three, go!”
Jerking the shotgun from my lap to my shoulder, all three jakes went from zero to 60 in less than a second — or so it seemed. Needless to say, I shot a large hole in the air behind the head of one of them, but never touched a feather. Live and learn.
To avoid such a scenario, have your shotgun up on your bended knee and pointed in the direction a gobbler is approaching before he comes into view. If you’re teaching a youngster or your spouse to turkey hunt, a camouflaged shooting stick may be helpful in supporting the gun.
Shooting too soon
Adult wild turkey gobblers across North America weigh an average of about 20 pounds and stand some three feet tall. If you’ve not turkey hunted much, such a large bird approaching through the woods can seem closer than he actually is, especially if he’s in strut.
Many gobblers are crippled and lost each year by hunters shooting too soon. Way too soon. The keys to avoiding such a mistake are knowing your shotgun’s effective range and how to accurately judge distance.
Most wild turkeys are killed at 40 yards or less, so practice estimating that distance, both in the woods and across open fields. When hunting from a blind and using turkey decoys to attract gobblers, a tip here is to set the decoys at different known distances from the blind: 20, 30, and 40 yards. That way, if a gobbler walks between the blind and your decoys, you’ll be absolutely sure he’s within range.
Choosing a poor setup location
When running and gunning for wild turkeys — moving through the woods trying to locate a gobbler — have a large tree or other location picked out before making that first hen call. Because if a tom is close and answers with a gobble, you will have to dive for cover quickly.
If you have a good setup location already picked out, that turkey is practically dead. But choose your setup poorly, and the gobbler will likely pick you out as he approaches — either taking off in the opposite direction, or growing suspicious and not coming close enough for a shot.
Not sitting long enough
Many novice turkey hunters often ask, “How long should I wait before changing calling locations?”
Depends. If you have a gobbler answering you, sit tight. Likely he’ll come within sight, if not shooting range, sooner or later. More gobblers have been scared off by hunters moving too soon rather than too late.
If I have a gobbler answer my calling even once, and I know he’s within 100 yards, I’ll sit for at least an hour in one location, whether he gobbles again or not.
But what if it’s one of those days when you haven’t heard a gobble all morning? I usually give those calling locations about 20 minutes to half an hour, then move on.
Taking the shot
There is nothing more frustrating in wild turkey hunting than working hard to get Big Bird within range, then missing the shot. Hunt long enough, and it will happen to you. How can you prevent a miss from happening too often?
First of all, don’t shoot at a turkey while he’s moving, wait for him to stop. Secondly, aim at the head/neck area of the bird and steadily squeeze the trigger of your shotgun, don’t jerk it.
Lastly, if you don’t already have both a front and rear sight (or low-power telescopic sight) mounted on your shotgun, make the effort to put them on. Having a good sight plane will keep you from lifting your head off the stock and shooting over the bird. And quality fiber-optic sights are well worth their price when hunting during the low-light conditions of early morning or late evening.