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This has been an interesting year for turkey hunters already, with stories pouring in from all over regarding opening-day antics. There is a common thread that worries me, however, because every story I’ve heard so far involves birds coming in, standing tall by the decoy and, BANG . . . a miss!
One of my best friends, who has been shooting game for over 45 years, was the first victim. He said the gobbler came in at dawn right off the roost, strutting and gobbling like he owned the place. My friend was all set up, gun ready, nothing to do but wait, and when the big tom stepped out by the decoy (at 20 measured yards) the game should have been over. Instead, my friend leveled his shotgun, took careful aim and . . . BLAM! The turkey stopped, looked all around and then high-tailed it for the hills, none the worse for wear.
It’s one of life’s major mysteries to know how a magnum 12-gauge shotgun loaded with over an ounce of No. 6 shot can miss a 20-pound bird at 20 yards, but it happened! When you consider all the time, effort and anxiety that goes into a turkey hunt (just getting a shot is a gift!), you can partially understand what it feels like to pull the trigger and see the bird run off unscathed. A turkey’s head and neck is about the size of a grown man’s forearm (fist and all), so how could a gun with what should have a 30-inch pattern at 20 yards miss the target. Good question!
Another buddy called to tell me that he’d had the same experience, only this time he was in a blind, the turkeys were less than 20 yards away and he’d sat there for an hour before deciding which bird to shoot at. He even had to wait as several hens and smaller jakes got out of the way. When he leveled his shotgun (which was brimful of No. 5 tungsten shot) he figured his season was over, but when the smoke cleared he saw turkeys running left and right and nothing on the ground but his shot wad.
Sad as these stories are, they are food for thought if you are planning to go turkey hunting this month. There is still plenty of time to go after your spring bird, and there are plenty of preparations to make before you head out before dawn to begin the challenge.
I’d say that the No. 1 mistake hunters make is not sighting in (or patterning) their firearms before a hunt. That’s a shame because most hunts are difficult and uneventful except for that one decisive moment when you make the shot or you don’t. It’s nothing short of depressing to get there, do what needs to be done, get into position; aim and fire only to see the object of your efforts run off unscathed. It happens all the time – if every shot you heard in November connected with its target there would be no more deer in Maine. But the sad truth is that only 10 percent of hunters fill their tags. It’s the same for turkeys, even though most targets are less than 25 yards, standing still and in plain view.
To save you the heartache and embarrassment of missing your 2006 spring turkey, here’s what you do: take your shotgun and the shells you plan to use (ideally magnum No. 5 or 6, though 4s will do), a few sheets of 30-inch paper or some standard turkey-head targets, and head for a safe place to shoot.
Set your target up at 30 yards (pace it off or measure it to be sure) and then sit down as if you were turkey hunting and fire a shot at the target. Take careful aim, take your time and act as if this shot were the only one you are going to get all season.
Many hunters aim directly at the bird’s head but this negates about half of your patter, which will go over and around the turkey’s head at this range. Instead, aim at the point where the skinless neck emerges from the body feathers. This will give you more shot in the head-neck area as well as in the lower neck region. Take your time, pick your target and shoot with confidence.
Now, check your target and see what the shot pattern looks like. Believe it or not, there are many reasons why you could miss a turkey and you may be looking at them right now. Is the shot pattern skewed to the left or right? Is it higher or lower than you aimed? Did it miss the target entirely (which can happen)? The variables in shotgun chokes, barrels and sights are immense and have a bearing on where your pattern will land. In extreme cases, the barrel may have to be bent to accommodate the situation, you may need the stock adjusted or you may need to have new chokes installed – there is much more to accurate shotgunning than meets the eye!
It may take several shots and a few adjustments to have your turkey gun shooting where you need it to go, but the effort will be worthwhile, believe me. The difference between a muffed shot or a succulent turkey dinner is all in what you do in 15 minutes on the range, and I’ve yet to hear of a turkey hunter who thought missing a bird was better than tagging it.
The most amusing thing is that after talking to my unfortunate buddies, guess where they went? That’s right, to the range. Only they were a day late and a gobbler short!
If you’re planning a turkey hunt this month, don’t put it off. Get to the range, satisfy yourself that your shotgun is patterning well and then head for the woods with the confidence that if your bird presents a target you’ll be up to the challenge. The entire scenario takes place in just seconds, but those few seconds can either thrill you (or haunt you) long after the season ends.
Believe me, I know – I missed a turkey once, too!
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