Why We Miss Turkeys
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 5, 2012.)
Now that spring turkey season is underway, some hunters haven’t shot yet, some have connected, and some have missed.
Shooting with your pulse pounding in your
ears is nothing like shooting at a silhouette
outline of a gobbler’s head on paper.
Why do we miss? Here are six reasons:
1. Stretching the range of your shotgun. Turkey shotguns have come a long way in the last few years. Manufacturers now make specialized turkey shotguns and custom gunsmiths can trick them out to produce dense, turkey-killing patterns at 50, and even 60 yards. But knowing your shotgun is capable of 60-yard kills doesn’t mean every turkey shot from 60 yards away will flop over dead.
I’m confident my shotgun can kill a gobbler at 50 yards with the right load. Should I take 50-yard shots? I don’t think so – for all the reasons that follow.
2. Misjudging distance. Accurately judging distance is critical to shooting turkeys. Even though my shotgun can kill turkeys at 50 yards, I seldom shoot beyond 30 yards. That increases any margin for error in judging distance and insures that the shotgun pellets still have plenty of energy. It also lessens the chance that an obstruction is somewhere between me and the gobbler.
My rule-of-thumb recommendation is to limit shots to no more than 75% of your shotgun’s effective range. For my 50-yard shotgun, that’s about 37 yards. For a 40-yard shotgun, it’s 30. With that rule-of-thumb, if I think the gobbler is 30 yards away, and he’s really at 37, he’s still well within range. Without it, if I pull the trigger on a turkey I think is 50 yards away, and he’s really 60, I’ll wound or miss him.
3. Awkward shooting position. When you pattern the shotgun, you shoot from a comfortable position with your eye in line with the scope or the beads on the barrel. But shooting with your pulse pounding in your ears is nothing like shooting at a silhouette outline of a gobbler’s head on paper. Plus, when you’re shooting at a live gobbler he can twist you into a pretzel.
Last year my second gobbler came from behind on my right. I had to twist my body and by the time I pulled the trigger I was tilting the shotgun. I got the turkey, but I almost missed him at only 30 yards.
4. Obstructions. One big difference between patterning your shotgun on paper and shooting at a gobbler in the woods is that in the woods you may not notice obstructions. Something might be between the place where your shot leaves the barrel and the place where it meets the gobbler’s head.
A few years ago when I shot at a gobbler in New York, one of us was going to have a bad day. It should have been me. Fortunately, it was him. At 35 yards away he wasn’t a big challenge for a 3½" magnum shotshell. But I didn’t see the 1" sapling about 25 yards away. I splattered it with shot, and the wad from the shotgun shell chiseled a squarish notch in the tree. That obstruction could easily have given the gobbler a much better day, and sent me home crying the blues.
5. Failure to pattern your shotgun. Some recommend doing this every year. I believe that’s unnecessary. However, it’s essential whenever you choose a different shell, or get a new choke tube.
The goal of patterning is to learn the capability of your shotgun and load. You need to know how dense the pattern is at 20, 30, 40 yards or more. You should test different shot sizes and have an idea of the differences between brands. Sometimes a certain shell will leave gaps in the pattern.
6. An improper sight picture. The biggest advantage of a scope on a turkey shotgun is that it insures a good sight picture. On the other hand if your sights are nothing more than a bead at the muzzle end, you need discipline not to lift your head.
Some people lift their heads in anticipation of recoil, or to see the turkey go down. Either way, lifting your head means you’re likely to shoot over the turkey. Keeping your head down preserves a good sight picture.
We miss turkeys for all those reasons. Eliminate them, and you’ll eliminate a gobbler virtually every time you pull the trigger.