Shotgun Skills for Turkeys
By Ralph Winingham
Treat your shotgun like a short-range rifle for turkey hunting success.
When you bring your old turkey gun out of storage for spring hunting season, file the normal scattergun-swinging skills away with the dove and quail loads. For most turkey hunting situations, the best rule is to treat your shotgun like a short-range rifle. It should be aimed, not pointed.
Most shots at strutting toms or curious jakes are close encounters. Minimum movement, maintaining a proper sight picture and proper placement of a sufficient number of pellets to make a killing shot are the keys to hunting success.
Begin practicing well before your hunt. After making sure your shotgun is unloaded, practice bringing the shotgun into shooting position while you are sitting. This simulates the position you normally will be in while turkey hunting. Your movements should be steady and confident, and you should be able to aim at an imaginary turkey head and neck the same way every time. Put the front sight six inches below the top of the head.
A trip to a shooting range to fire a few rounds at turkey head/neck targets is always worth the time and effort. Be sure to wear the same type of clothes you will wear on your hunt (so the shotgun will feel the same as it does in the field), and use your hunting loads.
Aim at a specific point on the target and confirm that your gun shoots where you aim. Keeping your head down with your cheek pressed to the stock will help maintain a consistent sight picture. Pattern at 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards to determine your effective killing range, then never shoot at a bird beyond that range. Take the most efficient load hunting.
Ken Morgan, the author of Turkey Hunting: A One Man Game and creator of the popular Morgan turkey calls, offers some simple advice for both beginners and veterans. "Get yourself ready mentally and physically before it is time to shoot," he says in his book. "When the turkey is inside of 25 yards, you should kill it when you have the first clear shot at his head and neck. The gobbler should be standing straight up and standing still."
Morgan recommends that even if the turkey has surprised the hunter when his shotgun is out of position, the hunter should remain calm. "Raise your gun, put the bead halfway between the gobbler's head and body along the center of his neck and pull the trigger. Do this quickly, but not hurriedly.'' A soft whistle or smacking of your lips just before you shoot should cause the gobbler to stand tall and raise its head, offering the best chance for a killing shot.
If the turkey ducks its head and runs or simply does not present a good opportunity for a killing shot, let it go and wait for the next gobbler. Body shots, shots at running birds and other poor shooting practices mostly likely will result in lost and wounded birds.
Many lost birds or complete misses are the result of the hunter moving or giving away his presence to the gobbler before the bird comes within shooting range. A saying attributed to one of the original turkey hunters, an American Indian, is that "When deer sees new stump or bush, he thinks 'May be Indian' and stops for a closer look. When turkey sees new stump or bush, he thinks 'Indian!' and runs away."
The message is that turkeys don't give a careless hunter a second chance. Keep your movements to a minimum and have your shotgun in shooting position before the gobbler gets within range. However, if a bird is on you before you shoulder your shotgun, wait until it is the appropriate distance away and snap your gun into position. That quick motion usually freezes the gobbler for three to five seconds, so take aim and make a good shot.
Morgan says he prefers to fire when gobblers are no more than 35 yards from his position; within 25 yards is even better. Waiting for the birds to get close has allowed him to use everything from a 12-gauge to a diminutive .410 to bring down toms. However, most hunters should stick with a full-choked 12-gauge for the best results.
Opinions vary on the shot size needed for the tough birds, but most hunters agree that a heavy load of No. 4 to No. 6 shot is best, depending on how your shotgun patterns. Duplex loads that feature two sizes of shot in the same shell have proven to be very popular. Small shot sends more pellets toward your target, but large shot retains more killing impact. The goal is to put enough shot into the gobbler's head and neck to cause sufficient killing damage to the bird's central nervous system.
Finally, but most importantly, a good turkey hunter must be a safe turkey hunter. Be sure of your target and what may be beyond it. Remember that your shotgun pellets will travel well beyond the 30 yards or so where your gobbler should be standing. If you have any doubts about anything, just don't pull that trigger. Wait for a better opportunity.