The thrill in turkey hunting is bringing a wary old tom in close. The closer the better. The ultimate would be to pull him literally into your lap where you wouldn’t have to shoot him at all; you could just reach out and grab him. (Hmmm … maybe with the widespread growth in the popularity of noodling giant catfish from holes in river banks, there’s a whole new sport on the horizon of grabblin’ tom turkeys … but, I digress.)
When you pull a strutting tom so close you can feel the vibration of his drumming through your whole body, then you know you’ve done everything right right as a hunter. Your calling was good … or at least good enough. You were perfectly camouflaged to avoid detection. And even more important, you avoided the temptation to move or even blink. You were the ultimate hunter.
While that’s the thrill of turkey hunting, it just wouldn’t be the same without the chance to finish the deal; to make the shot and claim your prize—along with the delicious dining for you and your family. Fresh wild turkey breast on the grill along side some wild greens or some morel mushrooms is the world’s greatest spring tonic. So you definitely do not want to miss!
I agree with the backwoods adage that if you haven’t missed a turkey, then you haven’t hunted them very much. But the secret you don’t hear told very often is that it’s way easier to miss a turkey close than it is to miss one out there 20, 30 or 40 yards away. And it becomes more true as each season unfolds because technology in shot shells and shotguns makes turkey loads shoot tighter and tighter patterns all the time. That takes away any margin for error which used to exist for shots at less than 10 yards, and sometimes less than five yards.
At these super-close ranges your shotgun is performing much more like a rifle than a scatter gun. At 10 yards and in, you’re dealing with a “pattern” that’s three inches across … or less. Out at 40 yards it has expanded to at least 24 inches in diameter, and it’s probably just as deep (that’s why they call it a “shot string”). So you have way more margin for mis-aiming at 40 yards than you do at 10.
The answer for accurate shooting at turkeys is the same for both ranges, but these days it’s way more important close than it is at far: Put sights on your turkey gun.
Any kind of adjustable sighting system will do. Regular iron sights or peep sights are great. There are other good open sight options specially designed for turkeys, too. A red dot or reflex sight is a smart choice. Scopes (especially the ones built for turkey hunting) are also wonderful, but be careful with scopes. Heavy turkey loads are notorious for slap-you-in-the-head kind of recoil. If you creep up on that scope in the excitement of having a turkey in your lap, you’re going to end up with at least a nasty headache, and might even need a whole bunch of stitches to close up a deep, crescent-shaped cut on your brow!
The key to sights on a turkey gun is adjustability. You must sight in your turkey hunting shotgun just like you do a rifle, but after you have the pattern centering nicely at 20 or 30 yards, you’ll do the precision adjustment on your turkey gun at 10 yards or less. That’s just the opposite of sighting in a rifle, where you do the fine work at greater distances.
Shoot a few of your chosen turkey loads at seven or eight yards, and you’ll quickly see why it’s so important. If your aim is off just a fraction with a pattern about the size of a golf ball, you miss! And that’s what we’re trying to avoid!
Next time you’re out listening for birds going to roost and the conversation turns to shooting turkeys, tell the old timers the most important reason for sights on a turkey gun is for shooting birds close! It will probably start a debate that will last a long time after the last turkey has flown up for the night … but guaranteed, you’re on the winning side of this one, and you’ll teach the old timers a thing or two!