The bird was coming on a string. I’d started him with bout of loud yelps on my box call, eliciting a distant shock gobble. Diving for the nearest suitable cover I unlimbered by favorite slate call, slipped a diaphragm call in my mouth and propped the shotgun up on my knee. A few more clucks and purrs on the slate fired him up and each successive gobble sounded closer. This one was looking easy, too easy.

People, particularly those who pursue them, often assign great levels of wariness and wisdom to the wild turkey. In truth, it’s largely survival instincts finely honed over millennia, combined with acute senses that allow these birds to elude us more often than not. Still, sometimes you have to wonder.

The bird hung up just out of sight, then went silent. A less-seasoned hunter might figure the game was up but I knew this little turkey trick and held stock still, straining eyes and ears for some sign of the birds. Then I saw it, just a reddish head and a beady black eyeball peering through the thick underbrush over my left shoulder.

I also knew you never beat a turkey on the draw. My only chance was to remain motionless and hope he might move into a better position. He disappeared behind a tree, offering an opportunity to shift slightly, almost enough. When he stepped out on the other side I confirmed it was a longbeard, contorted my body as best I could and took the shot. The result was not as I’d hoped and the bird launched into flight without so much as a feather out of place.

If somebody tells you they’ve never missed a turkey you can probably conclude one of two things. Either they don’t have much turkey hunting experience, or they have a proclivity for prevarication. Hunt them long enough and you’ll miss one, and be reasonably sure it won’t be the last time. There are countless reasons why it sometimes happens. Thankfully, some are preventable.

Perhaps the most common is not patterning your gun. Every gun shoots a little differently, especially when using a variety of loads. Before you hunt, take your shotgun out and shoot it a few times. The best way is to shoot at a turkey-head target, but a cardboard box and a permanent marker will suffice. You should have at least 10 pellet holes in a vital area, otherwise you might need a heavier load or you’re too far away – more on that in a bit. If your shot pattern is not densest at your point of aim, adjust your sights or try a different load. Don’t hunt with an untested gun.


Another common mistake, which is less likely to happen if you’ve practiced, is properly judging distance or shooting beyond the effective range of your gun. Most turkey guns and loads should be effective out to 25 or 30 yards. With tighter chokes and heavier loads you can stretch that a bit, but don’t get carried away. The object (and the fun) is to lure a turkey into range, and claiming you dropped a bird at 50 yards isn’t bragging; it’s irresponsible.

Even doing it right requires that you know when a turkey is in range. That becomes more difficult in the heat of the moment. Humans make mistakes, but you can minimize them with practice and patience. Let the bird get closer, and if it doesn’t, enjoy the experience, then go find another bird. It’s also helpful to use a rangefinder to measure objects ahead of time. Then you can better judge when the bird is inside your effective range.

Yet another very common mistake is lifting your cheek off the stock. We all do it, trying to peek over the sights to get a better look. This results in shooting over the bird. I’ve missed some very close birds doing just this. There is such a thing as too close. Remember, your shot pattern needs time and distance to spread out. The closer the bird, the tighter the pattern.

These are just a few of the more common mistakes that can lead to a miss. There are plenty of others, including just being overwhelmed by the experience. In time, you’ll get better.

Just remember that in the school of the outdoors the lessons never stop, and the best ones often come from failure rather than success. The more you learn, the more successful you’ll be and the more rewarding will be the experience.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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