Shotgun Shooting Tip: Where to Aim on Wild Turkeys

Many hunters miss or make marginal hits on wild turkeys because they aimed at the wrong spot. Here’s how to drop a tom or jake with one well-placed shot.

Shotgun Shooting Tip: Where to Aim on Wild Turkeys

My 19-year-old son, who plans to pursue wild turkeys this spring with a college buddy, recently asked, “Where exactly should I aim at a wild turkey if one stops before coming all the way to my decoys?”

Earlier in the conversation I recommended placing his decoys — a hen or two with a jake — at 20 yards, then jamming a 2-foot-long stick in the ground at 40 yards to mark his maximum shooting distance. He planned to sit along a field edge, with decoys placed in the field.

Here’s the advice I gave to my son: 

1. Strutting bird at 20 yards (near the decoys).

Because a swarm of shotgun pellets will damage a wild turkey’s breast, I prefer not to shoot a close-range tom (or jake) when he’s strutting. A tom’s head is tucked low to his chest when strutting, so if possible, I like to get the bird to come out of strut before dropping the hammer on him.

Strutting toms and jakes will almost always stop strutting and stand tall with neck extended if you make a few hen yelps at close range. This is easy when using a mouth call, but it can’t be done if you’re relying on a slate call or box call because both hands will be holding the shotgun.

That said, you can still make hen sounds (yelp! yelp! yelp!) with your voice, and that works well. And while this advice might sound odd, you can emit just about any sound and a close-range tom will stop strutting and stick his head in the air and look your way. Mimic the sound of a doe or fawn bleating (maaaappp!) like you would to stop a walking whitetail, or simply say “Hey, bird” in a loud voice. Be ready to shoot immediately because a tom or jake probably won’t stand there long with his neck extended looking your way. You’ll probably have 2 seconds to fire before he starts a nervous retreat.

After the bird stands at alert, aim low on the neck, right where the feathers begin to grow. This gives you some margin for error; some pellets will strike above this point of aim, impacting the bird’s brain. Some pellets might hit the top of the breast, too, but at this close range it’ll be minimal.

I don’t recommend aiming for the top of a tom’s head (in an attempt to avoid placing a single pellet in the breast) because if you shoot just a touch high, or if your shotgun throws the vast majority of pellets above your point of aim, then you’ll miss.


2. Strutting bird at 30 to 40 yards (hung up behind decoys).

In my experience, you can make hen yelps to a 30- to 40-yard strutting tom or jake but he usually won’t break out of strut. You can try, but don’t be surprised if he gobbles and stays in strut, or quietly ignores you while strutting. At this longer range, I want a bit of time to fully concentrate on my aiming and trigger pull — I don’t want the 2-second countdown caused by alerting the bird with a bleat or a “Hey, bird.”

In this longer-range scenario, the shotgun pattern will continue to spread out, and while some pellets will certainly hit the breast, it won’t be a mess. A broadside strutting bird at this longer range is a tricky target; I’d rather wait for a strutter to face me before I pull the trigger; my chance of getting a good number of pellets into his head, neck and heart/lungs are better with a head-on shot angle.

When a strutting bird faces me at 30 to 40 yards, I put the bead of my shotgun on the base of his neck and then carefully pull the trigger. If a tom is standing with his neck extended, I still aim for the base of the neck.

If possible, rest your arms on your raised knees to help stabilize your shotgun aim. This works best when leaning your back against a large tree. Even better, use a bipod for gun support.

Tip: Check out the innovative Swagger Stalker Lite bipod; it works well for shooting from a butt-on-the-ground position, and allows you to move your shotgun slightly from side to side to follow a walking turkey.

Of course, be ready for an immediate follow-up shot. Trailing a wounded turkey is a low-percentage affair. It doesn’t matter if a hit turkey is running or flying; keep shooting until the bird is well out of range or you’re out of shells. And remember to fill your shotgun magazine to capacity. If you’re using a waterfowl gun, remove the plug that limits you to three shells.

The keys to dropping a wild turkey with one shot are waiting for the bird to walk within range, knowing when to shoot and where to aim, and having a solid shooting base.
The keys to dropping a wild turkey with one shot are waiting for the bird to walk within range, knowing when to shoot and where to aim, and having a solid shooting base.


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