Once you have located a turkey, approached him successfully and started your calling sequence, the game is on. It is imperative at this point to do things correctly or else your hard work will go without reward.
Get ready to shoot before you start calling. This means having a shell chambered and the gun partially raised to a shooting position.
Setup for Your Shot
When you’re leaning against a tree, the best place to rest your shotgun is over your knee. Have the stock close to your shoulder so that you don’t need to move the gun a lot in order to make a shot. You’ll have your muzzle and your body aiming toward the most likely line of approach for the gobbler, but take a moment to make a plan about how you’ll shoot in other directions as well. Map out the necessary movements so you can do it quietly and smoothly.
Before you start calling is also a good time to think about shooting distances. If you carry a laser rangefinder, take some readings on surrounding trees. There are endless debates about how far away you can effectively kill a turkey with a shotgun or a bow, but for our purposes here let’s say we’re limiting our shots to the very safe distance of 40 yards with a shotgun and 30 yards with a bow.
Mark those distances, or whatever distances you’ve deemed appropriate for your own skill level, so that you can tell when a turkey is in range. Over time, you’ll develop the ability to know when a turkey is in range just by looking at it.
If you need to move in order to adjust the position of your shotgun before shooting, wait until the turkey’s head passes behind a tree or other obstruction. A gobbler’s own tail fan will periodically block his vision when he’s strutting. Take advantage of the moment by readying your shotgun. When the bird turns back in your direction, you can break him out of his strut by giving an alarm putt with your mouth call. The tom will instantly extend his neck, giving you an excellent shot opportunity with a low likelihood of peppering the meat with shotgun pellets.
When shooting a shotgun, you want to hit the turkey in the head and neck. It’s a small target that moves a lot, and plenty of hunters miss turkeys every year. Most birds are missed by shooting too high, right over the tom’s head. To avoid this mistake, always keep the bird’s head above the bead on your shotgun, that is, never blot out the bird’s head with your muzzle.
A great trick is to aim for the turkey’s waddles. And by aim, I mean aim carefully. Don’t just assume that, since it’s a shotgun, you’re guaranteed to hit. That sort of thinking is a sure way to miss.
A final thought on shot placement, many states have fall turkey seasons which allow hunters to kill birds with rifles. If you encounter a turkey while deer hunting and decide to take the shot, aim for the base of the neck. Hitting a turkey square in the body with a deer rifle is a good way to destroy your Thanksgiving dinner.
Killing a turkey with a bow is much more difficult than killing one with a shotgun. Even expert archers will routinely lose wounded turkeys due to improper shot placement or mechanical failure of their broadheads. A strutting tom looks like a huge target, but there’s a lot non-vital space beneath all those feathers. On broadside shots, aim for the butt, or base of the wing. This will usually bust the wing bones, preventing the bird from flying off, and often results in destroyed lungs as well.
Shot placement is very difficult on a turkey that is facing away from you unless the bird is in full strut. If so, hit him right at the base of the fan. On a strutting tom that is facing toward you, hit him right at the top of the beard. If the bird is standing erect, with his neck up, hit him in the top third of his breast.
Some bowhunters like to aim for a turkey’s neck or head. For many, the goal is to decapitate the bird. There is a lot of room for error with this approach. In the wrong hands, it can border on stunting rather than hunting. Leave it to the true experts with a ton of turkey hunting experience. Until you get to that place yourself, stick with body shots.
Jerod Fink on Bowhunting for Turkeys
“The use of a commercial ground blind when bowhunting for turkeys is not essential for success, but it sure stacks the odds in your favor! Today, you can’t just set a pop-up blind out in a field and assume that the turkeys won’t spook.
“Too many birds have seen that trick too many times over the past decade; the fear is ingrained in them. To up your chances, be selective where you set your blind, and make sure you have plenty of background cover or else brush it in. Yes, that’s right. You need to camouflage your camouflage-colored blind.
“Decoying turkeys, especially highly pressured Eastern gobblers, can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it works, and sometimes birds will run the other way at the sight of a fake bird. However, I still feel that decoys are basically essential when bowhunting turkeys, even if it means scaring off a bird or two in the process.
“Shot placement is crucial to success for archery turkeys, and a decoy helps you to position a bird for a clean kill. There are many theories about decoy placement out there, but what works for me is to simply place my decoys in the best possible location for a shot. That might be 20 yards, it might be 10 yards, it could even be 5 yards.
“One of the best ways to put a turkey on your dinner table with a bow is to study a flock of turkeys and figure out their travel routes and also what time of day the birds are passing through particular areas. Turkey patterns change quickly, so scouting more than a week in advance is usually a waste of time.
“Then take your pop-up blind and set up almost directly in their line of travel in order to intercept the birds. Put out either a single hen or a hen and a jake decoy, I prefer extremely realistic decoys, such as those by Dave Smith, and do some soft calling. A few purrs and clucks from a slate will usually do it for me, since I’m set up where they want to go anyways.
“Your killing equipment shouldn’t be much different than what you use for deer. Really the only difference is in your choice of broadheads. Make sure to use the largest cutting mechanical broadhead you are comfortable with. My suggestion is something with at least a two-inch cut. Turkeys have small vitals and a big will to live; you need as much help as you can get.
“In the past, a lot of guys recommended turning down the poundage of your bow to hunt turkeys in order to prevent the arrow from passing through and supposedly limit the bird’s ability to travel. I absolutely do not recommend this. I want that arrow blowing right through. Too many times I have had to chase birds down and finish them off by hand. The last thing I want is a razor sharp broadhead flailing around my arms and wrists while I’m trying to grab my bird.”