Missed opportunities at wild turkeys

Friday, March 31, 2017
Veteran turkey hunter Roger Hook, a retired Methodist preacher from Arkansas, bagged this gobbler on a bluff above the Duck River by knowing when to stop calling and concentrate on shooting.
Photo by Jay Langston

I recall conversation a few years ago with a coworker who said he had never missed a turkey. No, he wasn’t a rookie who had been lucky a couple of times in a row. This guy was an honest-to-goodness turkey slayer with more beards to his credit than you could fit in a big shoebox.

“Nope, never missed,” he declared.

“Never?” I quizzed.

I had already spilled my guts about missing a gobbler the previous spring, and he didn’t miss the opportunity to toss some salt on the wound. He told wonderful tales that were sure to be chiseled in granite at the Turkey Shooters Hall of Fame.

He went on about this and that and how his trusty turkey thumper would throw such a thick pattern that no turkey alive would ever stand a chance if it put a toe across the 40-yard mark.

Mashed the salt in good and dosed me again for good measure.

I peered from behind an upturned coffee mug that concealed my grin. Not that I’m superstitious or believe in jinxes, but I had the future flash before my eyes that day. I didn’t want to spoil his day, so I just kept my mouth shut. Guess what happened to Old Deadeye the next spring? Yup. Broke his streak, in front of witnesses, on camera, no less. Spend enough time staring down a shotgun barrel at gobblers’ heads and you will eventually miss.

One of the most common reasons turkey hunters miss is that they get enthralled by the spectacle, or get in an awkward position and pull their cheek off the stock. Gun goes off... shot goes high... turkey runs or flies away... end of story!

Enough has been said lately about putting scopes on turkey guns. Another alternative is to make sure your turkey gun has adjustable sights, which are better than standard bead sights, for a couple of reasons.

Twisted logic

Turkey guns don’t always shoot where they’re aimed. Sometimes they come slightly off from the factory. Perhaps a bit of rough handling bent the barrel- it doesn’t take much to bend a shotgun barrel. I laid a Remington 870 12-gauge in the bottom of a johnboat one morning on the way to the duck blind. One of my friend’s retrievers stepped on the gun and bent the barrel enough to throw the pattern off by two feet. You couldn’t see the bend, but it was there all right. Installing adjustable sights might help remedy a gun that won’t shoot where you are looking.

Peek-a-boo

Yet another reason we miss is that we don’t always know when to stop turkey “hunting” and start turkey “shooting,” which is an easy mistake to make. I have been as guilty as the next person, even though I know better. The scenario plays out something like this: The gobbler struts into view well out of range while I admire the show. Call a little more and he eventually walks within range. About this time I’ve got target acquisition... target locked... tone... Fire!

With all the adrenaline and fanfare, it’s easy to focus on the wrong thing- the turkey. If you are not focused on the front sight of your gun, which puts the turkey out of focus, it’s coincidental that the shot goes where you want it. Rifle type sights or the newer fiber optic models do a better job of focusing your attention on what’s most important: When to quit hunting and start shooting.

Loaded questions

Turkey loads don’t always shoot where they’re aimed. Gun writers have waxed evangelistic about re-sighting rifles when switching loads. The same holds true for tight-shooting turkey guns.

Although different ammo can shoot to difference points-of-aim at varying distances, it’s more critical inside 20 yards, when patterns tend to be ultra tight. Again, adjustable sights help get you back on target.

The dark side

Too many times to count, I’ve had turkeys fly, run and walk into my setups so early that the cardinals hadn’t even started stirring. Early encounters, rainy days, thick foliage or a combination make for poor shooting light. That’s when one of the fiberoptic sights is worth its weight in fold.

Compromising positions

I’ve had to shoot at turkeys in more weird positions that you could find in the Kama Sutra (for you married folks out there.) A simple bead sight may not help you keep on target when that gobbler walks up from behind and to the side where you normally shoulder the gun. Suddenly you’re trying to become ambidextrous. A more refined sighting device, such as rifle-typed sights or a “dot” sight might help you stay on target.

Options abound

As turkey guns have become more refined, a few firearm manufacturers have added rifle sights to better fit a turkey hunter’s needs. Many factory models now reach the market with fiber-optic sights. If you favorite shotgun is without and you’re ready to do something about it, several models of sights are available as aftermarket add-ons.

Weaver, the original scope company that went away and came back under the Blount flag, offered the granddaddy of today’s fiber-optic shotgun sights. No longer made, these sights were an all-metal tube with an orange light-gathering insert. The sights attach to the shotgun’s rib and are right-and-left adjustable. I found two of these sights in a dusty attic several years ago and feel lucky to have them. I’d love to have a hundred of them. They were the Cadillac of sights.

Today, TRUGLO,HiViz, Williams and others offer add-on sights for shotguns. Some are clamp-on models, while others use magnets or adhesive tape to hold them in place, which allows their use without a trip to the gunsmith. If you have no fear and a drill, Carlson’s offers high-visibility front and mid-rib sights, along with a handy tool for centering drill bits on ventilated ribs. Carlson’s sells the correct size drill bits and taps, too. Brownell’s also offers a host of after-market shotgun sights.

If you are ready to upgrade your turkey gun, give one of these options a try. It just may make the difference the next time you flip the safety off and start squeezing the slack out of your trigger.