The moment of truth is right at hand. The gobbler you’ve been carefully calling has closed the distance and a few more steps will put him in range. You struggle to compose yourself, control your breathing and blink rapidly to clear excess moisture from your eyes. A bright red head and a beady black eye appear in your sights and you pull the trigger.

Mayhem ensues. The bird explodes into action, taking three quick steps and launching into flight before you can react. Stunned, you watch as it sets its wings and sails across the open pasture and into the distant woodlot. “How?” you wonder. “How could I possibly miss at that range?” It happens, and knowing some of the reasons why could help reduce the chances of a repeat performance.

Plain old laziness is often a factor. Tell the truth: did you pattern your gun before the season? It worked just fine last year, but that was last year. It’s possible that some time between then and now your gun got bumped just enough to change the sights. Or maybe you’re using different loads. Every gun-choke-load combination shoots a little differently.

Pattern your shotgun before the season. Make sure it’s hitting where you’re aiming and that it’s putting a sufficient number of pellets on target. You can use commercial turkey targets, or simply draw a turkey head on a cardboard box. Don’t wait until it’s too late to discover your gun is off.

Patterning will also tell you the effective range of your gun. Incorrectly judging distance, or shooting too far, is another common cause of a miss. Sure, those 3 1/2-inch, 10-gauge loads might pattern out to 50 yards, under ideal conditions. Under actual hunting conditions, you shouldn’t shoot much over 30 yards. Anything beyond that and you add elements of uncertainty. Besides, the object of turkey hunting is to get them close.

Practice judging distance as well. A rangefinder can help here. Once you set up, range a few objects like a sapling or a clump of grass so you can better judge if and when a turkey is within range.


Improper hold is another common occurrence. Turkeys seem to have an uncanny ability to approach from the worst possible direction so we end up contorted when it comes time to shoot. Perhaps the butt stock is on your biceps instead of nestled into your shoulder, or you’re leaning awkwardly to one side. Worst of all, and quite common, you raise your head off the stock to see better. You think you’re on target but your gun is actually aiming high and you shoot over the bird.

Sometimes you just get flustered and forget the basics. Remember to pick a spot. You’re not aiming at a turkey; you’re aiming at a spot on that turkey – the base of its neck. Then, pull – but don’t yank – the trigger. This one can be a challenge for experienced shotgunners accustomed to throwing the gun to their shoulder and slapping the trigger like they typically do when wing-shooting. When turkey hunting you’re aiming, not pointing, and the shot process is more like that of a rifle.

Obstacles can interfere with your shot and it’s sometimes surprising how much birdshot a tangle of brush can eat up. Make sure you have a clear, open path to the bird before shooting. If it’s in the brush, wait until it comes out rather than trying to bust through it.

Many of the above maladies can be avoided or lessened simply by maintaining your composure and waiting for a high percentage shot opportunity. Yes, being conservative may cost you a bird now and then but that’s all part of the game, and in the game of turkey hunting, a walk is better than a strikeout.

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

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