The first lesson of turkey hunting is proper target acquisition. Unlike other sporting birds that are shot while flying, turkeys are taken most often as they feed on the forest floor. The favored target is the head and neck area as the turkey sticks its head up to investigate his surroundings. Good luck, as Ol’ Tom’s head typically bobs and weaves like that of a drunken prize fighter.
As forgiving as a shotgun can be, a miss is still a miss. So how can we be assured that our shot will be perfect each and every time? Two obvious answers are getting to know the weapon and practice, practice, practice. The third and most important answer is choosing the correct sight, something that will get us on target fast and accurately with little or no error.
Standard shotguns come with just a bead near the muzzle and possibly another bead in the middle of the sight plane. It couldn’t be simpler. Line the beads up with the target and pull the trigger. Done. With all things being perfect, it would be that simple. However not everyone sights down the barrel the same way. In the excitement of the hunt, the shooter might not even line the barrel up with the bead. In other types of shooting where an open choke is used, the shooter might be okay, but with tight turkey chokes and ranges out past forty yards the margin for error increases exponentially.
Other hunters go to the opposite extreme. Their guns sport low-power turkey scopes. Like other scopes it often magnifies the target allowing for better shot placement. The special bull’s-eye reticle also helps get the shot group dead center. While scopes seem like an ideal cure for all of a turkey hunter’s woes, it can bring up a whole different set of issues. The first being proper eye placement. Anyone that has used a scope knows what happens if your eye isn’t in the right plane, too far back, or worse yet, too close. The best you can hope for is a foggy simulation of cataracts; the worst is a bloody eye socket. Another issue is tunnel vision. Most folks close their off eye when peering through a scope. Doing so makes the shooter oblivious to everything else around him or her. And, if the shooter somehow spooks the bird and it starts to run or fly, good luck going for a wing shot with a scope in your way.
The most common sight is the open sight. Sold by the millions across the USA, the glowing fiber optic versions seem like the perfect compromise. Simply line the green and red dots up with the turkey’s head, bang, dead turkey. If the turkey starts flying, no problem, just fall back on wing shooting skills and down he goes. What could go wrong? Nothing, if you’re an experienced shooter and seldom make mistakes. Most guides and experienced hunters I spoke with prefer those simple sights.
But, what if you’re not an experienced turkey hunter? Here’s what happens. Those same experienced guides told me the most common mistake with open sights is the shooter raising their cheek off the stock because that big black barrel kept them from seeing the target! With the way a turkey’s head bobs around as they move it is no wonder why a hunter has a good sight picture one moment and nothing but air the next. Even experienced turkey hunters can get excited and forget the basics.
So what is the best choice for turkey hunters? Many experts feel a red dot scope is the answer.
Turkey hunting guide and Mossy Oak Pro Staff manager, Darrin Campbell agrees. “The red dot scope is the absolute easiest. Put the red dot on the turkey’s red head and let the lead fly.”
I like easy. Turkey hunting is challenging enough without putting handicaps in my way. There are many different brands and styles of red dot scopes out there. For my turkey gun, I went with the 42mm diameter red dot scope from Hawke Optics. The scope comes with Weaver rail scope mounts, has unlimited eye relief, and eleven brightness settings. With such a large aperture to sight through target acquisition is fast. Plus, there’s no need to close the off eye. The hunter can stay focused on the target; see all of the target, plus its surroundings.
It couldn’t be easier.
To prove it, I had my daughter, who had never fired a shotgun before, try my setup on a turkey target at thirty yards. The very first shot ever, the paper turkey target was perforated with ten B-Bs in the brain and spine area. That’s a dead bird on the first try!
Since both eyes can be open, wing or running shots can also easily score. Some turkey hunters even leave the red dot on for goose hunting and have good success.
That’s not to say a red dot is all sunshine and roses. There are two problems that hunters use in this debate. The first is dead batteries. Some shooters forget to turn the red dot off. While the batteries have long life, they can’t be expected to last day after day, week after week of being on twenty-four/seven.
The second problem is inclement weather. Rain drops on the glass can make the sight picture blurry, which is why scope covers were invented. Both of these problems can be overcome with a little forethought.
This season, set your sights on the best sight for you and have one less thing to worry about when that big tom starts heading your way.
Patterning your turkey gun
It doesn’t matter how expensive or simple your turkey rig is. If you don’t know where the pattern density is, you’re shooting in the dark.
Once you have chosen your sighting system, take your shotgun to the range. Set a target up at twenty yards and zero-in the sights using lighter and less expensive target loads. (Your shoulder and wallet will thank you)
Once the densest part of the shot pattern is hitting your point of aim, which should be the neck and head area, move the target back to forty yards and switch to your turkey hunting loads. You may also want to use a turkey target. They can be purchased at many sporting goods stores or you can download a free target at http://targets.s3.amazonaws.com/PDF/TurkeyTarget.pdf
Once you have fired one shot, inspect the target and count the holes in the kill zone. Eight to ten holes or more in the brain and spine areas is what you are shooting for, literally. If you don’t achieve that density you have a few options: Limit you hunting range to shorter distances, change to a tighter choke, or try a different brand of shotgun shell.
For more information on patterning your turkey gun check out this free video by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).
photo: Brent T. Wheat