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Why Did You Miss the Turkey?

by Bob Humphrey

Even the most experienced turkey hunters occasionally miss but in most cases it’s preventable. 

wild turkey

The bird that had been obligingly answering my calls and slowly moving closer for the last 20 minutes suddenly went silent. For 5 long minutes thoughts raced through my mind: “What went wrong? Did he see me? Did something, or someone spook him?” All the while I struggled to remain motionless, and patient. Then I heard it, or thought I heard a distinct “pffft,” that sent a surge of adrenaline through my veins. “Was it my imagination or...?” The next time was closer, and the “pffft” was followed by a deep, resonating “doooom.”

Whether it’s just turkey luck or some innate sense the birds possess, this one like so many before came on my off-hand side and was now well within gun range but in no danger unless I could move. The process was slow and agonizing. By the time I got into what marginally passed for a shooting position my forward arm was straight out, the buttstock of my shotgun was on my biceps and I craned my neck for all it was worth to find the scope and then the bird. At the shot, the bird launched into flight and was well out of range before I recovered enough to jack another round in. Score one for the birds.

It happens, even to the best of us. I’ve been chasing turkeys for 4 decades and rarely does a season pass without at least one miss. Sometimes it’s the gray gods of hunting serving up a heaping helping of humble pie. More often it’s preventable, with proper precautions and preparations.



Learn more about how to pattern for turkey hunting here.

You don’t have to press too hard to get most turkey hunters to admit 2 things. They know they’re supposed to pattern their gun before every season, but they don’t. Things change, especially if you’re using optics like a scope or red-dot. Maybe you switched to the latest, greatest turkey loads. Every gun-choke-load combination shoots a little differently, some a lot. Take the time to properly pattern your gun. Adjust if necessary and learn the effective range.


That brings us to another common cause of misses, or lack of a clean kill. Folks get too anxious, and pull the trigger the first time Old Tom steps into the open. Know the effective range of your gun, which you can learn by patterning. Then scale it back. Your loads will perform a lot better on the range, from a solid rest and no obstructions. Once you hit the woods, every new variable reduces range. Besides, spring turkey hunting is about getting the birds close enough to count their eyelashes. It’s also not a bad idea to carry a range finder and practice judging distances.

Hold It

As the opening passage alludes to, improper hold is another common cause. The longer you sit the more uncomfortable you get, and sometimes you have to maneuver into some awfully uncomfortable positions to put a bead on a bird. About the only remedy is to be aware of your body position and gun positioning, and don’t shoot unless both are correct.

This also includes what is probably the single most common source of misses: pulling your cheek off the stock. It’s human nature. You’re trying to see the bird and your sights at the same time and when the bird wins, he gets to play another round. Remember the old saying: wood-to-wood, and keep your cheek firmly fixed on the stock.

Bob Humphrey

The author, Bob Humphrey.


As noted above, we don’t always get a clear, open shot, and it never ceases to amaze me how much shot that vegetation can absorb on its way to a turkey. Try to avoid setting up where there are obstacles, and let the bird clear them before you shoot.

Hold It Longer

Don’t be hasty. Otherwise any or all of the above increase the odds of a miss. Sure, you want to fill your tag and go home a hero, but haste might make you a zero. It’s just a turkey. Wait until the shot is right. I didn’t say “perfect,” because that seldom happens, but the more variables you eliminate, the better your chances of success.

Pick a Spot

Take a page from the bowhunter’s book and pick a spot. Remind yourself, you’re not shooting at a turkey; you’re shooting at a particular spot on that turkey - usually the base of the neck. This takes composure, which comes with experience. But the calm will come and with it, more quick, clean kills.

onx turkey

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