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April 29, 2008

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Bourjaily: Confessions of a Turkey Misser

A guest post from Shooting Editor and Shotguns columnist Phil Bourjaily

Turkey season started last week.
            
They say you should write about what you know, and one thing I know way too much about is missing wild turkeys. Until you’ve pointed a shotgun at a stationary bird’s head, pulled the trigger and watched it fly off, you genuinely believe (as I used to) that it’s impossible to miss a turkey. It’s not.

What’s worse, once you break the ice and whiff that first bird, it gets ever easier to miss.
            
You miss because turkey chokes are so tight they throw patterns the size of a volleyball at 20 yards. After my closest miss (5 yards) I shot a pattern at that range that made one hole you couldn’t fit a golf ball through.
            
And, you miss because you raise your head to get a better view of the bird falling over, except that when you lift your cheek off the stock, the shot goes high.
            
Like any shooter, I decided my problem had to be lack of gear. First I added a middle bead to my shotgun and used it as a rear sight. That worked fine, until one day it didn’t, and I put clamp-on iron sights onto the rib of my gun. From there, I went to a peep sight with the rear aperture unscrewed and thrown away. Peep sights are lightning fast, surprisingly precise, and all but forgotten by today’s hunter, which is a shame. Peeps may be great and underrated, but it turns out I can miss with those, too. Since then I’ve put scopes and red dots on my guns.

I thought optics had finally cured me. I went a long time without a miss. I shot birds from 12 to 51 yards, standing, strutting, walking, running and once, under circumstances I will not go into here, flying. Then I missed, having gradually developed a habit of not only looking up, but of dropping the gun out of the way for an even better view.
            
The solution to the problem is not more gimmicks, of course, but better shooting. My turkey guns still have optics --- an Aimpoint 9000 on one, a Nikon Turkey Pro 1.5-4.5 on the other. My most important weapon in the war on missing, however, is the mantra taught to me by shooting instructor and hardcore turkey hunter Marty Fischer: “Kill them through the gun.” It’s a succinct, effective way of telling yourself to keep your head on the stock and follow-through with the shot. I repeat it to myself as turkeys walk into range. Fischer, a long-time competitive clay shooter, prefers the familiar view down an unadorned shotgun rib when he hunts turkeys.
            
Confession time: off the top of my head I can come up with seven misses and I’m sure there are more I’m blocking out because they’re too painful. Does anybody out there want to admit to missing turkeys too, just to make me feel better? And who else besides me puts sights on a turkey gun?

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Comments

Roby Doan

Those who say they have never missed a turkey either have not hunted very much or they are liars.

Mike Reeder

Just to throw one more thing out on the table, I've slowly come to the conclusion that Capstick was right back when he recommended smaller shot for just about everything. Although the fact that I was shooting copper-coated fours when I missed didn't have a thing to do with my loused up shot, it did seem to me that the two birds I actually ended up collecting had less shot in them than I would have expected at 20-25 yards away. I usually use sixes, but last year I discovered too late I'd grabbed 7 1/2s by mistake. I ended up shooting a bird at about 35 yards (standard 12 gauge load, full choke)and knocked him flat. His head and neck were COVERED in pellet wounds. Food for thought.

Mark-(A)

So, Dave. You're no Sargeant York!(Gary Cooper). My favourite turkey shootin' movie!

Cheers!

Del in KS

Take your time, aim that shotgun like it's a rifle, make sure he is in range and you will get your bird everytime.....almost. Another thing aim at the neck where skin meets feathers. If he ducks as you fire you will still get him. Here in the wide open spaces we can't afford to wait for a 30 yd shot. Many times I have seen Gobblers hang up out of range and wait for the hen decoy to come to him. Yep, tried jakes and strutters too. Better to just set up in a place where he is in range when you see him and stop calling when he gets close. Call when he is close and you will likely be busted.

Took one of my buddies (unnamed to save embarrassment) turkey hunting. Called in a Gobbler and he missed at 30 yards twice with a 10 ga double. That Gobbler was like what the heck is all that noise? Next year took him again and he missed twice again with a 12 ga pump and rifle sights. He raised his head to see the bird fall every time.

Dr. Ralph

Good advice Del about aiming at the base of the neck. I've missed a few aiming at the head and it moved, plus most shotguns shoot high if you just look down the ventilated rib. I've missed more than a few at close ranges. Those tight super full turkey chokes aren't worth a dime at ten yards. Roby said it all... if you aren't missing you aren't hunting enough!

Michael

Jeeeez, guys. It is so much easier to hit a turkey with a scope sighted .22 Hornet whether you are hunting them in the fall or calling in the spring,but BY GOD, I have missed with a Hornet. There is something unnerving about a huge gobbler.

Bubba

You got it Michael!

I haven't killed but 14/15 turkeys, only one with a shotgun.
I took a buddy hunting, he swore by his 3 1/2 inch mag 12 bore with 4's. He finally killed a jake, with 3 shots. The jake I killed was with a 870 with screw-in extra full choke and std Rem hi-brass 7 1/2's, with one shot! Still have the Hornet, it's a real turkey getter!
Michael, do you reload?

Bubba

Michael

Bubba,
I used to load 40 gr. Nosler BT's
in my Hornet (which is a single-shot) but I find the Hornady 34 gr. factory load which gets over 3,000fps is just as good at the ranges I shoot turkeys in the Texas Panhandle.

Pappy

Phil,
The first time that I achieved success in calling a gobbler into my setup, several years ago, I flat out missed with my old Remington 870. I was dumbfounded, amazed , and stupefied. Long story ... short, I had not patterned the gun. When I did, I found out that it was throwing the core of its shot charge a foot high and a foot left at 20 yd and twice that at 40 yd. Now, that was not all bad, as it gave me a good excuse for all of my past wing shooting misses. And, depending on whom I related the story to, they often tended to forget which gun I had been shooting when missing. But, as a beginning turkey hunter, I took missing my first opportunity at a long beard most seriously.

An old timer (older than I, anyway), at my trap club, told me how he used to bend barrels to make them shoot better. At that time there was no local gunsmith for me to consult, so I took matters into my own hands, literally. Using the tube on my trailer hitch on "Henry" my old Ford pickup, a rag (for padding) and a piece of aluminum pipe, I bent the barrel (in the appropriate direction). There was a bit of a downside to this, as I wowed the muzzle slightly, making threading the chokes in and out somewhat less than the original smooth operation. Don't try this at home kids!

After that, it shot so well that I wrote a two part article for my gun club newsletter about "Old Bent Barrel," which was well-received. As a result, I have been writing a monthly article for the newsletter, ever since. In a weak moment, I gave "Old Bent Barrel" to my grandson and bought a new "Turkey Special" 870. I have been seriously thinking about trading guns with him.

Pappy

Scott in Ohio

Lyn, James, and Del,

Thanks for your insight!

Scott in Ohio

Del in KS

OK guys time to get back on my soapbox and talk about my experiences with the big pretty bird. Ah'll try not to be too bohrin'. As mentioned before it is better to set up in the right place than to have a flock of decoys and a vest full of calls in a bad place. What is a good place you say. I'm still learnin' but frankly, that is the place a gobbler wants to be. You just need to know how to ID such a place and get there without spooking him . Avoid trying to call a Tom thru a fence of any kind. I have watched gobblers literally run across a pasture only to refuse to cross a 4 strand barb wire fence. Heck all he had to do was duck his head to get to that gravelly voiced ol' hen on the other side. It may work to sit close enough to the fence to shoot him on the other side. Also avoid trying to call a bird across a road, ditch, creek, brushy thicket or any other obstacle. Each bird is different and some birds will cross an obstacle to get there but don't bet on that (or inside straights). Do try to set up as close as you can without spooking the bird. Avoid any place where the bird can stand out of range and look all day for that hen. Any place where you can shoot him when he pops over a small rise or clears vegetation is a good candidate. A favorite way to hunt Kansas is to sneak up to the edge of a field and glass for birds. Preferably Toms without hens. Then use draws or hedgerows to sneak as close as possible and then call. In the windy wide open spaces you need a LOUD call so I use a box most of the time. On days when sound really carries use soft calls. If you spot an old strutter with hens he can be bagged too. My old hunting buddy Billy and I have had good success by getting ahead of the gang and letting them come to us with no calling. We did this once with an old bird that had a dozen hens. The flock was feeding in a newly planted soybean field. The Gobbler almost always brings up the rear. When that Tom reached the 45 yd mark one of the hens stuck her head into the same bush Billy was hiding behind. Her head was within 2 ft of the gun barrel. She undoubtably lost some hearing when he touched off his 10 guage. That was his first Longbeard. This morning Billy called in 3 gobblers and shot a 23lb 9oz. bird in Iowa. That was his 30th bird. The first time he ever went Turkey hunting I took him and he bagged 2 jakes with one shot. That got him hooked. Now days he gives me advice haha.
Remember, patience and woodsmanship is far more important than calling skills. Nothing can take the place of experience. The only sounds we use 90% of the time are series of 3 to 5 yelps and few clucks every 5 min or so. All that other stuff like stratching in the leaves, cutting, gobbling, flapping wings, FARTING like a hen etc is good. But you will kill many birds if you set up in the right place and use clucks and 3-5 yelps. Too many yelps and you may not hear a distant bird gobble while you are still yelping.
One other thing and I will shut up. Like most hunters when I started hunting Turkeys in '88 I would leave the woods about 9 am after most birds quit gobbling. That is a big mistake. You should hunt until legal hours end. We bag at least 2/3 of our birds after 9. Not many birds gobble during midday but the Tom's that do will usually come right in to a little calling. Hope you haven't been too bored and found at least one tip you can use.

Now got to work on that new call that sounds like a hen farting. Dave, can you help me with marketing? I'll cut you in on the $. Also working on a hen decoy that smells like she's in heat.

Mike Reeder

Per Del's observations, my only quibble would be that I usually have more luck calling agressively, but that may just be a product of the turkey numbers here in S. Texas. The hens down here more often than not raise literal hell, and trying to be demure when they're carrying on like street walkers just doesn't cut it. It goes against the usual advice, but it also pays at times to cut the distance between you and the tom if you're competing with a nearby hen. Otherwise, the real floozie beats you to the tom before he gets halfway to you. In fact, I've nearly been run over a couple of times by hens that came running in from behind me, heading to the gobbler that was coming my direction. There have been some days, usually late in the season, when a few quiet clucks and a yelp or two is better, but more is almost always best out here west of San Antonio. I do agree with Del about leaving too early. I'd say more than half the birds I've shot have come in between 8:30 and 11 a.m. and about a quarter more have come in the afternoon. I don't think I've shot more than a couple at dawn's early light. The tom's are usually with the hens that first hour or so and until momma heads off to the nest he's not leaving her side. Once they go their separate ways, he almost always remembers to come back and check where you were calling.

Jim in Mo.

Del,
As you know I'm not much of a turkey hunter but the places I've seen the most turkeys is areas with lots of grass hoppers. Must be the protein their after.

Bubba

From a Turkey Hunting/Calling Expert.
Call long and loud and they hang up at 60/70 yards.
Call to softly, and they hang up at 60/70 yards.
Carry a scoped rifle to have turkeys pop up at halitosis ranges, shotguns for the longer 80-90 yard shots!
Set up facing an open field to have turkeys approach from the woods and vice versa. Turkeys know, they always slip in the back door!
To actually kill turkeys you must dress in hunter orange with a red hat and white Tee-shirt. Carry both rifle and shotgun with you at all times! For a rifle, the .338 Win Mag is a good choice. Any shotgun of at least 10 gauge is most appropriate! If available, any grenade launcher is widely popular!
For the shotgun 3 1/2 inch magnum ammo with 000 buck or slug works nicely. (Be sure and pattern with at least 40 rounds to be certain gun throws consistent pattern!) Viet Nam era fleshette rounds work VERY well, just warn your buddys that your shooting them! (It's the LAW!) For the .338, a 250 gr Sierra "Gobble Stopper" loaded to around 3000fps is a guaranteed "turkey tromper"! This firearm needs to be shot repeatedly also!
For additional information, please contact: [email protected]

Bubba

Clay Cooper

Have you ever seen what a 25-06 does to a Tom at 400 yards and some change? YUCK! The boy was picking meat out of the branches and all over the place!

Jim in Mo.

In Mo. we aren't allowed to shoot turkey (or shoot at them) with a rifle. I guess we don't have the wide open spaces as Texas.
Did you guys hear the horrible story last week of the Minnesota father who shot his 9yr old son turkey hunting? I hear there's more accidental shootings turkey hunting than deer hunting.

Bubba

Jim in MO.

Rifles are legal for turkey in the fall only here in my corner of Oklahoma!
Fall turkey opens with deer archery. One turkey, either sex by archery only are available. For one or two weeks prior to deer gun, turkey season is open to firearms. Rifles and shotguns, but you can't use .22 LR. All other rimfires, even the .17HMR! What a joke! At this point, I use my .22 Hornet. Fall-turkey-gun is tom only, no hens!
Spring turkey is shotgun/archery-tom ONLY! (Or bearded hen!)
Oddly, any turkey taken EAST of I-35 must be taken to a check station! WEST of I-35, check-in is NOT required!?
The area I hunt, the limit is 2 per county, season limit 3. Some eastern counties are 1 bird counties and a 1 bird season limit. Think they shoot Eastern, Rio and hybrids in eastern Ok.
Nothing but Rio's where I'm hunting.
So far:
Heaviest bird - 23#
Longest beard - 11"
Longest spurs - 1 1/2"
I use the wing bones to make calls.
A friend that comes up to hunt, uses 3 1/2" 12 gauge with 6's. He has yet to kill a turkey with a single shot! I shoot std 2 3/4" high brass Remington's with 7 1/2's. I've only had to shoot three turkeys more than once. I have NEVER shot one more than twice! Two of the extra shots were because I wasn't physically able to chase him down. If anybody out there wishes to shoot turkey's with a rifle, the .22 Hornet is tough to beat!
Michael - I use the Sierra 45 gr. Spire Point, 9.75 grains of Herco 2400 and a standard, small rifle primer. My rifle is a NEF Handi-rifle. It is extremely accurate for about 25 or 30 shots. After that, scrub out the bore, fire TWO fouling shots and you're back in bidness!

Bubba

Bubba

I had one more tidbit to throw out.
When I was a teenager, I was complaining to my dad because many of the ducks I was pass shooting over decoys weren't falling and I could hear the 4's rattling off their feathers!
"Son, get you some high velocity 8's or 9's and you'll kill more ducks!" My percentage went up by 25%!
That was back in the 60's. He and Capstick are both right! Smaller shot translates to more lethal shots! I'm a believer!!!

Bubba

Jim in Mo.

Bubba,
You need to talk to Del about Turkey hunting, you guys aren't that far from each other. In fact Me, Del, You and Clay fit in an odd shaped triangle of about 3 -4 hrs apart. Thats not an invitation for BBQ! Ha,Ha, just kidding.
Concerning the smaller shot in shotguns. In earlier blogs I wrote that I grew up with a fairly wealthy duck club being next to my grandfathers farm which our house was on. Luckily for me there was a couple kids out there I became friends with whose dad and older brothers worked as guides at "Whistling Wings" duck club. We (myself and friends) would get odd jobs around the club, I'm talking odd. Anyway we would also be within earshot of the members giving their 'expert' opinion on the perfect shot size on ducks (most often after a snoot full of Seagrams 7 backing them up). The majority concensus back then was #6 cause there were plenty of ducks and shots weren't always long. There were the #4&5 shot lovers cause bigger is better and snow geese were plentiful but not desireable. And then there was a vocal group of members who would never hunt ducks with anything but 7 1/2 shot. They openly stated their reasoning was not only more shot hit the bird but they felt the smaller shot 'worked' its way thru the feathers.
I'm not making any conclusions here just reminiscing as a young boy in what was probably the last great heyday of duck/goose hunting in heartland America.



Jim in Mo.

Bubba,
P.S.
I meant to also say that Ok. hunting regs. are even more confusing than Mo's.

Del in KS

Bubba,

That sound you heard was shot hitting the large feathers on the wings. Look closely and you will see there is a lot of area covered by the primaries. When shot hits them it noisily passes thru with no harm to the duck. The soft feathers on the body make no sound when hit. Take a turkey or goose wing and slap it against something and it will make the same rattling sound. Take the last two joints of a Turkey wing with feathers, rub the flesh with borax and hang it up in a dry place. Once dried it makes a good wing for fly down flapping against your leg. Use it to scratch leaves also. Ike Asby of Asby Turkey calls told me the best wing bone calls are made from the hen's wing. I have one he made, but it stays in the little walnut box it came in. I gave my Asby box call to Bill Evans. Ike retired and now I can't get another one.
Rifles are a no no for Turkeys in KS. Only shotguns or bows are allowed. My guess is your friend is shooting at birds that are too far for his gun and ammo. A 3.5 inch mag doesn't guarantee long range kills. Does he use lead or high density? High density #6 carries enough energy for long range shots and you have more pellets. I'm sure you know each gun is different. Mine doesn't like Fed hi-dens loads but it absolutely loves Rem hi density in the hi velocity load. Less shot than the other load but better pattern-go figure. That 1.5 inch spur is a good one. My best is 1 3/8. Did see a bird shot near Cameron MO in '91 that had 2 inchers. Did you notice how the color of your spurs change from the base to the point? They say that is a trait of old Toms. Incidently my 5 beard bird scored 106 NWTF points at the Kansas Bowhunters Convention. Too bad the spurs and weight were not exceptional. I had him mounted on an Oak limb. He and a 24.5 lb Missouri bird with a paintbrush beard watch me reload ammo.
BTW I killed my heaviest bird (26lb) with copper plated #4 lead and found a few lead #6's under the skin when he was dressed.

Bubba

Del in KS

My buddy says he has patterned his shotgun, but I'm not so sure he has. The last bird he killed was only about 25 yards and was a smallish jake. It took him 3 shots.
I was able to connect yesterday, (5-2-08) on a tom I have been chasing since last bow season. I missed him twice with my bow, couldn't find him during gun season and missed him again with my bow before archery ended. During the spring season, he gobbled me to death twice, once he wouldn't cross a ditch, second time, he came up behind me while a hen was pecking my dekes and I couldn't turn around!
He's the first double-beard I ever killed and he was awesome!
Twenty-two pounds, 3/4 inch broomed off spurs. One beard was 9 inches, the other 5 inches. You can tell the larger beard was worn down from the breeding process. His outside toe on his right foot had been broken at some point and pointed 90 degrees to direction of travel. It was really odd looking.

I still use all my wing bones for calls. I also keep the last wing section for a "whuppin'" wing. They work really well.
Oh, yeah! Ol' Two-beard is the first turkey I ever called in with the "fightin' purrs" call!

Bubba
P.S. - I'll keep the pit hot!

SilverArrow

I say right up front that I do not know a damn thing about turkey hunting. I do have a tag and the season up here just opened so I am going to try a couple of mornings this week. We are also shotgun only and I think the smallest shot they permit is #5 and nothing smaller than a 20 gauge.

If I am reading this right I should probably not use that super-full tube I bought, stick with my modified choke tube in my 870 which throws a pattern pretty close to center aim at 40 yards?

I will not be using decoys, I may use a crow or owl hoot call to locate but otherwise will not be calling. I will be set up where I have seen several large Toms in a flock. What else should I be doing?
SA

SilverArrow

One more question; any thoughts on the turkey loads with two different shot sizes? I have a ten pack of them, should I go that way or stick with #5 or some of my 3" copperplated #4s?
SA

Jim in Mo.

SA,
If I read your post correctly your using the 20ga 870 Rem. I bought my boy one of those in the youth model. All it came with was a modified choke. I was going to buy him a full choke but no kidding after patterning that gun I can see no benifit in doing so.

P.S.
In your post about the mini gun you said you thought 6 grand was high. My God man do you realize all the doctor bills the gunsmith spent for eye strain!!




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