Flubbed shots of all varieties can occur on game animals, with turkeys especially apt to bring on poor shooting. There are plenty of excuses floating around out there as to why arrows suddenly go errant, but the main reason is between our ears. It's not that we can't make the shot; it's that we don't for some reason.
This can be a maddening affliction. I know because I suffered from it for a long, long time. I'm a fairly competent caller and know how to set up for birds, but making the shot was a tough proposition for me. I fell apart every time. Eventually, I got so frustrated that I started practicing on 3D turkey targets and setting up my blinds and decoys so my shots would be as easy as possible.
I also started thinking about where exactly to aim on a turkey as opposed to simply aiming at the whole bird. This is no different than how I clawed my way out of a pretty serious case of buck fever. I started concentrating much more on making the shot, and just how to do that perfectly in every encounter. Naturally, it doesn't always go perfectly, but it has gotten better.
Following are some shots you'll be offered this turkey season, and a breakdown of whether to take them or pass.
I'm of the opinion that the best shot to take a full strut turkey is when he is facing straight away from you. This is a common shot, especially if you've placed a jake or tom decoy facing your blind. This bird can't see a thing behind him because of his fan, which alleviates the chance of getting busted while drawing.
Where exactly to aim is not up for much debate, you need to go full-on prison mode and set your pin right on his back door. If your arrow flies true you'll take him from stern to bow and catch plenty of vitals along the way.
Every couple of birds you draw on from a blind will either hear you, or catch a bit of movement. Most of the time they stop and take notice, or start walking away. Either way, this is the perfect time to not rush the shot. You've got time, often quite a bit of it, and there is no reason to force it.
It only takes a few seconds to aim and then release correctly, both of which are necessary for an accurate shot. Take your time and shoot him. As long as you're already at full draw it will be too late for him to save himself (provided you do your part). Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic...
Ever see the blue-hairs at the mall walking in the winter? You know, the ones who pump their arms with vigor and fast-walk laps past Sbarro and Baby Gap every day? They are the human version of the cruiser turkey. He is on a mission and while he might pass through, that's all he'll do. Some birds aren't going to stop, and I don't know why.
I do know that he is the kind of bird that doesn't get tagged by bowhunters very often. If you encounter this dude, let him go. He is a low-odds proposition, and just might circle back later in the day after he has met all of his longbeard obligations.
The drive-by is a tough call. I've shot birds doing this and it all depends on what distance they walk by at and if you can get them to stop with a few yelps (which is a great reason to get good with mouth calls). For whatever reason, probably because they are the pansies of the turkey world and don't want to fight your jake decoy, some toms just check in without committing.
These birds are a shotgun hunter's dream, but can be a nightmare for bowhunters. Sometimes those same birds will swing back through and commit, other times they won't. Gauge his body language and be honest about your abilities. If you can drill him, drill him. If you're hesitant, by all means hold off.
Nothing says turkey hunting like a puffed-up butterball in front of your blind. This bird, just like bears and musk-ox, needs to be judged correctly. Beneath all of those feathers is a relatively small vital zone. I've shot birds in full strut, and will do it again, but I much prefer to body shoot them when they are not as deceptive in size.
The good thing about strutting birds at close range is that they usually stick around for a while giving you a good chance to assess the situation. If you're familiar with anatomy and can visualize where the body lies underneath all of those feathers, let fly.
Somewhere between full strut and no strut is the half strut. Birds do this a lot when they haven't fully convinced themselves of your decoys' liveliness, or sometimes just because their tiny brains say so.
The half-strutting bird gives you a much better chance to estimate exactly where the vitals are and aim accordingly. The downside to this bird is he isn't going to stay in half strut, he will either go full on or back to not strutting at all.
The Head Shot
I'm a body-shot guy. I like aiming four inches above the hip joint and hearing that thump as my arrows passes through. That doesn't mean the headshot isn't an option, because it is with the head-lopping broadheads on the market.
If that's your style and you're hunting birds that will commit well to your decoys, then go for it. Just make sure you've practiced plenty beforehand. Hanging bananas from fishing line in front of your target can be a good way to practice with those heads.
This should be a no-brainer, but sometimes with a big tom in front of us we lose our brainpower. So I'll just say skip the obstructed shots. In all the history of bowhunting game animals, very few thread-the-needle shots have worked out well. Most of the time bad things happen.
When dealing with a turkey and his diminutive vitals, anything that can get in the way of your arrow is a bad deal. If he is calm and committed he will give you a better shot. Wait it out.