It is no secret that turkeys are some of the largest birds on the globe and some of the most sought-after birds for hunting. And while some would assume that their large size makes them easy prey for hunters, the truth of the matter is they are not very easy to shoot—especially with a bow. Although it’s true that turkeys cannot fly, they can run up to 25 miles an hour, making them very hard to track and spot up.
Unlike other types of prey in the wild, turkeys do not have big vital areas—areas in which a kill shot is almost guaranteed. This makes it extremely hard to make a humane kill with a bow, as accuracy when hunting these birds is paramount. Because of this, knowing exactly where to shoot a turkey with a bow is absolutely vital to the success of your turkey hunt.
To help you with this, in this article we will describe some of the best places at which to aim and shoot a turkey with a bow—places on a turkey’s body that will better ensure a quick and humane kill without too much tracking.
Your Shot Placement
The biggest concern for any turkey hunter is the correct shot placement when using a bow. To address this concern, we must first consider the turkey’s position or positions in relation to the hunter. Some of these are:
When a turkey is standing to the side, either side, this is called the broadside. When shooting a turkey from the broadside position with a bow, you should always aim for the last wing joint on the bird. This is the joint that directly connects the wing to the body.
Landing or placing an arrow in this joint will result in the breakage of both wings, preventing the bird from flying or fluttering off too far. This is also the exact area where the heart and lungs are located. Thus, a shot here will pierce the heart or the lungs, resulting in a fatal shot and little to no movement afterwards.
Turkey Facing Away
When hunting and sizing up a turkey that is facing away, with its tail feathers facing toward you, you are best off to aim your bow at the base or bottom of its feather fan. This can also result in a clean and humane fatal shot. When you aim and shoot your arrow at the base of the fan created by the feathers, you have a great chance to sever the spine of the turkey in a single shot. This aiming locale will also give you an opportunity to penetrate the chest cavity, which usually results in an ethical, one-shot kill.
Turkey Facing You
When the turkey is directly facing you, known as a straight-on shot, you will need to employ another tactic completely. If this is the position in which you find yourself, you will need to aim and fire your shot between the base of the turkey’s “beard” and the base of its neck. When aligning this shot, remember there is a straight line that is formed by the feathers on the breast—this should help with your aim. By shooting the turkey in this location, you will most likely pierce the heart or lungs of the animal, which will also result in a quick and humane kill.
The Best Places to Aim
Before you can achieve the shot placements described above, you must first have your aim right. This can be a difficult process, considering turkeys are always on the move and can be very fast when they need to be. It is because of this that understanding where to aim when shooting a turkey is so vital to a clean, humane kill that doesn’t just would the animal. To ensure nothing but clean kills when hunting turkeys, practice is your best friend. This practice can come at the range or, if you have the room, you may want to create a life-size turkey target that is 3-dimensional—a practice target that will truly prepare you for the field. Below we will look at some of the best aiming strategies for turkeys based on the direction they are facing.
If you spot a turkey with its back to you and standing erect, the best place to aim, as we mentioned above, is at the base of the fan. However, it is never a good idea to attempt a shot on a turkey that is either feeding or walking. When doing these activities, your aim can quickly become off, leading to an unethical wound. Instead, wait for the bird to stop walking or feeding. This will help you make a well-placed shot in the area we described, one that will paralyze the bird and sever the spine.
Below the Neck
Because of their often skittish nature, getting a close shot at a turkey that is facing you can be a difficult process. Because of this, you will need to be very true with your aim when the bird is in this position. In most cases, if the turkey is looking directly at you, it is best to pass up this shot. In this position, you can bet the turkey is watching your every move, and aiming your bow can cause it to run away. Instead, wait for the turkey to turn its head slightly. With its attention off you, you can then aim your bow about four inches below the base of its neck. This is an ethical shot locale, as it will render the turkey immobile by breaking its back, and cause instant hemorrhaging to the vitals that will kill it quickly.
As we briefly mentioned above, the broadside aim on a turkey is probably the best you can hope for, as it is in this position that the turkey’s vitals are fully exposed. However, when you get this dream shot, it is crucial you remember exactly where the vitals are located. The basic rule of hunting turkeys is that the ideal aiming spot on the bird is the final wing joint, where the wing meets the body of the turkey. To sharpen your aim, you may want to visualize a vertical line running just in front of the turkey’s legs. Then, line your shot up on this imaginary line where it meets the wing joint. This shot will cause major damage to the heart and lungs and result in a quick ethical kill.
The Best Arrows to Use When Hunting Turkeys
When hunting turkeys, some broadheads or arrows are going to work better than others. Also, depending on your experience, there are certain broadheads that should be avoided. Here we will look at three different types of broadheads and the effectiveness of each.
Broadheads that are fixed are the most widely available types of arrows on the market today—much more readily available than the newer mechanical broadheads (which we will discuss next). The problem with fixed broadheads, however, is that they tend to break off when you hit bone. Moreover, because a turkey’s feathers and bone structure represent a tough type of armor, a poorly aimed shot can result in a damaged head or blade.
It’s not all bad news for fixed broadheads, however. The best part is you will never have to fret about the improper deployment of a fixed blade if the angle is wrong. And additionally, contrary to popular myth, these fixed broadheads, in the right hands, can be just as accurate and fatal as their mechanical cousins.
Mechanical broadheads are effective against turkeys—and other prey—because they have a larger cutting diameter than their fixed counterparts. As such, they are able to inflict much more damage than the latter. Moreover, because the blades do not deploy until they hit the target they are also more accurate. The downside of these broadheads is that, at an improper angle, you run the risk of the blades not opening. Additionally, when hitting tough muscle or bone, mechanical blades may not be capable of fully deploying.
Last but not least we have the guillotine broadheads. These aptly named arrows are very powerful and designed to cause decapitation on prey like turkey. Many experienced turkey bow hunters rave about guillotine broadheads, but because of their power—and because turkeys are constantly moving about—it requires a great deal of skill to use these broadheads and are thus they are not suitable for beginner hunters.
Essentially, the type of arrows or broadheads you elect to go with is really a matter of choice, but if you are a novice just starting out we recommend you begin with the fixed models before moving on to the more powerful types of broadheads.
Turkey bow hunting can be a lot of fun, but to ensure your shots are leading to clean and ethical kills it is very important to study and memorize the anatomy of these birds and the best places to shoot to avoid wounding a turkey unnecessarily.
image: Virginia DGIF