If you’ve ever hunted turkeys, you know they can be a challenge. Turkeys are wily and clever birds, their feathers act like armor, and their vitals are so small and intuitively not in a place you’d expect them, that’s it’s hard to get one down.
Couple that with lungs and heart that are slightly bigger than a softball, and the bird’s fast, erratic movements, you’ll appreciate how tough it is to kill these birds.
The trick to shooting a turkey is knowing its anatomy. It’s important to understand where the lungs and heart are on the bird and how simple things, like strutting, can make the difference between a good shot and missing, or worse yet, wounding the animal.
Turkey Vitals Diagram
Understanding where the vital organs lie is critical to being able to make good shots from any angle. You should be able to make a clean kill on a turkey, rather than just wounding it or missing it outright.
- Lungs and Heart – In most cases, you should be shooting at the turkey’s lungs and heart. Although the size is relatively small, compared to other types of game, they present the largest sized target at a little over a softball size. The difficulty lies in finding the lungs and heart on a bird. The lungs are high in the back, while the heart sits above center in a bird that isn’t strutting. From the turkey’s broadside, the heart lies slightly higher and several inches back from the beard.
- Neck – If you’re an excellent shot, you can take out a bird at the neck. Plan on shooting to sever the spinal column — an area that is smaller than a ping pong ball. If you don’t hit the spine, you have a chance of taking out the carotid artery and windpipe.
- Head – This shot is just as challenging as the neck because you’re aiming at the brain. Think ping-pong ball size and very mobile. If you hit, you’re likely to kill. If you miss, chances are you’ll miss completely.
Turkey Shot Placement
If you’re looking to be a successful turkey hunter, your best shot placement for bows and crossbows is the heart and lungs. Some turkey hunters prefer going for the neck and spine for quick kills, but it’s harder to make those shots successfully, especially with a strutting tom.
1. Broadside Shots
Most of your shots with an arrow should either be broadside shots or rear shots on a tom that is not strutting. Shoot where the butt of the wing connects to the bird’s body.
This shot should either break the bird’s wing, hit the spine, or hit the lungs or heart. Be ready for a follow-up shot if it only breaks the wing.
2. Quartering Shots
Quartering shots are tough. If you have a forward quartering shot, you’ll want to hit the spot horizontally level with the beard’s attachment and vertically to the off side leg.
If you could draw imaginary lines from there to the horizontal line and perpendicular to the ground from the off side leg.
That should be where the heart is. You may be able to hit the heart, the lungs or the spine here, but it’s not an ideal shot.
3. Straight On
Facing straight on or slightly quartering isn’t an ideal shot. If you do take the chance, aim for an inch below the beard on a non-strutting tom.
On a strutting tom, you’ll need to target just below where the beard connects to the bird.
This shot, when done correctly, can hit the heart or lungs, break the back and sever the spine, and may break a leg or wing.
4. From the Rear
One of the best scenarios is when the bird’s back is toward you, and its head is up, but it is not strutting. Do not shoot a bird that has its head down and feeding as it will not present a good target.
If the bird is rear facing and not strutting, aim for the spine between the wings. If the bird is strutting, you can aim for the vent (anus) in a “Texas Heart Shot.”
An arrow delivered to the base of the tail may take out the heart, liver, or lungs. It is not a good shot to take and requires a fair amount of accuracy.
5. Neck and Head Shots
Neck and head shots are challenging, but if you manage them, you will have a cleaner kill.
Shoot the turkey midway up the neck where the feathers start, and the carbuncles stop. This area gives you a decent target and will hit the spine and sever the carotid there.
A Note on Strutting Toms
As beautiful as strutting toms are they’re difficult to shoot because their feathers are puffed up. The movement makes them a harder animal to gauge where the killing zone is.
Wait for the turkey to stand and stretch its neck, if necessary, give him a few yelps or clucks and have him pull his neck to look at you in curiosity.
Otherwise, the neck will be bent, and the feathers puffed out, making it difficult to determine where the bird’s body is.
Tips for Better Accuracy
Turkeys are tough, suspicious birds, which means they’re hard to hunt. Being a good shot is essential when it comes to turkeys, but other things can make the difference between turkey dinner and going home empty-handed.
Here are some practical suggestions for improving your chances of getting the right shot.
1. A Good Ground Blind is Key
Turkeys are visual birds and have excellent eyesight. Having a ground blind where the turkey can’t see you can make the difference between getting your gobbler and not.
If you have particularly suspicious birds, you may need to leave your ground blind up for weeks before turkey season so the birds can get comfortable with it.
2. Draw Birds in Closer
Learn to gobble, cluck, and yelp. Practice with your turkey calls in the offseason so that you sound like a turkey and not like a hunter trying to sound like a turkey.
Use your skills to call in your birds so that they’re not only in shooting distance but in a range that you’ll take your gobbler down fast.
3. Use a Rangefinder
Know your distances. Don’t guess how far away that tom is. In the heat of hunting, those toms look closer than they are.
Use a rangefinder and eliminate guessing whether that bird is 20 yards away or 30 yards away.
Instead, you can plan your shot accordingly and even decide whether you need to draw him in closer for a better shot.