A Clean Shot

Turkey hunting offers a lifetime of enjoyment afield. But pay heed: Bringing home a bird takes some doing. Hunting success requires skill with calls, superior woodsmanship and knowing how to respond to different hunting situations. One of the most difficult challenges of the hunt involves shooting a turkey in a vital area. This might seem relatively simple, particularly if a turkey is in good range. But every year legions of turkey hunters miss gobblers. Few moments afield are more deflating.

Range The maximum distance from which to effectively shoot a turkey is a sensitive subject to some hunters. At check stations and local diners you might hear hunters brag, "My 10-gauge will tip 'em over every time at 60 yards!"

That's bad advice. Shots taken at long ranges are often why hunters fail to shoot a turkey. A tightly choked 10-gauge loaded with magnum shells and size 4 shot can kill a turkey at 60 yards, but it's a low-percentage gamble, which is miserably unethical. Hunters who take such shots often forget to mention how many turkeys escape, dragging a wing or a leg.

A hunter should never attempt to shoot at a turkey beyond 35 yards, regardless of gauge, choke and shot size. This should be the gospel of turkey hunting. Why? Pellets must penetrate either a turkey's brain or spinal cord for a shot to prove instantly lethal, and these regions of a turkey's body represent a small target. To hit them requires a dense pattern of shot.

At the shooting range, the patterns thrown by most full-choked 3 1/2-inch chambered 12- or 10-gauge shotguns might make 35 yards seem conservative as the greatest distance at which to shoot a turkey. But here's what many newcomers to turkey hunting overlook-shooting at a turkey in the woods is not like shooting at paper while at the range.

In the woods, the moment that culminates the hunt often comes after you have been sitting motionless for 45 minutes or more while a gobbler took his time coming to your calls. Muscles stiffen and ache; moreover, a tom's drumming and gobbling make for high excitement. Adrenaline and a cramped body make accurate shooting a struggle.

Then there are twigs and branches between you and the turkey. Little twigs tear big holes in shot patterns. And unlike paper targets, turkeys move. They bob their heads while they walk, they pull their necks in when they strut, they flop their