I won't get into how or why we miss or cripple turkeys. Turkey hunters know
how it happens, from pattern breakup or taking unwise shots. You should only
take ethical shots and make certain a bird is killable before you squeeze the
But if the unthinkable happens and the bird doesn't drop, you should never
walk away thinking it's a clean miss.
Assume A Bird Is Hit
In 35 years of turkey hunting, I've missed very few birds. Most other hunters I
know claim similar results. But although it might be true that one miss or
crippled turkey is one too many, it happens.
I've found it easier to live with a clean miss than losing a bird that has
been hit. First, it's difficult to accept losing a wounded turkey. That's human
nature, and rightfully so, because we're responsible. Second, a missed turkey
might return another day. You and the turkey might be a bit more educated, but
the possibility exists.
It's always better to think you hit a turkey than to believe you missed.
After all, it takes only a small amount of shot that missed the vitals to
cripple a bird you might recover.
A bird that's hit, but doesn't go down for keeps might
respond in three ways: body flutters, by going airborne or by running away.
Unfortunately, a missed bird might also react in those ways.
Consider a couple of Missouri
birds I witnessed in the late 1990s. One flew straight up and then sailed into
the side of a ridge 100 yards away. Ten minutes later, we recovered the gobbler
where it had landed.
Later, a friend shot at a dandy longbeard that
reacted similarly. The turkey flew away and glided into a valley below. We
never found the bird nor any sign to indicate it had
Body flutters are also common, even if you miss a longbeard.
A turkey might flutter and drop slightly to escape immediately. A gobbler that
runs away rapidly is no different. I've seen birds that were shot at and never
touched run away without attempting to go airborne. However, positive sign at
the shot location might provide proof that you hit a bird.
If a bird is hit, it isn't uncommon to find blood or
feathers. Although it's unlikely that you'll find a blood trail, you might
locate a small amount of blood at the shot location, particularly if shot hits
the neck. It might be only a drop or two, but that's all you need to know a
bird is hit.
The same applies to feathers. If a bird is knocked to the ground, it might
leave feathers. However, you might also find feathers when a turkey isn't hit.
Feathers don't provide positive proof of a wound because they can easily
fall from a turkey, but they inspire me to search for more telltale sign.
Experience has taught me that if I locate feathers at the shot site, I'm
usually dealing with a bird that was hit.
The Follow Up
You might find sign that indicates a bird was hit, but tracking a turkey
doesn't compare to following the trail of a big-game animal. I have followed blood
trails from wounded turkeys a couple of times, but those usually only last a
short distance. Feathers often prevent blood from reaching the ground. One
exception is an arrow wound. They open a larger hole in the body, which allows
a better blood trail.
I would suggest you always begin looking for a wounded turkey immediately.
If shock is a factor -- and it often is -- you might locate the turkey
promptly. Those that don't go down for keeps right away will seek a hideout.
Also, the quicker you search, the more likely you are to search the area
Because turkeys are almost always in survival mode and
fearful of predators, they instinctively avoid logjams and dense thickets
throughout their daily routine. However, when wounded, they have the opposite
reaction. In fact, birds that are hit often get into the thickest cover
available. It's human nature to walk the open woods when looking for a wounded
bird. Nevertheless, if you fail to locate the turkey, always search the
thickest surrounding cover. Even then, look dense areas over thoroughly,
because many birds will hold tight, assuming they won't be spotted.
Without blood and feathers to follow, finding a wounded bird comes down to
covering ground and spotting the turkey. If you cannot locate the bird,
consider returning later with a friend. Four eyes provide more assistance than
Perhaps the best way to reduce the possibility of losing a bird is to always
think you're shooting a single shot. Each time a bird is about to walk into
range, I remember how hard I worked to get him there, and that there will be
only one squeeze of the trigger to put him down. I always believe that a second
chance is not an option.
The worst might still happen, but at least I'll know that I did everything
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