Editor’s Note: The one thing I know for certain is that the only people who don’t miss turkeys are the people who don’t hunt them. Regardless of how well you shoot, how close you let the turkeys get, what type of gun and ammunition you use and how many years you’ve been hunting, you’re still going to miss turkeys. Turkeys have an uncanny ability to dodge shots. I don’t know how they do it; they just do. This week we’re looking at reasons why I’ve missed turkeys. Most hunters probably won’t tell on themselves. However, I know that the turkey hunters who read this article will appreciate my honesty and perhaps learn from my mistakes.
I was turkey hunting with my friend Brad Harris, a longtime videographer and turkey hunter, in Missouri. This was my first turkey hunt since I’d completed writing one of my turkey books. Now, when you’ve just finished writing an all-encompassing volume on how to hunt turkeys, you feel like you have some type of mastery of the sport, and you feel more than confident in your ability to take gobblers. On this particular hunt, Harris had called in three, huge, long-bearded gobblers. They were moving in a straight line, directly at me. I decided I wanted to take the last bird – the biggest bird and the only gobbler in the trio that was strutting. I aimed carefully and squeezed the trigger. All three birds took to the air. I ran to the spot where the birds had been, dumbfounded that no turkey was on its back reaching skyward with its feet. “I can’t believe it. I don’t know what happened.” As Harris began to laugh, he said he knew what had happened. “You missed. You flat-out missed that bird.” The reason I missed was because I looked at the turkey’s head instead of the bead, and I lifted my cheek off the stock – one of the primary reasons people miss gobblers. Shamed and embarrassed, I asked Harris what we were going to do. “Don’t worry about it, John,” he said. “We’ll find another gobbler.”
About 9:30 that same morning, Harris and I located a second gobbler in the bottom of a valley. Harris started calling to the bird. The turkey answered and walked up a trail toward us. I took a stand not 20 yards from the trail with my shotgun on my knee, ready to take the shot. Harris was sitting about 15 yards above me where he could see down the trail. As the gobbler got close, I could hear him drumming. But I waited to see the bird’s entire neck area before I took the shot. I only needed the turkey to come up about three more steps on the trail to be able to get off the shot. However, when the gobbler’s head and neck were in full view, the bird spotted Harris and started jerking his head around. I knew I had to shoot quickly or not shoot at all. I squeezed off a shot and watched as the second turkey flew out of sight.
I felt lower than a snake’s belly. I’d missed two turkeys in one morning, and all the pride that I’d once felt about my turkey-hunting abilities had gone down the drain. Harris didn’t help much either. When I asked what we were going to do, Harris shot back, “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to lie down, take a nap and try to forget what happened.” I was crushed like a Dixie cup that had just been stomped. After 15 minutes, Harris said, “Okay, John, let’s see if we can find another one.” I was praying we wouldn’t, but Harris called in a third gobbler. The bird came in to my right and walked right in front of me at less than 30 yards. But I couldn’t squeeze the trigger. I couldn’t stand the thought of shooting again and missing. I let the turkey pass by me. The turkey went directly to Harris. But failing to see a hen, the tom came back again – right in front of me at less than 20 yards. I got low on my gun, looked down the barrel, found the bead, made sure my cheek was against the stock and prayed just before I took the shot. “Lord, please let me bag this turkey. I don’t know what I’ll do if I miss a third time today. Please, Lord. I’ll try to do good, stay out of trouble and do the things you want me to do. Please let me take this turkey. Amen.” Boom. When the shotgun reported and I saw the gobbler flopping, I knew my prayers had been answered. After two misses, this longbeard was my redemption.
To learn more about turkey hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ print, Audible and Kindle turkey books at http://johninthewild.com/books/#turkey. For a free copy of John E. Phillips’ “The Turkey Gobbler Getter Manual,” go to http://johninthewild.com/free-books/.
Tomorrow: What Are Brad Harris’ 10 Tactics to Prevent Missing a Turkey