I expected the Missouri gobbler to drop when I squeezed the trigger. However, the tom only buckled, regained his composure and went airborne across a valley.
Before providing the outcome of this agonizing event, let me first say that there were no obstructions that could have broken my shot pattern. It was 40 yards of open space and within effective range of my proven shotgun.
Most veteran turkey hunters realize the rarity of dealing with a wounded bird. We wait for the right moment to shoot and take only an ethical shot. Nevertheless, the inevitable can happen and we find ourselves facing a difficult recovery procedure.
Don’t Rely On Bird’s Reaction
After hunting for more than 30 years, I have found that you cannot always depend upon a bird’s reaction to determine with certainty that a bird is hit. Nothing beats a clean drop! That’s the way it is supposed to work when you aim at the head and squeeze the trigger. However, if shot does not hit the vitals, how can you know that a recovery is possible?
Although a bird that hits the ground, and then regains composure, could be hit, let me point out that some turkeys merely flinch, some go airborne, as did the Missouri bird, and some will run.
Make no mistake, though, a clean miss could result in similar reactions. When you shoot, a bird obviously is shocked by the muzzle blast. It’s also true that the turkey could spot your movement, which causes a spontaneous reaction to flee. For this reason, I put more emphasis on what I find at the shot location.
Check Point Of Impact
You could find evidence of a hit at the point of impact. Verification such as the lower down feathers could indicate that shot hit the turkey, but this depends upon where it hits and whether a bird comes into contact with the ground. It’s also true that you could locate blood splatters at the point of impact. If your shot hits low, it’s more typical to find one or more feathers. If your shot hits high in the neck and head and misses the vital vertebrate that otherwise could have knocked the bird to the ground, a small amount of blood might be found.
And now the bad news. It’s possible that you won’t find feathers or blood at the point of impact — even if you hit the turkey! It’s a matter of putting the puzzle together. You take into consideration the reaction of the turkey and never assume a clean miss. In fact, I always assume a bird was wounded to make sure I put every effort into the recovery.
Assistance is helpful when looking for a wounded turkey. If one person searches the ground for sign, the other can watch ahead for the bird. I also believe it’s better to go after a turkey immediately. A wounded bird typically looks for a place to hide. If you wait several hours to track him in order to round up help, the bird could move farther away.
Tracking a turkey is not an easy task. Unlike the trail of a wounded deer, it can be difficult for blood to reach the ground. In some cases, I have been able to follow blood, but feathers usually assisted. In other words, I might find a droplet of blood and then locate a feather farther away. This reassures me that I’m on the trail.
As long as a bird stays on the ground, you have a chance of finding blood or feathers. Just how far you can track with this telltale sign is questionable at best. The sign could run out. Then it comes down to looking for the turkey — if you know where to search.
Where They Go
The Missouri bird that went airborne flew into a hillside 150 yards away. Immediately, I pinpointed a large oak along the ridge to guide me. It is important if a bird takes to the air to watch him closely. If wings stop flapping and the turkey glides, rest assured it is about to land.
Such was the case of the Missouri gobbler. Within minutes I reached the ridge and began searching. I found the turkey piled up against a logjam. I felt ecstatic, knowing how close I had come to losing a turkey that I had spent more than an hour luring into range.
If you cannot see the bird after you shoot, listen closely. Some turkeys will go airborne for a short distance then crash to the ground. The same theory applies if a bird runs away. A turkey that flops, or falls, is sure to make sounds that will help you to make a recovery.
Veteran hunters have told tales of how a wounded bird often heads for a dense area. Typically, turkeys rely on their eyes to locate predators, and do not enjoy passing through areas where they feel vulnerable. Surprisingly, though, a wounded bird almost always seeks the thickest cover to hide. I still remember helping a friend of mine locate a downed bird in the middle of a briar jungle only 75 yards from where he shot the gobbler.
Because it’s difficult to follow the trail of a bird, I would suggest you never give up looking until you have searched the unthinkable areas. This could include anything from a grown-up honeysuckle thicket to a fallen treetop.
Good luck in the turkey woods!
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