Wild turkeys are the only big-game animal in America with just two legs, so their anatomy departs dramatically from that of deer and other four-legged animals. As such, there’s a shot placement learning curve when hunting turkeys with a bow and arrow.
A turkey’s vital area, including its heart and lungs, is much smaller than a deer’s, about the size of a grapefruit. The small target means there’s a small margin for error. Pair that with the fact that turkeys can fly, and don’t bleed much even if they do just run, and you’ll see why it’s extremely important to make a lethal shot that anchors the bird quickly.
If you’re looking at a broadside turkey, you can follow its leg up to the center of its body cavity to locate approximately where the heart and lungs sit. If the bird is facing you, the vital organs are slightly above the base of the beard, but below the wattles on the neck.
Broadside shots can be difficult on turkeys because your arrow will need to penetrate tough primary wing feathers and potentially wing bones before hitting the vitals. A bird that’s facing toward or away from you provides a slightly better shot angle because smaller feathers are the main barrier from those angles, and you’ll shoot through the breast or butt with little interference. That said, make sure you judge the shot distance correctly so you’re as accurate as possible. If you hit high or low on a front or away facing bird it will likely take flight because these shots won’t break a wing or hip like a broadside shot might so be prepared for a chase. Bowhunters can successfully kill a bird at one of these four angles with a traditional-style broadhead.
Only an advanced turkey bowhunter should shoot a broadside, strutting bird because the feathers can skew an archer’s judgment of where the vitals actually are. Bowhunters can shoot a bird that’s standing forward in the same place as a bird that’s strutting forward, just above the base of the beard.
If you’re using a guillotine-style broadhead, a broadside shot on a non-strutting bird is best. You should aim in the middle of the neck to allow some margin for error for a shot that’s slightly high or low. Of course, no bowhunters should shoot at turkeys that are moving, unless the bird is wounded and you’re trying to make a finishing shot from a safe angle.
Turkeys are small targets that move quickly. To ensure you’re as lethal as possible, take close shots, between 10 and 15 yards for maximum penetration and a smaller margin on error. Helpful tools include decoys, blinds and rangefinders. Turkey decoys lure birds within range, help fix a turkey’s attention long enough for a you to draw and aim, and can serve as a yardage marker. A natural or pop-up turkey blind can conceal your movements and rangefinders can confirm shot distances.
If you’re nervous or unsure about shooting a wild turkey with your bow and arrow, try shooting life-size 3D turkey targets that outline the vitals to get a feel for proper shot placement from various shooting angles. You can also watch the Bowhunters United Turkey Shot Placement video for a quick overview and demonstration of where to aim in each of the four shot angles listed above.