Arrow placement and shot angles are hot-button topics among many bowhunters -- at least when big game is under discussion. Admit in print to taking anything but a perfectly broadside or slightly quartering shot on deer and heated letters to the editor will invaribly follow. Turkeys are different -- vitals are easily accessed by arrows from any conceivable angle. The trick is knowing where to aim to make a shot successful.
Broadside: The object, just as with big game, is to skewer the heart/lungs. But turkeys are covered in a confusion of feathers, especially when strutting, making exact aiming points more confusing. Aim too far forward and you'll get nothing but breast meat; too far back and you're either in the guts or feather-duster fluff. In all, gut-shooting turkeys is preferable -- you'll likely recover such a bird. Breast-shot gobblers most often escape, only to become infected weeks later -- though survival is feasible.
On strutting birds aim at a point horizontal to the base of the tucked head/neck, vertically between where the forward edge of barred wing feathers intersects the highest point of the back. On birds at rest, make a cross-hair with elevation sitting on the same line as the beard base and windage about an inch behind the front of the leading edge of the folded wing. This will result in a classic heart/lung hit -- high hits severing the spine.
Aiming a bit farther back is also acceptible, a direct hit resulting in a terminal liver hit, hitting a bit low punching through thighs, which carry large arteries and will normally anchor a bird on the spot because destroyed legs and the inability to run or jump to become airbourne. This provides greater margin for error.
Frontal: This is easy (provided you're inside a pop-up blind and won't be caught drawing your bow). Aim between the base of the neck and root of the beard on both strutting and relaxed birds. Hit slightly high and you'll hit neck/head. Hit slightly low and you'll slice the bottom of the lung area.
Caution must be exercised on birds slightly angled but mostly facing you. Use the same horizontal line for elevation, but adjust windage by the margin the beard is angled away from center to assure a center-punch through the vitals.
Facing Away: This is likewise a deadly option, one exposing the entire spinal column to destruction, as well as vitals beyond. On birds at rest hold directly between the wing butts, the uppermost wedge of black body feathers created by lighter wing feather to each side. On strutting birds, aim directly at the rectum bull's-eye. Using the light wing-feather wedge and rectum as centerlines, remember to adjust windage (as you did on facing birds while using beard as center) as angles deviate from 90 degrees.
Head and Neck Shots: Head/neck shots are obviously deadly, but they make challenging targets. If your bird is extremely close, holding still and you feel confident, go for it. You'll either kill him or miss clean, making it a safe option. Wide-reaching "head loppers" from Arrowdynamic Solutions (Guillotine) and Magnus (BullHead) make connecting easier, but close shots are still a must.
Editor's note: This was originally published in 2008.
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Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.