When down isn't dead, find that gobbler and finish the hunt
You scouted, located and called a strutting longbeard into range. All the excuses in the world won’t help you now though – loaner gun, twisted shooting position, iffy choke, sketchy shotgun load, bad bow shot, head-jerking birds, whatever.
You shot, and the turkey fell ... but then it shockingly got up and ran or flew away. Now what?
Here’s what: You need to find that gobbler and finish the hunt.
1. Watch the Turkey
As the bird you thought was dead comes back to life and runs, struggles, hobbles or flies away, watch it intently. Note the direction it goes, and make a landmark note of the last place you see it. Listen as it scrambles away. Be alert for the sounds of its movements through ground cover while running or tree limbs while flying or within earshot as it falls from the air.
2. Look for Signs
Feathers, blood (often scarcely little) and signs of a struggle can give you a directional on the path of a wounded turkey. Study the open ground and the brush around it. Take your time. Use trail markers or flourescent tacks to plot your course. Have a buddy or two fan out to help you search. Use the same skills you do when trailing a deer or other wild game.
3. Check Out Cover
A turkey that’s been shot and wounded will often find a deadfall to hide under. Look in these spots of heavy cover – and even in thick swamps – in line with the path the departing bird took after you pulled the trigger or released the arrow.
4. Rabbit Hunt 'Em
A hurt turkey might get up and run as you approach. Your small-game shooting skills will come into play now: aim for the head and neck — or better yet that big black eye — and shoot. If it flies, concentrate as you would on a flushing upland bird. Use a sustained lead or swing-through if the gobbler is moving away. Focus and close the deal. You owe it to the turkey, the tradition, and yourself.
5. Use a Dog
In states where it’s legal – or at least isn’t illegal – use a bird-nosed canine to find your wounded turkey. Work your dog in the aforementioned thick cover. A bird dog that "hunts dead" might just find your prize.
Realtree turkey hunting editor Steve Hickoff has chased gobblers all over the United States and Mexico. He was born and raised in northcentral Pennsylvania, and now makes his home in Maine. Hickoff was named the NWTF Tom Kelly Communicator of the Year for 2019, a prestigious award reflecting his longtime work promoting hunting and conservation as a turkey hunting writer, editor and book author.