Turkey Anatomy & Shot Placement 101

Apr 8, 2021 | Turkey Hunting | 0 comments

A tom in full strut, circling your decoys is often a chip shot with modern and even older shotguns and turkey shells. Applying the basic aiming principle of “high it dies” gets great results with your scattergun, but for the archery hunter, sending an arrow can be a completely different game.

Turkeys can be particularly difficult to put down with a bow due to several factors. Many archery hunters have watched their arrow, along with any hopes of success, fly away dangling from the body of a tom.

One of the trickiest aspects of hitting a tom fatally is finding the vitals when they are strutting.

The vital areas on a bird change significantly when it enters a full strut. This isn’t to say the organs themselves move, but the puffed up feathers of the display will change your perspective on where to aim. The spine, however, will move as the bird changes it from straight, instead giving it a deep bend for the strut.

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The good news for archery hunters is you actually have access to some of the organs that a shotgun hunter may not. A turkey’s large breast, thick hide of feathers and wings can block shotgun pellets from penetrating the body. But where a pellet gets stuck an arrow is much more likely to penetrate.

Archery Shot Placement Tips

A1

The good news is your arrow won’t be flying away in the turkey. The bad news is you are eating feathers for dinner. This almost looks like a shot capable of hitting the spine and killing the bird immediately, but the puffed feathers are deceiving. There is almost no substance to this shot, it is nothing but feathers.

A2

This shot actually has a small chance of doing some damage to the central nervous system via vertebrae. Paralysis will be the most likely outcome, however, you will need to finish the bird off. While we don’t advocate aiming at this square, if you are lucky enough to make contact with the spine, you will have no worries of an arrow flying away with your bird.

(A good tip for tracking the spine when the bird is in full strut is by looking at the fan and imagining the bird’s cloaca (the export valve of their digestive system) and following that imaginary spot horizontally.)

A3-A5

We hope you weren’t too attached to that arrow. The best you can hope for here is to damage either a wing, or a leg setting you up for another shot. That is hardly an optimal situation, however. There is a chance you may hit some digestive tract, like the intestine also, but you are still going to see a bird run, or fly away with your arrow.

B1

This shot will leave the same taste in your mouth as A1 did. Your dinner will consist of a few errant feathers and you will be looking for your arrow through the brush. There will be no meat on your broadhead and don’t bother turning on your BaseMap tracking function as there will be no blood to track.

B2

You have a better chance at hitting some vertebrae here than you did with A2, but it is still close. A spinal hit here should be seen as getting lucky with a bad shot, not somewhere to aim for.

B3

Now you are getting into some vitals. A tom’s lungs are sitting here and a broadhead shot should put it down fast. That being said, turkeys are very powerful birds and have been known to cover ground after taking a devastating shot like this, with the arrow still in them. The shot may prevent a bird from flying, but their powerful legs will carry them surprisingly far.

B4

This shot could quite possibly cause you problems. The bird’s wing bone could be in the way and depending how the bird is standing the leg bone could be blocking as well. You may also have to navigate a piece of the breastbone as well as the large singular bone covers much of this area.

B5

Your best best case scenario here is a complete miss. The only substantial anatomy your broadhead can find in this square is either wing tips, or a drumstick. Either way, this bird is not only going to survive the initial shot, but it will no doubtedly escape.

C1

Roasted feathers for dinner again.

C2

This is lights out for that old longbeard you’ve been chess with for the last hour and a half. A direct shot to the spine here will make quick work of your bird as it will cut off the spinal cord and the central nervous system. Aiming slightly lower is a safer bet as it gives you some wiggle room, but this is still a punched tag and dinner on the table.

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C3

Right in the pump station. Your target here is about the size of a golf ball and you nailed it. The bird will most likely go down in a heap and if it happens to jump from the spot, there will be little if any tracking needed. A great rule of thumb for finding this vital area is to make an imaginary line from the beard, and another moving up from just in front of the legs. Where the two lines meet is generally your key to a punched tag and a turkey dinner.

C4

The vital area on a turkey is small and this shot is case in point. The square above is essentially a done deal and this square can be another story completely. Your arrow now has to deal with the large breast muscle and the breast bone. Chances are much higher of your shot glancing off the bone or doing little terminal damage here. You could easily see the fletchings of your favorite arrow disappear as the bird runs, or flies away.

C5

Another feather sandwich is in your future here. Even with your best case scenario you will most likely just hit breast meat doing no fatal damage and giving your arrow a first class ticket to fly away.

D1

Game over. A head shot is one of the most effective shots on a turkey. Some broadheads are even designed specifically to target the head and neck. This is still a tricky shot even with specific broadheads, but the risk is minimal and the reward great.

D2

Neck, throat and spine. This is a great shot to make, especially with specialized broadheads. A direct hit will result in an immediate kill.

D3

If you hit him low, you will watch him go. This shot is almost completely breast meat. There will be minimal blood with this shot and almost no hopes of tracking the wounded bird.

Your arrow is gone, the bird is gone and you will be looking up good ways to cook a turkey tag.

D4

See D3, but lower. Pure breast meat again. We hope you have more arrows.

D5

You could save the feathers and start stuffing them into a pillow, but that is the only use you will get from this shot.

Shotgun Shot Placement Tips

D1 and D2

These offer the best chance for your pellet to critically hit the spine, or head. Most misses with the shotgun go over a turkey’s head, so make sure to keep your sight below the head, but try and keep it above the beard.

In Conclusion

There is no time like Spring to be in the woods and no hunt like spring turkey. Those who go into the woods, bow in hand, have their work cut out for them. A turkey’s vitals are small and their acute vision make drawing a bow back even harder. Taking any turkey in the Spring is a memory that will last a lifetime and one with the bow will always hold a special place in a hunter’s memory.

Now that you have confidence in your shot placement knowledge, learn about 6 Western Turkey Hunting States that have ample public-land turkey hunting habitat and over-the-counter tags.

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