Bowhunting for deer and shotgunning wild turkeys share the similar attributes of short-range big game hunting pursuits. One is the chance to intimately learn the quarry hunted through close observation.
On the other hand, there's the certainty that any mistakes made on the hunter's part spell trouble if your intentions are more than just observing a bouncing whitetail's flag or watching how adept wild turkeys are at flying. With either pursuit, range estimation is one of the biggest areas where miscues turn into missed opportunities.
The guns and loads for turkey hunting available today translate into a 40-yard-and-less pursuit. Estimating when a gobbler is within range is easy, if you practice.
Range estimation is a skill that must be learned through repetitive practice. A lot of novice turkey hunters do their homework-practice calling, pattern their guns and outfit themselves in full camo-only to go afield without a skill that is equally as important.
It has been proven in military field tests that the average person estimates range with a probable error of 30 percent. If the average untrained person has a 30 percent error handicap it's a pretty sure bet that a lot of turkey hunters go afield ill prepared.
Borrowing a method from the bow hunting fraternity is the simplest way to accurately judge distance. Several range-finding devices are available to help you estimate distance.
When a gobbler is coming to your call is obviously not the time to try out a range finder. Find various landmarks, trees, rocks, etc., to note distance when you first set up. By the time a tom strolls within range you should be ready to shoot rather than squinting through a peephole. If you go the route of using a range finder, don't make the mistake of trying it out the first time on the morning you go turkey hunting. A little practice at home will go a long way toward success later.
There's another method that works well if you don't choose to use a range finder. Have a partner place a turkey decoy at an unknown distance in the woods, sit down and guess the yardage. Vary the terrain, lighting conditions, thickness-or lack of-brush to offer true hunting situations. Remember to sit down to estimate range because things look deceptively different from different heights. Take turns at this game and your range estimation will dramatically improve.Several NWTF chapters have incorporated this game into their JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) youth events with a lot of success.
Accurate range estimation could help you in another way as well. I've found that there's a threshold at about 25 to 30 yards where mistakes, usually hunter movement, seem to be more critical than when a gobbler is beyond this distance. When a bird walks into this "hyper zone" practically any hunter movement can spell disaster. On several occasions this writer has watched birds within gun range, but beyond 25 yards, hesitate when they see something they don't like and often calm back down if they don't see something to confirm their fears. Inside 25 yards, a gobbler's best judgment is full retreat if he becomes suspicious. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but it's something to consider when afield.
Turkey season is just around the corner, so take the opportunity to sharpen your range estimation skills as soon as possible. Time has a way of slipping away. A little practice now will make you a better turkey hunter.
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