One of the most common reasons for hit turkeys escaping is misjudgment of distance. With turkey hunters constantly seeking to gain a few extra yards of effective range (hence 3 1/2-inch shells for 10- and 12-gauge shotguns; an increasing number of hunters are carrying 10 gauge shotguns afield, never mind weight considerations; duplex loads, and other efforts to “reach out and touch ‘em” at greater distances), let’s look at the issue of distance head on. The essence of turkey hunting with a shotgun, as with deer hunting with a bow, involves an “up close and personal” situation.
Calling skills and woodscraft come into play in a major way, and every hunter should have a mental outer limit when it comes to taking a shot. For a 20 gauge that distance is 30 to 35 yards, while for a 12-gauge it is 40 to 45 yards and for a 10-gauge the limit is 45 to 50 yards. Even then, shots at the far end of the acceptable range should be taken only when no brush or undergrowth lies between the hunter and the bird.
If in doubt, don’t shoot. “Stretching the barrel” when hunting turkeys is just as unethical as “sky busting” when dealing with waterfowl. Similarly, if you have any problems with distance judgment, make a rangefinder a standard part of your turkey hunting accessories. Taking a shot at too great a distance, even with today’s highly effective loads, is an ethical slipup than can and often does result in crippling a bird that will escape only to die a lingering death.