Mastering the anatomy of your prey is a critical component in becoming an ethical and successful bowhunter. Turkeys are notoriously difficult to take with archery gear due to the size of their vitals and drastic changes in their silhouette at strut. We talked with the team at Mathews Archery to help you better understand turkey anatomy and equip you for a clean shot.
The photo above shows the approximate location of the heart and lungs on a non-strutting bird. This graphic gives you an idea of how the vitals and bone structure lay out. As you can see, the vitals on a turkey tend to be slightly higher than its center of mass, so place your shots accordingly. Generally, the final wing joint will point to the heart. Use this as a reference point when placing your arrow.
A turkey’s appearance changes significantly at full strut and can make pinpointing their vitals a challenge. A general rule is to draw a vertical line just in front of the bird’s legs.
From there, aim for the point where that line would intersect the crease in the wing as marked with a red dot in the graphic.
A strutting bird facing directly away is one of the best shots to take. In this position, the spine is in a straight line and the base of the fan offers a perfect aiming point. An arrow placed near the “vent” will drive straight into the chest cavity and sometimes even sever the spine.
Draw a horizontal line from the base of the bird’s beard. Then, draw a vertical line up from the offside leg. An arrow placed at the intersection of these two lines should drive straight into the heart and lungs. If you hit high, you might impact the spine which is equally as effective, if not more.
If the bird is in full strut at this angle, place a horizontal line approximately two inches below the base of the neck rather than at the base of the beard. You also may need to move your vertical line a few inches forward from the offside leg.
When a turkey is facing straight towards you, place your arrow between the base of the beard and the base of the neck. There is often a thin vertical line formed by the breast feathers that can act as an aiming point.
A clean head or neck shot will produce devastating results. However, this is a difficult shot to carry out since the target is small and moves often. The key is to call the bird in close and to release your arrow while it’s relatively stationary. If you do choose to take this shot, take caution as a turkey’s head movements can be erratic.