I haven’t shot a fall turkey with a rifle—legal in my native Keystone State—since the 1970s. It’s not the most efficient way of anchoring a bird, though some astute riflemen would disagree. But they can make head shots.

Where legal, marksmen can indeed fix their aimpoint on the turkey’s head, the way most of us do with tightly choked shotguns. This way you either down the turkey directly with a punch to its walnut-sized brainpan, or you miss. It’s a small, but sure target.
Those riflemen who choose to shoot the wing butt often find that the turkey will run, fly, and sail away, only most likely to die later, and out of reach—especially if it hits the bird just slightly off the mark. A spine shot will anchor the bird, but a near miss surely won’t. There’s little room for error either way.

Hunting with a rifle can put you at an advantage for when you draw birds in, but just out of would-be shotgun range—something all of us see routinely when pursuing turkeys. A 50-yard headshot on a standing bird is manageable with a rifle, and swiftly downs the turkey, so long as the aim is true and the bullet isn’t deflected on the way.

You need to know about turkey behavior in order to pick the best shot as it presents itself. Motionless, standing birds qualify. Moving, head-jerking turkeys don’t.

The history of turkey literature surely reflects rifle hunting, as both Edward McIlhenny/Charles Jordan, and Henry Davis include mention in their works. Only you honestly know whether its limitations are extended by your marksmanship abilities.

Are rifles legal where you Strut Zoners hunt? Have you ever taken a turkey with a rifle?

—Steve Hickoff