We arrived at our annual stomping grounds at 10 a.m. By noon, we had shaken hands with landowners, set up camp and hit the trail for an afternoon hunt. I crept through the unseasonably sparse spring cover, glassing and calling every couple of steps. Soon, I arrived at “The Majestic Field” and felt the looming presence of my quarry.
I cautiously stuck my head up to reveal the entire swath of cut corn and began panning with my crystal-clear Leupold glass. Red.
That’s all I needed to see—a fleck of red amidst the browns and blues of crispy vegetation and a wide-open country sky. There he stood, a leery longbeard peeping the scene before strutting onto his 1,000-yard-wide dance floor. I called him across 800 yards of it, but he wouldn’t close the final 200.
Back at the campfire that night, I contemplated a setup for the following day. As much as I prefer to park my butt against a tree and go “all natural” in turkey territory, with virtually no shadowy canopy to slink around, running and gunning would be nearly impossible. It was settled: My buddy, Branigan, would join me the next morning in a ground blind. We flipped a coin to determine who’d shoot first … should the opportunity arise. Such premeditation is typically cursed for a turkey hunter, but minimal deliberation is precious in the moment of truth. When Tommy Longspurs materializes from thin air, it’s enough of a conundrum—no need to add in a chaotic debate about who should pull the trigger.
Dawn broke and the sun climbed high. Seven hours, no birds. A few distant gobbles, but no sightings. Nap. Call. Nap. Call. Gobble. Or was it? Call again. Gobble-obble. Branigan didn’t flinch. “Did you hear that?” I asked. “No. I didn’t hear anything,” he answered. I prepared to scream into the woods with more aggressive cutting and excited yelping. Suddenly, the unmistakable crimson caruncles of a gobbler appeared from the edge of the woods. Longbeard! And another longbeard! I presented the lightning-fast plan: “You take the one on the right. I’ll take the one on the left. You shoot right after I shoot.” (I had won the coin toss.)
Minutes later, I stood over a stone-dead gobbler with three beards. Branigan approached the scene empty handed.
This triple-bearded mature gobbler was last seen alive through an EOTech holographic sight.
Fast-forward to the following evening. We put two strutters to bed. The morning after, we slipped into their roost and were greeted by spitting, drumming and thundering gobbles just 15 yards from our setup. Finally, I spied a tom as he spun around on his perch, now facing us. He hammered us in the face with a rib-rattling gobble. Branigan appeared calm and collected—in the zone. The loud-mouthed bird of the duo hit the ground as the sun reluctantly cracked its first beam over the horizon. There he was, 30 yards and strutting. Branigan steadied his gun and … Boom! Boom! Boom! Three misses. We watched as the bird pitched into the distance. Then, unexpectedly, Branigan swung around, rested his gun on a fallen tree and fired again in a different direction. The second gobbler had kindly hung around, ready to sacrifice himself for Branigan’s redemption. We scrambled to recover the gentlemanly gobbler, but there was no flopping and no bird. He was gone. Another miss.
Three birds. Seven shots. A tag still burning a hole in Branigan’s pocket. But how?
Branigan has killed four other longbeards since he started turkey hunting with me 2 years ago. His gun throws a fine pattern. He plainly missed those three birds. Undoubtedly, he’s lifting his head off the stock or struggling to properly line up his single-bead sight. The simple solution: add optics.
While some turkey hunters protest the idea of putting anything on top of their gobbler guns, odds are those folks haven’t ever struggled with aiming at birds—let alone three in one trip. Every individual faces unique tribulations in the turkey woods. Certain people can’t use a mouth call, so they use a box. Others can’t sit still, so they only hunt out of ground blinds. Some hunters have difficulty focusing on a bird’s small head/neck vital zone with open sights. We’re all turkey hunters and we’re all flawed. That’s what keeps us on our toes.
I was carrying a Remington Versa Max topped with an EOTech XPS2 when I took that triple-bearded gobbler. Guess what? It was my first time killing a turkey with anything other than a single- or double-bead sight system. It was a great experience. And I’ll bet that if Branigan was using an EOTech or some type of optic, we would’ve walked away with a double that afternoon.
Here are three reasons to put optics on a turkey gun:
1. Optics force shooters to focus on a reticle when it’s time to pull the trigger on a turkey. Optics greatly reduce a turkey hunter’s margin of error for putting pellets in the relatively small kill zone of a gobbler. With a single bead, it’s extremely easy to misalign a shot. Move your head up, down, left or right and your shot probably won’t hit where you want. A front and rear (double) bead system is better, but still doesn’t demand as much of a shooter’s attention as an optic.
2. Optics allow turkey hunters to shoot farther. Like it or not, many modern turkey loads can throw deadly patterns up to 50 yards or longer. However, at those distances, mistakes are amplified. Move your gun just slightly off a turkey’s noggin at 50 yards and your tight pattern might be way off target.
3. Optics can produce more ethical shots. How many times have you shot at a running or flying gobbler, or excitedly took a quick poke without truly aiming? Don’t lie to yourself. An optic on a turkey gun will naturally force a shooter to take that extra moment to aim. After all, turkeys are birds, so it’s easy to fall back on your waterfowl or upland hunting instincts. If a gobbler’s flushing or making tracks, odds are it’s not an ethical shot opportunity.
On the contrary, there are plenty of arguments against putting optics on a turkey gun. To each their own. Whether you’re shooting an old-school single-shot with one bead or a semiauto with a high-tech turkey scope, fried turkey all tastes the same. It’s your setup and your success story, so write it how you want. Just remember to respect the game.