Outdoor Articles

Judging Distance Key to Hunter Success

by Pursue The Outdoors on April 26th, 2006 in Turkey Hunting

Although there are several ways to increase your odds at determining how far a gobbler is, judging distance is a skill that must be learned through practice. A lot of novice turkey hunters do their homework (practice calling, pattern their guns and outfit themselves in full camouflage) only to go afield without a skill that is equally 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 head to the turkey woods unprepared.

“When considering all the reasons for missed shots or lost birds, failure to accurately judge the distance to a target is probably the most common,” said Rob Keck, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “A hunter must be able to determine when a turkey is close enough to make a clean kill. Just like patterning your shotgun prior to the season, you should also practice judging distance.”

Range Finder Success


One way to judge distance accurately is with a range finder. Find landmarks, trees, rocks, etc., to note distance when you set up. When a tom strolls within range, you’ll be ready to shoot rather than squinting through the peephole of a range finder.

“If you go the route of using a range finder, don’t make the mistake of trying it out for the first time when you’re turkey hunting,” Keck said. “A little pre-season preparation at home will go a long way toward success later.”

Game Time

Another method that works well can be quite a bit of fun. Have a partner place a turkey decoy at an unknown distance in the woods, as you sit down and guess the yardage. Vary the terrain, lighting conditions, and thickness of brush to make the scenarios look like true hunting situations.

Remember to sit down to estimate range just as you would when turkey hunting. Take turns at this game and your range estimation will dramatically improve. Several NWTF chapters have incorporated this game into their Xtreme JAKES (Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) youth events with quite a bit of success.

Decoy Distance

Another way to determine distance when in the turkey woods is by using your decoys as point of reference. When you set your decoy, step off the distance back to your setup. If you place your decoys at 20 yards in front of you, for instance, you know a gobbler strutting in the same location is also 20 yards away.

In the Zone

“Accurate distance estimation can also help in other ways. For most turkeys, there is a threshold of 25 to 30 yards where mistakes — usually hunter movement — seem to be more critical than when a gobbler is inside this distance,” Keck said.

“When a bird walks into this “hyper zone” practically any hunter movement can spell disaster. Inside 25 yards, a gobbler’s best judgment is full retreat if he becomes suspicious.”

According to Keck, another helpful way to accurately judge distance — when you have time before setting up — is to step off distances of 20, 30 and 40 yards and place markers at those distances. These markers — often stones or sticks — help by giving you a point of reference to determine whether the bird is in the desired range.

Regardless of your approach, accurately judging can help ensure a clean kill, as well as keep a gobbler from busting your setup. Use these helpful hints in the turkey woods this spring and take notice of the difference a few yards truly makes.

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