Turkey hunting is one of the more challenging sports in the hunting world. Many states have a turkey harvest success rate generally in the 30% range. If only 30% of hunters are successful, many of them would take whatever advantage they could get. So the question follows, can you turkey hunt with a rifle? The answer can be complicated and is different for nearly every state. However, where it is legal, turkey hunting with a rifle can help you reach out and bag gobblers that are just a little too stubborn to come within shotgun or bow range. After all, if there was a possibility for you to use a better tool to harvest turkeys in your state and help you become a better and more successful hunter, wouldn’t you want to know about it?
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So can you turkey hunt with a rifle? In short, probably not. Only 12 states allow the use of rifles (not including muzzle-loaders) in one way or another during turkey season. After some extensive research, I made a table of all 50 states that contains the answer to whether or not a particular state allows turkey hunting with a rifle and linked to the section of their DNR explaining their exact rules.
As I said before, one way or another it is possible to hunt turkey with a rifle in 12 states. I say this because out of those 12 states, none of them have the exact same rules. Some of them only allow rifles (or only air rifles) to be used during a specific season, out of a possible three seasons. So, if you do live in one of the states that will allow it, make sure you read the regulations and call your local Department of Natural Resources just to make sure.
Why You Would Want to Use a Rifle
If you have turkey hunted for a few years, you have surely been in a situation where a nice tom was just a dozen yards out of range and you had to let them pass. Turkeys seem to have a knack for escaping hunters and constantly give us trouble. If you could use a rifle, you could shoot turkeys at well over 100 yards if you wanted to. Which increases that 30% success rate significantly.
Now the next question is, is hunting turkeys with a rifle ethical or not? Personally, I feel like if a state votes to include small caliber rifles as a legal method of take, then they want more turkeys to be harvested. Giving hunters that option is ultimately going to help them harvest more turkeys, thus helping the state to keep wild turkey numbers under control. Plus, if harvesting other animals such as squirrle with a rifle is ethical, why would it not be the same for turkeys?
What Types of Rifles Are Allowed
To continue about the argument of whether it is ethical to harvest a turkey with a rifle, obviously, you would not want to hunt turkey with a 50 BMG. Large calibers would be unethical and honestly would not leave much of the turkey left. There has to be a limit somewhere so that the turkey is still intact and edible.
This is why most of the states that do allow you to hunt turkey with a rifle, only allow small calibers such as a .22 long rifle, .22 magnum, or a .223 at the largest. Many of them only allow air rifles to be used and the largest caliber I saw listed for those was .30. It does not take a high caliber to put down a turkey if you have good shot placement.
With a rifle, you want to aim for the neck or the head. This can be a difficult shot at long ranges so it is also effective to shoot turkeys in the lungs/liver and the heart. Although headshots will make for the quickest kill.
What We Normally Use to Harvest Turkey
When we normally think about turkey hunting, or watch turkey hunting, they are hunted with a shotgun. Using a shotgun may sound like it would make it easier to turkey hunt. However, the challenge comes when you need to get a turkey within shotgun range. With a normal rifle, it is not too difficult to make a 100-yard shot, but with a shotgun, you are doing good if you make a 40-yard shot.
This is why it is important to use the correct choke on your shotgun. Chokes help you reach out and maximize your guns range and shape your pattern. It is also important for shotgun hunters to pattern their shotguns so they know what range they can effectively shoot at. These are steps that serious turkey hunters always do, but many amateurs simply ignore, leading to lower success rates.
Another way to harvest a turkey is by using a bow or crossbow. If using a shotgun was not difficult enough, bow hunting turkeys is the real challenge. Turkeys have incredible vision and they can pick up the slightest movement. So when you have to pull your bow back 20 yards in front of a turkey, it would be very difficult to remain unseen. Although it is difficult, it is not impossible and hunters do it every year. If you are looking for a true turkey hunting challenge, try harvesting one with a bow.
Lastly, many states allow you to hunt with muzzle-loaders. Some allow muzzle-loading rifles and most are muzzle-loading shotguns. So this just adds an extra challenge to the shotgun dynamic. You get one shot and a giant cloud of smoke.
So if you are in or are close to one of the 12 states that do allow you to hunt turkeys with a rifle, why not give it a try this season? If you have had trouble in the past getting turkeys in range, this is your ticket. Now if you see a turkey, most likely you can shoot it with a rifle. Although you will still have to locate turkeys and use your calling skills, which is also quite the challenge. Hopefully, you can take the information from this article and up your arsenal for this coming season and become a better hunter.
Thank you for reading my article about turkey hunting with a rifle. I hope you enjoyed it and learned something you didn’t already know. If you like my content, subscribe to my weekly update. If you have any other questions about turkey hunting with a rifle or just want to connect, feel free to email me at Patrick.Long@omegaoutdoors.net.