Real live turkeys do not, repeat, do not get killed at turkey shoots.
Each year about this time, leading up to Thanksgiving, notices arrive from local groups holding "turkey shoots."
Often the request is to run the news in Hometown Pasco, the weekly feature that runs each Sunday in the Pasco Times. Four years ago, Hometown had been running about six months when I received the first turkey shoot notice and included it in the local news. The following week I received several phone calls and e-mails admonishing the idea of anyone shooting turkeys. One caller assured me her child was distraught and determined to save the turkey and she wanted to know if I could find the turkey for her. I was tempted to reply that I could likely find several "turkeys" but realized the better option was to try to explain what a turkey shoot really is.
I grew up in rural western North Carolina, where turkey shoots were common, and had not given it a second thought that more contemporary families might read the notice, take it for literal meaning and think live turkeys were actually being killed.
To resolve this conflict in interpretation I searched for historical information about turkey shoots and while I'd made solid guesses as to when and how, there were many details I'd missed.
To get things straight for how turkey shoots run now, it goes like this:
Usually a civic group organizes the event as a fundraiser; participants pay a specified amount to shoot at a target, which may or may not resemble a turkey — it usually is a simple bull's eye (that's the concentric circles we all recognize as targets and, to completely clarify, it is NOT an actual bull's eye!); the shot that comes closest to the center wins a frozen turkey which might be part of the winner's Thanksgiving dinner.
Money earned goes to charity. All in all, pretty simple and no animal is shot or hurt in the process unless you consider the turkey that's already met its demise in a processing plant.
Turkey shoots have been around since Colonial times, particularly in small rural communities. In those days, accurate shooting was a necessary skill to feed families and for protection. Contests providing evidence of expertise and, to some degree, for entertainment, grew in the form of turkey shoots.
Several historical sources say that in early days, a live turkey was tied by the leg behind a log or tree stump. Marksmen would take turns shooting with a rifle at the bobbing turkey head. The one who landed a shot took the turkey home for dinner.
Other historical reports tell of turkey runs, sort of troughs, of specified length. A turkey was turned loose at one end and as it ran the length of the course shooters took aim. Might sound easy, but anyone who has ever watched a turkey run knows the head is constantly bobbing, making it a moving target.
Shortly after World War II, live turkeys as targets were banned in most areas and were replaced with paper targets or clay figures. Restrictions were placed on the firearms, eliminating high-powered rifles. Now most turkey shoots allow only shotguns.
There is no specified time of the year for turkey shoots, but many, such as those now being advertised in central and east Pasco, occur during the fall.
Randy Gailit, president of the local Rotary, says each shooter gets one shot at the target for $15. That price includes lunch and if the shooter wants (or needs) another shot, the cost is $5. All money earned goes to Rotary programs or local charities.
The prize is a frozen turkey.