Appalachia Pap

Shooting Contests in Appalachia

Turkey Shoot

Do they ever have turkey shoots where you live? Every once in a while I hear about one happening around here. Pap told me back in the day turkey shoots were beyond common.

A turkey shoot isn’t really a turkey shoot-you don’t shoot at a real turkey. Its a shooting contest to see who is the best shot. Participants shoot at a target from a set distance and the best shot wins a turkey.

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has this entry for turkey shoot:

turkey shoot noun A Marksmanship competition, the winner of which is awarded a turkey as a prize. 1972 Cooper NC Mt Folklore 36 Beef and turkey shoots and rooster fights were great recreational events. 1997 Montgomery Coll. = turkey (and ham) shoots were common…beef shoots were usually conducted with rifles, while modern turkey shoots usually are conducted with shot guns. The rules and methods of scoring are also different (Ellis).


Pap's school picture


When Pap was a boy, one of his friends, Kenny Fleming, was the best shot around. Papaw Wade (Pap’s daddy) heard there was going to be a turkey shoot over at Chester Dockery’s place and he sent Pap and Kenny to enter it.

Pap was about 13 and Kenny was about 16 years old. Pap and Kenny’s families both lived in Pine Log. Pap and Kenny walked through the gap of the mountain and on down the way till they reached Chester’s house in Smyrna.

Now there were some serious shooters that entered the turkey shoot at Chester’s. Pap said once Kenny starting shooting they kept narrowing the target down smaller and smaller trying to find something Kenny couldn’t hit. They went from shooting at 22 hulls to shooting at straight pins.

Kenny won the turkey shoot, but in those days there wasn’t a turkey in the whole area. Pap said the best he could remember Kenny went home with a rooster.

Pap said Chester held turkey shoots most every weekend in those days. I asked him if Kenny ever went again, Pap said “No Kenny was too bashful to go back.”


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  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 17, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Tell that Ken dude that me and Chitter are left handed. Now if we ain’t proof that lefties are the real “right handers” then what is? Ok, well she is proof!
    I did really go to turkey shoots years ago but they shot paper plates.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 17, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    When I was young I used to go to turkey shoots every Saturday in the fall. In our area the person who sponsored the shoot would build a wire cage to keep the turkeys in. The cage would have one hole in one side of the top. He would put the cage behind a big log and put a little bit of corn in the bottom. Then he would collect a dollar from everyone who wanted to enter the contest and line them up at the prescribed distance. Next he would go to the log and put a few grains of corn on it and run behind a big tree. When a turkey stuck his head out through the hole to get at the corn, the first shooter would get his shot. If he hit the turkey in the head, he won it. If not he paid another dollar and got in the back of the line. This went on until all the turkeys were no longer standing. If nobody shot a turkey the host would cut the distance in half and double the cost to shoot. If there were still turkeys left at the end of that round he would cut the distance in half again and charge $4 to shoot. This would go on until nobody except the sponsor had any money or the remaining turkeys were so full of corn that they wouldn’t stick there heads out any more. Then the host would offer to sell the rest of the turkeys to anyone who wanted to buy one to take home. He would even shoot it in the head for them so they could go home and tell lies about how they got it on the first round for only a dollar.
    I was a crack shot with a rifle when I was young. I went to many a turkey shoot but never participated in one. I really didn’t like of turkey that much.
    If you believe that one I’ll tell you a ghost story!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    November 17, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Everyone came “home” to my grandparents for Sunday dinner every other week or so and target shooting was the afternoon entertainment – men, women and older grandchildren. My mom was right up there with the best of them.

  • Reply
    November 17, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    When I was 13 or 14, daddy had bought me a Model 37 Winchester 12 Gauge shotgun. That thing killed at both ends, but I was just getting over the Flu and an older friend had a car. His name was Ronald Evans, a wrong hander. (left-handed) Anyway, me, Mike (later became my brother-in-law) and Ronald went to a Turkey Shoot at Andrews beside the Airport. We shot at 3×5 cards at 40 yards and us 3 had to shoot against each other at times to make up 14 people. I aimed at the top-left corner and shared down. I won one. But before we quit, one of us won at every time we shot. My brother even stopped by and I let him shoot my ole 12 gauge. I had told him just where to aim and he got one too. We had 5 turkeys and went to town to redeem them at the IGA grocery store. The owner wouldn’t give us the Turkeys until he called back down there. We had 82 pounds of turkeys.

  • Reply
    November 17, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Many, many years ago when I was alot younger, I was a member of a littlle volunteer Fire Dept. in Virginia and we would hold a Turkey Shoot on Friday night’s starting in late October through early December sometime. Back then it seems almost all of the Fire Dept’s. back then held one, atleast the Department’s that were out in the country/ rural areas would hold one. Our’s was on Friday night’s and another Department would hold theirs on Saturday afternoon and another that night at another Department, I can’t recall if they would hold any on Sunday’s because many of the older generation back then was against anything to do with any shooting or any disruptive noise of any kind since it was the Sabbath, so we would not ever mention anything about wanting to sight a gun in or target practice or nothing of the sort back then we just knew better, LOL….

  • Reply
    Lonnie Baker
    November 17, 2016 at 11:01 am

    American Legion Post 47 in Waynesville had a turkey shoot every Saturday.

  • Reply
    November 17, 2016 at 10:21 am

    We have turkey shoots here in central MA – offhand I can think of three in nearby towns, held at local gun clubs. I’ve never gone to one, though I could certainly provide comic relief if I entered!

  • Reply
    November 17, 2016 at 9:02 am

    My ex-husband went to every shooting match in town during the short time we moved in with my parents. I’ve never heard of the contest being held anywhere other than eastern KY.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    November 17, 2016 at 8:56 am

    All hunting clubs had a turkey shoot. I think I was about 12 when I first went to one. I did not win but it made me feel very important to be shooting against men who were very good.
    My father told me how proud he was of me so that was as good as winning. I could never go hunting because I would never be able to kill an animal but I have always loved target shooting.

  • Reply
    November 17, 2016 at 8:51 am

    Turkey shoots used to be really common in our area.When I was little, I thought they actually shot the turkey!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 17, 2016 at 8:49 am

    When I was in school, “turkey shoots” were common. Even when living in the city we would hear of them around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Word got out by mouth or ads posted on the windows of the grocery stores and occasionally a really big one would be advertised in the newspaper. Sometimes they were charity events!
    I remember us young girls calling them “Shurkey Toots” and giggling and laughing out loud at school, going into class and if one looked at the other the “Shurkey Toot” immediately came to mine and we were admonished for talking, giggling in class! Back then talking in a form of “Pig Latin” was all the rage!
    Shortly after my better half got out of the service we got married. I heard his tales of his shooting ability in the Air Force. Why yes, I was impressed and knew it was probably true since he grew up with brothers on a farm and they hunted every Fall. Well, one day I heard about a “Turkey Shoot” and being silly told him there was going to be a “Shurky Toot”! After I explained, my wording, He decided to go and take a friend. It was his chance to show me he really was a good marksmen.
    It was at a sportsmen’s club in the town where we were living at the time. About twenty folks would shoot at targets at a time. Narrowing down the entrants that were the closer to the bulls eye marks. Those guys then allowed to shoot again. Finally, it got down to two men left. The better half won! He came home that evening. Held up the turkey and joked and said, “I won the “Shurky Toot”!
    I didn’t cook it, since we were going to my parents for Thanksgiving but, we donated the turkey!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…I won a game of darts one time! ha

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    November 17, 2016 at 8:39 am

    There is still a few held around here each year. I have been to a few but never won a turkey. Ham is often used as an alternative to turkey. You have to use the shells that are provided and you can’t use your own. There was a practice years ago of cheating by having your gun barrel sleeved so it would shoot a tighter pattern. Then they started inspecting shotguns to make sure they were not modified. My dad had a 16 gauge that shot a nice tight pattern and he won a lot of meat with it. There were people who tried to buy it every time he went to shoot. I haven’t been to one since dad passed but I should go and shoot in honor of him because loved it so much.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 17, 2016 at 8:31 am

    You remind me of the shooting match in the movie “Sargeant York”. I think it is probably one of the most authentic videos of an old time shooting match . Like much of Appalachian ‘fun’, there was, and is, a serious side about both food and the ability to procure it from the wild.
    Shooting at straight pins is mind boggling. My eyes ate not good enough to do fine shooting and I most likely could not even see a straight pin target.
    Kenny being too bashful to come back sounds familiar. As a boy, if I were walking along the road and hearda car coming, I would run into the woods and hide. There are times I would still like to. Amazing that Kenny’s shooting didn’t suffer.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    November 17, 2016 at 8:06 am

    We were talking about the Turkey Shoot the other day. My wife thought we really shot at turkeys. We had some fun trying to imagine what that would look like.
    When I was a kid and money was tight, that is how we got our Thanksgiving turkey. My Dad is a great shot and would win with a brutal 10 gauge, bolt action shotgun (he said it killed on one end and crippled on the other).
    My great uncle Joe said that people of his and my Dad’s generation were good shots because you were sent out to hunt with one shell. He said you learned to be patient and precise or you didn’t eat. In those people that lesson learned has translated into other areas of life.
    I’ve been trying to figure out how to impart that lesson to my kids without firearms. There’s an ordinance against shooting in town.
    Oh, I miss the the old home place.

  • Reply
    November 17, 2016 at 8:06 am

    This is a post that makes me wish I had paid more attention growing up. I knew my Dad was a sharpshooter in service, and this is largely due to every young man in this area spent hours walking in the woods and hunting small game. I never saw a deer in the forest, and actually never stopped to realize they were probably hunted out for food. So, all their practice was small targets.
    Dad would head out the door for a turkey shoot regularly decked out in a rugged flannel shirt with gun in tow. Sometimes men were even nice enough to share a good shooting gun because it was about the ability to hit the mark. I don’t recall him ever bringing home a turkey. Since I paid very little attention to the whole process, I can only assume there were some really great marksmen in this area. Yes, the turkey shoot, the hog killing in the fall, and raising bitties was just a normal part of everyday life.
    There is a tendency for the mind to latch on to other memories as we read all those sweet traditions of yesteryear. Memories have a way of grabbing hold of many circumstances surrounding each single memory. Fortunately you never post on a hated Appalachian tradition. This one seems to have triggered a memory I would prefer to forget. Never one to want a young lady to get on her high horse, Dad gave me chores I found disgusting. Each morning and evening I was in charge of feeding the pigs. From stirring the chop and scraps to walking a good distance from the house, I usually managed to get splattered. I would like to say it molded my character, but actually made me vow to never own a hog when I grew up.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 17, 2016 at 7:55 am

    Tipper–Another type of “shoot” that was popular for many years involved black powder contests. The one at Cataloochee Ranch was especially popular. John Parris really enjoyed attending and wrote about the event in his column a number of times over the years. The prizes in that event were portions of beeves from the Cataloochee herd. I think they were slaughtered just prior to the shoot and awarded to the winners on the spot.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 17, 2016 at 7:01 am

    I used to hear about Turkey Shoots all the time but not so much now days. They seem to be fading away like most things of the past.

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