One of the most exciting and challenging hunts out there is a turkey hunt with archery gear, but there are a few tricks and tactics that can make you more successful this spring.
I am an admitted turkey hunting addict. A couple of springs back, I hunted 10 states in 10 weeks, collected a shotgun and archery Grand Slam (2 of my 18 total), and these days I find myself taking my favorite bow and blind out more and more often to pursue the “King of Spring”. There is something about hearing a thunderous gobble and waiting on the exact shot angle required with a bow that really kicks my heart into overdrive, and during my travels to nearly 30 states and 3 countries pursuing Tommy Three Toes, I have learned a few things the hard way that I hope make you a better turkey hunter.
There are a few key components that must go into a successful bowhunt for turkeys, and each is very important to consistent success. The use of blinds, calls, decoys and your choice of bow and arrow setup and shot placement must all come together if you plan to tag a longbeard this spring, so let’s look at some of the essentials for bow turkeys.
You can definitely kill a turkey with out a blind, but in my opinion it makes things 100 times harder. The movement required to draw a bow while a gobbler is in bow range will get you busted way more times than not, and with today’s quality portable blinds, I always try to tip the odds in my favor by using one.
Portable blinds are made for turkey hunting as most will setup in mere seconds, and good ones offer total concealment. The key to successfully using a blind for gobblers is to open just the portion of the blind you need to shoot from, and keep at least the back half closed and dark, and try to stay a bit back from the windows or opening. Blinds with a black inside give much more of a shadow effect, and coupled with camouflage or black clothing, you will be virtually invisible to turkeys.
Last year in Nebraska, I drew on a turkey 4 times at ranges from 2 to 7 yards before I finally got the shot I wanted. The bird had no idea I was there, but I sat toward the back wall of the blind and there was a definite “black hole” effect when looking in.
My personal preference is the Double Bull Matrix 360 blind because of the adaptability it gives you. With the wrap around single window that you can simply open no matter from which direction a gobbler approaches, you can easily get a shot all the way around your blind. I have had numerous experiences where a tome came in to the side or behind the blind and hung up strutting. With the Matrix, you can quietly close off what was the front of the blind and ease open the other side to reverse your setup. This feature has allowed me many shots that I otherwise would have never been able to take.
Calling and turkeys’ response to it is probably the most fun part of hunting these birds. Honestly, turkey hunting wouldn’t be half as exciting if toms didn’t hammer their gobbles, and if we couldn’t elicit those gobbles with our calls.
That being said, calling isn’t that simple, and is definitely not an absolute science. Getting a bird fired up with loud aggressive calling is great, but it is the rare gobbler that will come all the way in to 10 yards while being inundated with loud calls. Entire books are dedicated to calling in turkeys, so since the subject is so vast, I will be brief and describe some of my most proven tactics.
If I get a bird responding from a distance, I like to try to get him fired up with as much aggressive yelping and cutting as he will take, but once he moves in to visual range, I usually tone things down quite a bit. I find that friction calls like my favorite Knight & Hale Ol Lady Hen Slate call are probably the most versatile available. You can crank up the volume and even cut through wind noise on blustery days, but when you want to sweet talk a tom with soft clucks, purrs and whines, a good friction call will tone right down.
If I get a tom coming, and he closes within 60-70 yards, I generally switch to a mouth diaphragm like a K&H Grand Slam Cutter which allows me to pick up my bow and even hold my draw while I soft call. When a bird is close, I just give him enough calling to keep his interest and make the scenario realistic. Many hunters don’t learn to call softly, and the low volume stuff will help you take more birds that laud raucous calling in the long run.
In my opinion, decoys are probably the most important component to a turkey bowhunt. Getting a quality shot, which to me is 25 yards or less, at a gobbler, means that you must draw him in and get him positioned correctly. A turkey may come in from a distance to your calling, or you may just be setup in a high traffic area, but to get the bird in close and relaxed, decoys are the ticket for sure.
I have experimented with decoys for nearly 20 years, and have tried everything from a flock of 15 dekes, to singles of both genders and all combination’s in between. For the bowhunter, I have found a couple combination’s that seem to work really well.
For the past two springs I have been using a strutting gobbler decoy quite a bit. First I caution you to only use this type decoy on private land where you know no one else is hunting. these impostors look so real that they could get shot. I tool a real turkey tail fan and put it in my Carry-Lite Pretty Boy decoy and have had many a dominant tom come in to square off on him.
The strutting decoys will draw in mature birds that are up for a fight, but jakes and some two year olds may keep their distance. When there decoys do work, it is usually fast and furious action. I have had toms respond to my calls and come in slowly until they saw my Pretty Boy, and once they did, they came on a spring sometimes for hundreds of yards.
Obviously hen and jake decoys work as well, and my “secret weapon” when it comes to bowhunting turkeys is my pair of Hazel Creek Real Decoy hens. My seven year-old twins named them “Henny and Penny”, and they have been the demise of many a longbeard. These decoys are real hen turkeys mounted by master Taxidermist Cally Morris, and you just can’t get more realistic than that.
One of my favorite things about using the Hazel Creek decoys is that most hens that see them come over to investigate. So if you have a tom that is all henned-up and wouldn’t normally come in, these decoys will draw his harem with him in tow to your setup more often than not. Turkeys will come right up to the decoys and often touch them without the slightest concern, after all, they look and feel real because they are.
One of my favorite decoy combination’s is to use one or two Real Hen decoys in conjunction with a strutting tom deke. This seems to really draw in longbeards and is the best of both worlds in my opinion.
Once committed, most gobblers will come all the way in to either of these decoys, so I like to put them close to my blind. A turkey’s kill zone is small, and I would rather take a 5 yard shot than a 25 yard shot any day. I have taken many turkeys that were actually between the decoy and the blind. If you will position your dekes from 5-10 yards from the blind, an added benefit is that if a gobbler does hang up 10-15 yards out, he will still be in good bow range. Little details such as this can make or break you hunt.
I have a turkey specific archery setup these days, and though not an absolute must, tweaking your big game rig a bit can be very beneficial when hunting spring gobblers.
First I prefer a short bow. I have used a BowTech Tribute and a Guardian for the past two springs, and at just over 31″ and 34″ respectively, these bows are handy for moving around in a blind. I also like a low poundage when turkey hunting. I think 50-60 pounds of draw weight is optimal. You don’t need to high poundage and high kinetic energy setups for turkeys, and in all honesty, I don’t mind at all if the arrow stay in a gobbler and transfers the energy to the bird instead of passing through. You aren’t going to get much of a blood trail on a turkey no matter what happens.
A quiet bow is also a big help in my opinion. I haven’t heard too much discussion on turkeys “ducking the string” like is such a popular whitetail topic, but I have video evidence that shows even at close yardage, turkeys can drop their bodies a number of inches upon the shot. Since super fast bows are not a necessity, dampening virtually all noise is much easier on a bow setup for turkeys.
With my bow pulling in the upper 50’s pound range, I am able to shoot lighter weight arrows like Carbon Express Maxima Hunter 250’s, and I feel that far and away good mechanical broadheads are most desirable for turkeys.
You want a lot of surface area to cut going into a turkey, so heads like the NAP Spitfire 3 blade or the Rage 2 blade that opens up to a whopping 2″ will up your odds on a fast harvest on a gobbler. Trailing turkeys is iffy at best, so again, making a quick clean kill is of utmost importance. With the kill zones on turkeys being as small as they are, having the accuracy of a mechanical coupled with substantial cutting surfaces is a huge bonus.
As mentioned above, the vital zones on turkeys are small and require precise shot placement. There a number of spots where you can get a lethal turkey hit, but they are all only about the size of a golf ball.
My favorite shot on a gobbler is a broadside angle where I place my arrow in the pelvis. If placed correctly, the hips will be broken which prevents the bird from running or launching into flight. Many vital organs lie low in the cavity around the pelvic region, and if you shoot a bit high, you will hit the spine and drop the tom on the spot. All of these combination’s make the “hip shot” my first choice.
Shooting a turkey in the wing butt is also a very popular shot. I have seen many turkeys taken cleanly with this shot, but I have seen a few that were able to run off without being recovered, and if you hit just a bit forward, you will pass through the meat of the breast.
Shooting a strutting tom at the base of the tail fan is a good shot if he is facing dead away. This shot will place the arrow in the “gut” cavity and/or hit the spine if executed correctly. Lastly, the head shot is obviously lethal if it is on target. The best thing about trying a head shot on a turkey is that you are virtually assured of either an instantaneous kill or a clean miss. This can be a tough shot, but if you can get your gobbler in close, it may be the best option of all.
My passion for bowhunting spring turkeys seems to grow each spring. With the equipment available and the all time high populations of wild turkey throughout the United States, we as bow hunters have never had it better when spring rolls around. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by this year. There is plenty of quality land, both public and private, out there just waiting to be turkey hunted, so pack up your calls, decoys, blind and bow and get out there and pursue America’s greatest game bird.
Mosquito Control – ThermaCELL
Bow – BowTech Guardian (57pounds)
Arrows – Carbon Express Maxima Hunter 250
Broadheads – Rage 100 gr 2 blade
Rangefinder – Nikon Monarch 800
Blind – Double Bull Matrix 360
Decoys – Hazel Creek Real Hens – Carry-Lite Pretty Boy
Apparel – Under Armour Heat Gear
Turkey Vest – Ripcord Beard Buster
Calls – Knight & Hale
* Article Reprinted from : Bowhunt America