Fred Eichler's Tips for Bowhunting Turkeys
If you want to try hunting turkeys with your bow, or you have tried unsuccessfully to harvest a bird with your bow, here are some tips I have learned the hard way. They come from experience hunting turkeys from the swamps of Florida to the rolling hills of Nebraska.
Turkeys have a small kill zone, so I advise using the bow you do all of your other hunting with. If you shoot multiple bows, use the one you are most accurate with. I also prefer bows with a flat or dull finish. If your bow is shiny, spray paint it or tape it up even if you are hunting in a blind. Although I use bright fletching, I think dull or dark feathers are advantageous if you are not hunting from an enclosed dark blind. For broadheads, don’t switch up or try adding something to prevent a pass through. Maximum penetration is always your best bet. Use the same broadhead you use for big game and always make sure it is razor sharp.
Where legal I prefer to hunt out of a blind. My favorite is a pop-up style. Brush blinds work well also. Just be sure to use enough brush to break up your outline. In my opinion, whether your hunting spring or fall, decoys are a must. They give the turkey something to look at and hold their attention. You can also use them to help position the bird for a good shot. With good cover for drawing your bow, position your decoys a little closer than you would when shotgun hunting. A turkey's vitals are small.
In my opinion turkeys are not the amazingly crafty birds they are often made out to be. I simply feel they fear everything. Including anything out of place or any unrecognized movement or sound. I would be scared too if every land predator and most hawks and eagles considered me food from an egg to adulthood. These high-strung birds have incredible eyesight and use it as their main means of defense against predators. If you can fool their eyes then you’ve got the hard part licked.
The other part of the equation is getting in range. I have hunted turkeys almost every way imaginable. I have stalked them, hunted them near food sources, water, strutting areas, trails, roost areas and called them in. Of all these, I feel the latter is the most productive.
Calling and Strategy
The most commonly used calls are the diaphragm, box call, slate call or push button call. The easiest to operate are usually the box call or the push button type calls, but slates and diaphragms can be mastered relatively quickly with practice. When emulating a hen turkey you don’t have to sound perfect. There is no such thing. Just like human voices, hen turkeys all have varying tones and levels. The biggest mistake is overcalling. Especially in hard-pressured public land areas. If you're not getting responses and no birds are sneaking in quietly you can try switching calls or tones. Just like some human voices sound sexier than others, I feel certain tones sometimes just sound better to a gobbler. I have seen birds ignore one call only to respond and come running in when I switched up. Some research shows that turkeys may respond better to a certain pitch. That could help explain why they shock gobble to loud noises like doors slamming or thunder. If your luck doesn’t change after switching calls, you should move to another area.
Whether I am guiding or hunting for myself, I prefer to try and roost birds the evening before hunting whenever possible. Even in pressured areas, toms will often gobble once or twice after flying up in the evening just before dusk. After locating a bird, I try and set up quietly the next morning about one hundred yards from the roost. I like to wait to call until I hear the bird(s) start first. Then I like to call loudly with five to six yelps to be sure I’m heard. Then I'll usually wait until I hear the birds hit the ground before calling again. My next series of yelps is usually ended with a few cutting calls.
Cutting is short, quick, loud yelps that hens make when they are excited or angry. After that I clam up. If the bird is responsive, odds are he will come looking for you without you having to make another peep. He may not come looking for hours, but he won’t forget where he heard that excited hen.
I like to stay in the same location, letting out a few yelps only every thirty to forty-five minutes. If the bird you originally roosted doesn’t swing by another tom on the move may hear your calls and come in.
When turkey hunting you have to be constantly alert. A good number of mature gobblers will come in silently without making a sound. That happens more often than not in heavily hunted areas. Another trick I have used with success on birds that won’t close into bow range but that stand out circling and calling is to scratch in the leaves with your hand. This will often fool the bird into thinking a hen is scratching for food causing him to close the distance.
Getting drawn on a sharp-eyed gobbler is the toughest part of turkey hunting and again decoys will help distract them. Even in a blind it is best to wait to draw until the head is blocked by brush or other objects that will keep your movement from being detected. Assuming you're lucky enough to get drawn, bear in mind the kill zone on a turkey is only the size of a softball. On a broadside bird, I try and aim just behind where the wing butt attaches to the chest.
Based on the angle of the bird, I always try and make sure my arrow will pass through this softball-sized region of the chest located between the wing butts. Other lethal shots include the head and neck. This is a small target and usually the first part of the bird to move. So I prefer the larger chest cavity as an aiming point. Remember, no other animal will change the how the vitals are presented like a turkey...from strutting, to slouching to standing alert, you have to pick the right spot!
After the Shot
One common mistake made after connecting on a bird is to chase it. You will lose more birds than you will recover with this method. Just like any other animal you shoot, it is best to give the bird some time based on the hit before taking up the trail. Most chest hit birds will rarely go over forty yards before expiring. Occasionally, a lethally hit bird will fly a short distance. Just mark where you last saw the bird and begin your search from there. A bird shot too far back in the intestines will usually run a short distance and lie down. If you push it the bird will usually run or fly and be lost. Give these shots a good thirty minutes before following. Most other shots can usually be blood trailed a short distance to your trophy. If you happen to take out one or both legs the turkey is usually rendered unable to run or fly as turkeys usually need to jump in the air to take off. A quick follow-up shot is often all that’s needed to anchor your turkey dinner.
If you've never tried to hunt this elusive bird with a bow, you're missing out on some extra time afield and a challenging hunting experience.