How to Bowhunt Turkeys
Turkeys can see everything. They see color much like we do. Their eye placement affords them a 270-degree view of the landscape. A largely unexplained innate ability to hear the faintest abnormal sound, like the drag of an arrow against the rest, or better yet, the clip of a release onto the bowstring, puts archery hunters at a great disadvantage. These things you can sometimes get away with when its deer or elk, but a turkey takes flight on mere intuition.
However, similar to hunting deer and elk, harvesting a turkey with a bow evokes a deep satisfaction that gun hunters will never know. You’re up close and personal, using hunting skills beyond the ability to hit a target at 200 yards. Success hinges upon the culmination of scouting, good calling and your ability to read a gobbler’s moods: fired up, henned up and shut up. Once you know where to aim on a turkey’s body, the rest comes down to repeating what you’ve learned from all those years in the deer and elk woods.
Make Alterations to Your Bow
Most big game bowhunters prefer a hard-driving, deep-penetrating broadhead capable of easily crashing through bone and cartilage. Deer and elk are bigger targets than turkeys. And for this reason, we need a broadhead that cuts a wider swath when shooting at a gobbler’s vital areas. There are some really great broadhead companies making durable mechanicals for turkey hunting.
Also, faster bows are less forgiving and often unnecessary when hunting turkeys, which lack the thick hides of quadrupeds. But it’s not paramount to lessen your draw weight if you don’t have the tools or time to do so. Just aim small, miss small.
Lastly, bright-colored fletchings need to stay in the bow case. Maybe you’re consistently hunting in a dark blind where it doesn’t matter, but in all other cases, turkeys see bright colors just as you and I can. Next time you buy a dozen arrows, make three or four specifically for the spring.
Much like you would deer or elk, scouting for turkeys is an important preseason practice. While they may not rake the bark off trees or cause an evergreen thicket to smell like a horse barn, sign is prevalent if you know what to look for. Like chickens, turkeys scratch the ground in search of bugs, grubs, seeds, nuts and berries.
Locate ridges lined with tall oak trees, an ideal location for turkeys to roost and feed. Even in the early spring, they’ll find some old acorns that the deer and squirrels didn’t consume. Plus, there is a thriving ecosystem of bugs living in the damp earth below the leaf-covered forest.
Fields will also hold turkeys. They will typically migrate from the woods into open areas starting mid-morning until mid-afternoon. That will not always be the case, but turkeys love the wide expanses where they can see for miles. For gobblers, the purpose is twofold as to why they prefer a field during the day: to spot both danger and dating opportunities.
The turkey turd is a great indicator for what’s in the area. A hen’s dropping won’t look much different from a chicken’s, whereas the male turkey’s is the shape of a J. And of course, more is better.
Create Multiple Setups
We all know the shotgun hunter has the advantage of setting up against any ole tree he prefers. Not so for our stick-and-string (wo)man. We must anticipate our hunts; visualize them even.
Once you’ve found the areas where turkeys hang out, begin thinking about optimal spots for a blind much like you would in a treestand. These blinds can be of the pop-up or natural variety. The former have become increasingly popular among those who bowhunt for turkeys. But if you don’t deem it necessary, a good pair of shears will give you all the limbs you need to create natural concealment. The veteran minimalist can get away with one limb and a wide tree to break up his silhouette, though drawing on a turkey with such little cover is no easy feat.
Use Decoys to Create Shooting Lanes
Strategically place your decoys so that they entice a gobbler into your shooting lane. Watching a tom spit and drum without getting a shot is a tough pill to swallow. The reason this scenario is so prevalent when turkey hunting with a bow is because we’re so much more concerned about getting spotted on the draw. We’re buried deep into our blinds not thinking about what could actually happen if a gobbler likes the calling and the decoys.
Before the hunt begins, place your decoys, sit in the blind and visualize how a tom will approach. Much like deer and elk respond to each sex uniquely, a gobbler is going to approach a hen from the back and a jake head on. Use those shears to clear limbs that might inhibit accuracy.
Where to Shoot a Turkey
Here are the shots in order of most effective to least for a quick kill.
Side-facing, out of strut: Shoot for the portion of the body where the wing is connected.
Facing away, in strut: How should we say this - put it on his butthole and squeeze the trigger. This is the best time to draw.
Facing you: Aim just above his beard, about four inches below the neck.
Side-facing, in strut: Hold off and let him turn 90 degrees either direction.
There’s nothing like watching a mature tom carry on 20 yards in front of you, even with a shotgun in hand. But it’s no surprise that turkey hunting with a bow has been growing in popularity over the last several years. Trading in that thunder stick in for a bow and arrows will challenge your hunting skills exponentially. Practice your calling, practice your drawing, shoot straight and perfect your decoy setups. And come spring, the weight of an old tom turkey in tow will make the walkout just a little bit sweeter.