Many highly experienced bow hunters actually consider the challenge of taking a trophy buck to be second to that of taking a trophy Gobbler with a bow and arrow learning that turkey hunting for beginners is harder than it looks! Fortunately, thanks to tireless conservation efforts, the Wild Turkey is once again becoming a common inhabitant in many ecosystems across the U.S. and thus, those archers who feel that their skills are up to the challenge can now spend their Spring mornings hunting this frustratingly wily American game bird. However, while the general procedure for hunting turkeys with a bow is the same as it is for gun hunters, where the shotgunner ends his hunt at 40 yards, the archer’s hunt is just heating up! In fact, waiting for the bird to cross those last, few, crucial yards and move into the exact position you want him in while drawing your bow undetected and then making a clean shot is what bow hunting Wild Turkeys is all about!
But, before you can hunt them, you first have to locate them and, this is best done prior to the Spring hunting season. Now, at this point, you do not want to make use of your turkey calls but instead, you should start by using your vehicle to locate flocks of turkeys feeding in fields. This will provide you with the location at least some of their favorite feeding areas and, it also indicates that their roosts are nearby. Then, once you have located one or more favored feeding areas, try perusing the adjacent woods in the evening around dark while using locator calls to locate their chosen roosts. Then, once you know where they are roosting for the night and where they like to feed in the morning, you can pick a place to set up in between the two locations. You can also use locator calls to locate birds throughout the day who have not exited the woods by calling to them using a Crow, Hawk, or Owl call which will usually elicit a response from the dominate males who just can’t seem to help themselves and thus, you can often use this technique to locate favored, day time, strut zones which are also an excellent place to set up.
Once you have found one or more locations where you would like to hunt, you will then need to set-up or build some sort of blind so that the Gobbler does not see you and deploy a decoy of some sort in order to provide the bird something to focus on other than you as it comes in to your calls. Of course, we have all heard that Wild Turkeys have incredibly sharp eyesight and are extremely skittish and thus, while shotgun hunters can sometimes dispense with a blind, a properly designed and constructed blind is often crucial for bow hunters because archers must wait until the prey is very close before drawing their bow and, the act of drawing the bow requires considerably more effort and movement than raising and aiming a shotgun does. However, when either constructing or choosing a blind, it is imperative that it have the internal space necessary to enable the archer to raise and shoot his bow because the upper limb of the bow usually extends well above the archer’s head. Also, it is wise to choose a blind that will enable you to shoot in a 360 degree arc so that you can target birds coming in from any direction. Of course, if a Gobbler does respond to your calls and decides to come in for a closer look, then he is going to expect to see a female turkey when he arrives and thus, if all he sees is your blind where he heard the calls emanating from, then his alarm bells will quickly start sounding. Consequently, the best thing to do is to give him what he is expecting to see in the form of a decoy. However, it should be noted that there are numerous different types of decoys along with numerous different methods for using them and thus, the list is simply too extensive to publish here but, one method that works well is to combine more than one Hen decoy with an accompanying Jake while placing one of the hens in a relaxed, feeding, posture while the other one is placed at alert to make any approaching Tom feel at ease. In addition, since the Tom is only interested in the “south end of a North facing hen”, it is wise to place the hen decoys facing away from you which will likely cause the Tom to approach from behind the decoys; thus placing him between you and the hens with his back to you. In addition, by placing the Jake so that it is facing you, you increase your odds that the Gobbler will approach that decoy with his back to you as he comes in to confront the Jake.
Another factor that should be taken into account is that of shot placement. Although some hunters still feel that aiming for the “vitals” (located low on the body between the base of the wing and the thigh) is the best shot, the truth is that it is that the bird presents the largest target when facing the hunter broadside and thus, that is the easiest shot for most archers to make. However, more often than not, when a turkey is shot broadside, they are able to take flight or, at least run away very fast while leaving little to no blood trail for the hunter to follow. Consequently, a much better idea is to position your decoys in such a way that the Gobbler approaches them with his back to you which then enables you to aim for the center of mass along the spine and, a strike anywhere along the spine will instantly immobilize the bird. Also, since it is preferable to shoot the bird at twenty yards or less, this shot is well within the capabilities of either fixed blade or mechanical broadheads fired from either compound or traditional bows as long as they have sufficient cutting diameter. On the other hand, striking the bird’s head is also guaranteed to instantly incapacitate it but, hitting such a small, constantly moving, target at any distance is well beyond the skill of many archers. Therefore, some broadhead manufactures now make broadheads with extra-long blades that are specifically designed to decapitate a Gobbler. Thus, instead of shooting for the head with a standard diameter broadhead, with these specialized turkey hunting broadheads, you can aim for the neck and, because of the extra-wide cutting diameter, pinpoint accuracy is not required.
So, if you are one of those bow hunters who anxiously awaits the coming of deer season each Fall and laments the lack of legal hunting opportunities the rest of the year, then you should give Spring turkey hunting a try. In fact, the same skills you employ as a deer hunter will serve you well when attempting to locate populations of Wild Turkeys as well as in pattering them so that you will be able to make an informed decision about how to hunt them. However, unlike deer hunting, you will need to learn how to use calls and decoys to elicit the desired response from your prey and, you will need to adjust your thinking on the matter of proper shot placement. Fortunately, each of these skills are easily within the ability of the average bow hunter and thus, any archer can enjoy the sport of bow hunting America’s wiliest game bird.