|March - April 2004
Volume 2, Number
Cover Photo by Bob Robb
It had been a most
frustrating week. The turkeys were gobbling their wattles off, and for some reason a
half-dozen had found my less-than-professional calling to their liking. And yet, while I
had gotten three mature birds to within 40 yards or less, I was still packing around an
to the world of bow hunting turkeys, Stud, I remember thinking.
I got lucky, though not in the way I had envisioned before the season opened. On a windy
afternoon, I made my way to a large green field where I had seen lots of tracks and heard
some gobbling that morning. I set a decoy up along the fields edge. Twenty-five
yards back into the woods and across a small creek was a thick clump of brush set against
the base of some big oak trees. I fashioned a makeshift ground blind and hunkered down.
plan was as basic as can be: hope a gobbler would be out in search of a lonesome hen that
would have made her way into the field for an afternoon snack. Gobbler sees decoy, focuses
his attention on same and marches in, oblivious to my blind; I then shoot gobbler. Just
like that. Because I am admittedly a mediocre turkey caller, I had planned to do zero
chances of this happening were zilch, I figured, but what the heck. Nothing else had
worked all week long, so in a combination of frustration and weariness, I made myself
comfortable and began waiting.
now and then miracles do happen. I heard the gobbler a long ways off, and pretty soon
could hear him rapidly approaching. Before I knew it there he was, coming into the field
in the exact corner I hoped he would. He spotted the decoy, and came almost at a trot. He
stopped near the decoy and began to strut, and when his fan was up and back to me, I came
to full draw, placed my 20-yard pin at the base of the tail and released. The broadhead
smacked him on the spine, then blew threw his vitals. Before I knew it I was stroking the
feathers of one of the most hard-won, bow-hunting trophies I had ever taken.
The Trouble with Bow Hunting
hunting turkeys is tougher than old shoe leather unless you follow a proven
strategy that will help you overcome the inherent hunt-breakers.
most obvious problem is defeating a gobblers unbelievable eyesight. Unless you are
completely hidden, a gobbler will see you draw your bow. When they do, they are
gone so fast it will make your head spin. If you have to move to call, get burrs out of
your butt, keep ants from crawling up your leg, or and I swear this happened to me
once they see you blink your eyes at the wrong time it is adios, amigo.
Shot placement is another problem. The vital
area on a wild turkey is miniscule, making precise arrow placement crucial. You will not
blood-trail a bow-shot turkey. If you hit them wrong, they will flop or fly off and you
will not find them . . . ever.
Because it takes very little raw arrow speed
or kinetic energy to cleanly take a turkey, smart bow hunters modify their equipment to
meet this unique challenge. Much more important than shooting a lightning-fast arrow is
being able to easily draw your bow back in a single, smooth, jerk-free motion, then hold
the bow at full draw for somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds before releasing what will
then be a very accurate arrow.
When a gobbler comes in, often
hell go behind a tree or bush before he is right where you want to shoot him,
said Derek Phillips, field staff manager for Mathews Archery and one of the countrys
top bow hunters and tournament 3-D shooters. You have to get drawn when the bird
cant see you, so you may have to draw a little bit before you are ready and hold the
bow at full draw until the bird gets into position. Unlike tree-stand deer hunting, when
you can sometimes draw and let-down without spooking the deer, if you get to doing that
sort of thing with a big gobbler, you can be sure he will see you move. And when that
happens, it is all over.
For that reason, when hunting turkeys, I turn
the draw weight on my compound bow way down. This permits me to draw it smoothly and
easily, and hold it at full draw for an extended period of time without compromising
shooting accuracy. For example, I set my own big game hunting bows at 70 pounds. For
turkeys, I drop the draw weight to around 55 to 60 pounds, depending on what draw weight
the bow tunes at. When I do, I have to re-tune the bow which sometimes means
changing arrow shaft spine size and sight it in all over again to make sure it is
shooting laser beams. I can draw this set-up without cheating and hold it for a full 60
seconds from my knees before I get wobbly. Its great for turkeys.
Aluminum and carbon arrow shafts work well for
turkeys. I make sure I have drab-colored or camouflage arrow shafts fletched with a
nondescript fletching color. The red and white fletches I prefer for big game hunting are
too bright for turkey hunting, and I do not want to be carrying around any color in the
field that some yahoo might see a flash of and snap-shoot with his 12 gauge, thinking
its a gobblers head.
Both replaceable-blade and mechanical
broadheads work well. More and more bow hunters are using mechanical heads these days,
with the Rocky Mountain Extreme and Warhead; New Archery Products Spitfire and Shockwave;
Wasp Jackhammer SST; Mar-Den Vortex; Pucket Bloodtrailer; Rocket Steelhead, Sidewinder and
Hammerhead; Game Tracker First Cut EXP and Silvertip and the like all being good choices.
Broadhead weight is not important, except in terms of how it affects the accuracy of your
Some bow hunters like to put a
stopper behind their broadheads to inhibit penetration. The idea is that if
the arrow shaft stays in the bird, it will transfer 100 percent of its shocking power to
the turkey, and with the shaft still in the body cavity it will be much more difficult for
the turkey to flop or fly off before you can race out and pick him up. The Bateman Small
Game Stopper, Zwickey Scorpio and Muzzy Grasshopper are three excellent products for this.
My bow sight pins are set at 20, 30, 40 and 50
yards though I personally wont shoot at a turkey past 30 steps and I
prefer thin fiber optic pins I can see easily in dim light against the dark feathers of a
There are only two places to shoot a turkey
with bow and arrow. One good shot is placing the arrow at the base of the wing on a
broadside turkey, said gobbler-getter extraordinaire Walter Parrott. Parrott holds
five world turkey calling championships, five National Wild Turkey Federation Grand
National titles and 12 U.S. Open titles. Walter has been hunting gobblers since he was 10
years old, is a member of the Redhead Pro Hunting Team, Mossy Oak and GORE-TEX pro staffs,
the Knight & Hale Ultimate Hunting Team and co-host of Knight & Hales
Ultimate Hunting cable TV show and video series.
This will both break the wing bone and
send the arrow through the lungs, and breaking the wing will keep the bird from flying
off. The other is waiting until the bird is facing away from you, then shooting them in
the spine. Often a strutting gobbler will turn his back to the bow hunter, raising his fan
in the process. One big reason for the popularity of this shot is the fact that the
elevated fan will help keep the bird from seeing you. The shooter then aims just above the
base of the tail, where the arrow will smack the backbone as well as passing on into the
vitals. This is an excellent shot for bow hunting, as it gives you about 15 inches of
vertical spine and about 2 inches on either side of the spine at the chest or vital area
to hit. And a broken back, of course, will keep the turkey from escaping.
It should go without saying that you need to
be able to shoot from your knees or the sitting position. Taking a standing shot at a
turkey with a bow is almost impossible to do without getting picked off. Many turkey
hunters pack a small seat or stool with them so they can sit off the ground just enough
that their lower bow limb will not contact the ground when they draw and shoot.
Because getting drawn without being seen is
the toughest part of the bow hunting equation, many years ago some serious archers began
experimenting with using lightweight, portable blinds. At first these were nothing more
than some camouflage netting rapidly strung between available brush and limbs, with the
hunter sitting behind them as the gobbler came to the call. When I first heard of this
concept, I thought there was no way on Gods earth a turkey hunter could stick and
move while calling turkeys, then get a blind erected and settled in before the gobbler was
right on top of you. Then I tried it, and found out just how wrong I was.
This technique took a quantum leap forward
with the creation of the lightweight, portable blinds so popular today with hunters
pursuing game from ducks to deer. And theres no question that the deadliest
combination for bow hunting turkeys is using a commercial blind together with a turkey
You can use a lightweight commercial
blind and hunt turkeys the same way you hunt them using the same stick-and-move tactics
you use when hunting with a shotgun, Parrott said. This allows you to be more
mobile, go where the action is and work a gobbling tom. It is important that you know how
to set up your blind quickly and quietly. The key is to get where you need to be with
enough time to set up and get ready. This can be deadly, especially if you can add a decoy
or two to the equation.
There are several top-notch portable blinds
available today. For stick-and-move hunting, a large sheet of camouflage netting strung
between a couple of bushes works fine. For a more semi-permanent type of
setting, blinds such as the Invisiblind II, a blackout blind with mesh front that lets you
shoot right through the mesh material, is a good choice. I took my last spring gobbler
from a Double Bull I.C.E. GH 500 blind; it was excellent. The Underbrush Bowhunter Blind
and Magnum Bowhunter Blind; Ameristep Penthouse, Doghouse and Outhouse; and Game Tracker
Pop-Up Hunting Blind and Quick Shack Hunting Blind are all excellent choices.
In addition to field edges, placing a
commercial blind on known travel routes between roosting areas and a field works well,
Parrott said. This is especially true out West, where birds often roost in timbered
draws and use long timbered, brushy fingers to travel from the roost to the fields,
he said. There are some natural areas that are like a funnel where turkeys come to
strut and display, and here you can use either natural cover as a blind or a commercial
blind, get set up and spend some time there. These should be areas you have pre-scouted
and found some hot turkey sign. I like to look at field bottlenecks and creek channels
along a field edge where birds like to enter and leave the field. I also cant
emphasize how using decoys will up your odds when bow hunting.
Using turkey decoys is so deadly that some
states have outlawed them. Where they are legal, they are by far the best chance a bow
hunter has of getting a shot. Combined with a blind, it really tips the odds in your
A decoy will focus the gobblers
attention on something and away from you, as well as encourage them to come into bow range
and strut. Thats the ideal scenario a strutting gobbler 15 to 25 yards away,
turning his back to you with his fan raised. A decoy will help make this happen.
Early in season, when turkeys have had
less pressure and are more flocked up, I like to use multiple decoys two hens and a
jake, or two jakes and a hen, said Kentuckys Chuck Jones, co-host of the
Knight & Hale Ultimate Hunting cable TV show and video series and one
heckuva turkey hunter. When you set the jake up, do it so it looks like he is having
something to do with one of the hens. I always want him in the sun because that is the one
the gobbler is going to come to, every time.
The big key in using a decoy is making sure
the birds can easily see it, Jones said. That may sound simple and it is but
too many times in the heat of battle, hunters forget this most basic tenet.
Thats why I like using decoys in
and around a clean area, a natural opening in the woods, or in a field, Jones said.
In the open turkeys can see my fakes much easier than if they are set up in the
brush, high weeds or a field that has tall crops. It has to be a natural area that a
turkey feels comfortable coming into. Remember that gobblers that are not henned
up will be out cruising, looking for hens. They have tremendous eyesight, and by
setting your decoy where it is easily spotted for a long distance, you increase the odds
that a cruising gobbler will spot your imitation and come over to investigate.
Naturally, the best place to set up is where
the turkeys want to be to begin with. That will depend on many factors: the time of the
season, whether or not the birds have had a lot of hunting pressure and so on. But
generally speaking, if you can set up on a travel route between a roost area and a
strutting zone, in a strutting or nesting area, or in and around a green field that is
pockmarked with fresh turkey sign, your chances will increase exponentially over just
haphazardly setting up in an area where you heard some turkeys calling and hope
theyll come by.
Fields are great places for decoying
turkeys, especially when bow hunting, Jones said. Its no secret that
turkeys like to hang around green fields, but hunting a large field is no easy task. The
turkeys will come to the field, but where will they enter it? How will they move once they
hit the field? You can help tip the odds in your favor by scouting the field and setting
up where the sign is fresh and hot, but still, you never know. The turkeys can come from
anywhere into a field, and you may never see or hear them. But, if they see your decoy,
the chances are good they will come to it.
While I prefer to use decoys in and around
fields, they work great in the woods, too, under the right conditions. Here, I find they
work a lot better if you set them up on old road beds, in small woods openings, etc., or
in big, open hardwoods where they should be set up on high spots in the sun not the
shade so they are easily visible. Also, I like to set a decoy closer to me in the
woods than in the fields. Here I will normally set a decoy 10 to 15 yards from where I
will set up, so any bird that hangs up when he comes in will still be close enough to
shoot. Also, you always want to set up on the same level, or higher, than the approaching
There are several excellent turkey decoys,
including the Carry-Lite Alert Hen, Alert Jake and Feeding Hen; BuckWing LifeLite Decoy
and Expander; Feather Flex True Position Breeders, Tru Jake and Tru Hen; Delta Stationary
Feeding Hen, Hot Hen, Mating Hot Hen & Breeding Tom and Jake; Flambeau Hen and
Intruder Jake; and Lynch Alert Hen, Feeding Hen and Super Jake.
Bow hunting the wild turkey is about as
exciting and tough a challenge as youll find anywhere. It can also be
one of the most frustrating. I guess thats why I love it so much. I mean, if it were
easy, anyone could do it!