If you ever have the tough job of hauling a bow, a full outfit of turkey gear, and a 20-pound gobbler off the mountain or out of the swamp, consider yourself lucky — and good!
You can be proud of accomplishing one of the grandest feats in bowhunting: successfully pitting your bowhunting skills against the awesome instincts and senses of the most challenging game animal in the woods, the wild turkey gobbler.
If you’re going to have a crack at success, you need special gear and turkey bowhunting knowledge.
Turkey Bowhunting Gear
Bows and arrows used for turkeys are basically the same as used for deer hunting. While very light bows will give ample penetration on a turkey, many turkey hunters prefer heavier ones. Fast arrows are important for getting there quickly and for flatter trajectory. A turkey has super-quick reactions and its vital zone is a small target.
Not only do decoys attract toms, but they also direct the turkey’s attention away from you.
Conversely, don’t use a bow that is too heavy. Arrow-drawing opportunities are often scarce as a gobbler comes into range. You simply do not try to “out-draw” a turkey that can see you. Usually, you’ll hold off drawing until the tom disappears behind a big tree trunk, and you may find yourself spending long minutes at full draw when a bird fails to reappear promptly. In this case, a bow that is too heavy can cost you a turkey. Most experienced turkey bowhunters prefer compounds with relatively light draw weight and high letoff.
While many turkey bowhunters use standard broadheads, big mechanical (open on impact) heads have become standard issue, with their greater cutting area and knockdown ability.
As you assemble your archery gear for turkey hunting, test and practice with it. Your angle may give you a shot at a vital zone no larger than a baseball, so practice and restrict your range accordingly. Lifesize game targets can make practice more productive and enjoyable.
After the basic gear for turkeys, the No. 1 item on my list would be a decoy. Nothing will increase an archer’s chances of taking a gobbler more than using a decoy that simulates a hen turkey. To a tom, seeing is believing. Gobblers always seem suspicious of calling, but once they spot a decoy, they come right in. Not only do decoys attract toms, but they also direct the turkey’s attention away from you so you are less likely to be seen — very important when drawing a bow.
Most turkey bowhunters use one of the pop-up, full-coverage blinds on the market. The blind should have walls that obscure the hunter completely, not just camouflage him, with narrow, vertical shooting slots. If you don’t use a ready-made blind, consider bringing a set of pruning shears and light twine, which help you quickly and quietly clip leafy brush to turn into a camouflaging blind.
A compact folding stool is mandatory if you don’t use a blind, and is a great aid if you do.
“Setting up,” or positioning yourself for luring and shooting the gobbler, is very important. The ideal setup is in open woods, on the same level or slightly higher than the turkey’s location, with no water, fences, or impenetrable thickets between you and the bird. Gobblers are reluctant to approach a call downhill or across anything they perceive as a barrier.
Sneak in as close as you dare to the turkey’s position, being very careful to be quiet and stay out of view, even in the dark. One of the biggest mistakes turkey hunters make is spooking the bird by trying to get too close — 100 yards away is plenty close in a typical turkey woods. You can sneak in closer when it’s windy or raining than you can when it’s clear and still.
Pick a position where you can sit comfortably — for a couple hours if necessary. Clear the immediate area of debris that might make noise if you move your feet a bit or that might interfere with the bow.
Getting The Shot
In setting up, keep this crucial point in mind: you must be able to draw the bow unseen. For most bowhunters this means you must be standing or seated high enough that your bottom bow limb does not touch the ground. Some bowhunters claim good success just standing behind a big tree, but that takes an expert technique.
If you take a turkey with a bow, you have accomplished one of the grandest feats in bowhunting.
You should have one or more decoys to distract the bird’s attention from you. Position the fake hen in a way that the gobbler could see it from as far as possible in his likely direction of approach. Place it close to one or more large tree trunks, at an angle and distance from you that is ideal to shoot. If a hot gobbler spots the decoy, he will walk right up to it. You’ll have the luxury of setting up the shot the way you want it, so make the most of it.
Other ways of drawing unseen are to wait until the gobbler’s attention is absorbed by a decoy (they sometimes become oblivious to their surroundings), or until his tail is in full fan and he’s facing away (his tail blocks his view of you then). These are good techniques for stick bow shooters who don’t like to hold their draw.
Chances are you’ll have to take whatever shot is presented; though some angles are much better than others. The best angle for a bowhunter is for the turkey to be facing directly away. This presents a long, vertical vital zone from the head to the bottom of the chest cavity, about 15 inches long and widening from 1 inch across at the head and neck to about 3 inches at the chest. Most hunters shouldn’t have much trouble hitting this zone if they are diligently practice and are fairly calm. Aim a couple inches below the bottom of the bird’s neck — don’t intentionally shoot for the head or neck, which is too small and constantly moving.
The next best shot is broadside. Aim for the wing butt, where a shot will break the wing and open the chest cavity. This is a good shot if you can make it, but there’s less room for error. You also can take a shot at a tom facing you, but there’s a better chance he’ll dodge the arrow. On a frontal shot, it’s also easy to make the mistake of aiming too low, which will miss the vitals and hit the paunch.
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