It’s hard to fool a turkey.
They’re more nervous than teenagers at the junior prom, and their vision makes the most eagle-eyed eagle jealous. Throw in a few more sets of eyes from rival toms or seductive hens, and good luck getting close.
Hunting turkeys with a shotgun might be hunting’s gold standard, but if you want to go platinum, pick up a bow.
Some hunters revel in a good challenge. Take Clarence “Butch” Koch of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for example. Koch, 78, has killed “just short of 50 turkeys” with a bow and completed 2¾ grand slams. Just so we’re clear, a turkey hunting grand slam means the hunter has bagged all four U.S. subspecies: Eastern, Osceola, Merriam’s and Rio Grande.
Turkeys are a big part of Koch’s life. He’s chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress’s Turkey and Upland Committee, and he has lobbied to make the wild turkey Wisconsin’s state gamebird.
Koch has long tried to fool his favorite bird. He patented a slate/glass turkey call, and worked about 10 years with his brother John to market a 5-foot-wide, 7.5-foot-tall bowhunting blind called the Shootout.
The Kochs created the Shootout because they find the windows on other blinds too large in some situations. Its 7.5-foot height lets them shoot while standing up, rather than shooting from awkward sitting or kneeling positions.
Good blinds can be a turkey hunter’s best friend. Turkeys are incredibly vigilant, but blinds – even newly erected ones – don’t worry them. Koch limits his shots to about 20 yards. A blind conceals your draw from wary turkeys at close range.
When using a blind, consider several factors. Is it tall enough and wide enough to draw? And can you shoot while standing, or must you sit or kneel?
Windows are critical. Shoot-through windows hide you from piercing eyes. Koch engineered his blind with 15 small, 10-inch windows. That provides a wide field of view, but the small windows keep him concealed. Koch cautions hunters to avoid being backlit, and to open windows with discretion. “If you have too many windows open, the birds will see through the blind if you get too much light in them.”
When prepping a site for his blind, Koch rakes away crunchy leaves and places a felt-like cloth on the ground. The cloth quiets his movements, and keeps his gear accessible and dirt-free. Placing brush around the blind isn’t necessary, but it can help you blend in with your surroundings. If possible, place your blind in the shade.
Blinds can also dictate the broadhead you use. If you shoot through screened windows, you won’t be able to shoot expandables. Broadhead designs for turkeys fall into two groups. Several broadheads expand on impact. Wide blades, which often expand to 4 inches, are intended for neck shots. If you hit the mark, death is instant.
Fixed-position heads have their followers, too, but require body shots. Most archers aim for the base of a wing, but not Koch.
“You can shoot a turkey at the wing butt, but they may run off,” Koch said. “I shoot above the legs on the lower half of the turkey (one-third of the way up). If you get the thigh or the wing, they can’t jump and they can’t fly.” Koch avoids shooting at strutting toms.
Sometimes he gets a pass-through, but more often the shaft stays in the bird.
“Turkeys are hard to shoot through,” Koch said. “They’ve got a lot of bones. It’s not like a deer where they’re passing through the ribs.”
Placing decoys correctly helps set up 20-yard broadside shots. Koch uses a hen and a jake. He positions the hen near the ground with the jake behind her, as if he’s coming in to breed her. He places both decoys 10 yards away, facing the blind or straight away.
“They’ll come in to the jake and give you that broadside shot,” Koch said.
Decoys also serve as yardage markers to help gauge the tom’s distance.
No matter which type of call you prefer, bring a diaphragm call, too. You can use your favorite slate, box or wingbone call to hail gobblers, but you should switch to a diaphragm call for those critical final yards when you need both hands on your bow.
One final tip: consider using trail cameras, particularly those with a field-scan setting. With field scans, the camera takes photos at given intervals, not when triggered by movement. This mode can capture turkey flocks far beyond the camera’s motion-sensor range. Check your camera, figure out where turkeys work the field, and set up your blind accordingly.
No one bowhunts because it’s easy. Getting close to turkeys, drawing undetected, and making lethal shots makes bowhunting turkeys one of hunting’s greatest challenges.