Turkeys are challenging to hunt. They have excellent hearing, and their vision is incredible. They’re able to see colors well (like your bright arrow fletching) and detect even the slightest movement. Throw in a maddening tendency to respond to calls and decoys but then hang up just out of range, and it’s plain to see why turkeys are so much fun to pursue, especially with archery gear. If you’ve never been turkey hunting before, or have only done it with a shotgun, here are some tips to get you into the exciting world of bowhunting turkeys.
Get the Right Gear
If you already bowhunt whitetails, you won’t need to buy a lot of new equipment. Your current setup will likely work. However, just a few tweaks can make turkey hunting a little easier.
Start by lowering your bow’s draw weight. Fifty pounds is plenty sufficient to kill a turkey. Your local archery shop can get you dialed in. A lower draw weight is preferable for a couple of reasons. You’ll have to draw when a turkey’s head is obscured by a tree, decoy or other obstruction. As a result, you may have to hold at full draw for an extended amount of time. But also, turkeys aren’t particularly tough to kill. Their skeletal structure is much lighter and easier to penetrate than a deer’s. With a lower draw weight, the broadhead is more likely to stay in the turkey’s body cavity — rather than pass through — inflicting more damage and resulting in a faster kill.
Consider using a full-capture rest if you don’t already. It’ll keep your arrow from falling if you need to contort into an odd shooting position. And as for your arrows, bright fletching can tip off birds if you’re not hunting from a blind. So have some arrows fletched with camouflage colors, or simply darken your fletching with a marker.
Also give some thought to your broadhead style. The traditional choice is a fixed-blade or mechanical broadhead aimed at the body to hit the heart and lung area, and hopefully to break bones that will prevent a wounded bird from flying. Mechanical broadheads dump more energy into the target as they open. With either style, turkey hunters need maximum cutting diameter. You’re shooting at a fidgety bird with a small vitals area, so wider blades provide more margin for error.
A separate, more specialized option is a guillotine-style head. Rather than aim at the body, you aim at the neck. If you hit the bird, you’ll decapitate it, rendering instant death. If your shot is just a bit off, you’ll miss. There is little room for error.
With those gear tweaks made, make sure you practice and get your new setup dialed in.
To overcome the birds’ incredible vision, many turkey hunters use pop-up blinds to conceal themselves and their movements. And unlike deer, which may spook at the sight of a new blind, turkeys will usually ignore a new pop-up. Of course, these blinds have their limitations. For one thing, they make it harder to be mobile. You’re better off calling a bird to you rather than chasing after a hot gobbler. And to hunt from a blind, you’ll need to be comfortable shooting from a kneeling or sitting position. Make sure the blind has enough room, both horizontally and vertically, to let you draw your bow. Windows are a consideration as well. Shoot-through mesh windows offer good concealment because they keep the blind dark. But you won’t be able to shoot mechanical broadheads through them.
Portable blinds made of stakes and camouflage netting are more portable and roomier, but they won’t hide you as well. However, you won’t be restricted in the type of broadhead you shoot. For the ultimate mobility — and challenge — you can hunt without a blind, using natural cover. You’ll likely bust some birds this way, but you’ll be able to pursue hot gobblers freely.
Keep shots to no more than 30 yards; 20 is even better. Using decoys can help position a bird where you want him and also focus his attention on the fakes instead of on you.
Toms will usually approach a hen decoy from the rear, but they’ll challenge rival jake decoys head-on. Face your decoys quartering away from the blind for a good shot angle and so it doesn’t appear that the decoys are staring at you.
Making the Shot
The coup de grace of a hunt is making the shot once you have a gobbler in range. You need to draw without getting busted by either the gobbler or other birds that may be with him. When he’s in range and you’re at full draw, you have a few shot options.
If you’re shooting for the head with a guillotine-style broadhead, a broadside shot angle will give you the largest target and most room for error.
If you’re taking a body shot with a traditional-style broadhead, a broadside bird out of strut is your best option. To hit the heart/lung area, follow the turkey’s leg upward to the center of its body and aim for the thigh.Taking a broadside shot at a bird in full strut is not advisable. Wait until he turns, or try to get him to break strut by making a “putt” with your mouth.
If he’s head-on, aim at the base of or just above the beard, about 4 inches below the neck.
A bird facing away in full strut offers a good opportunity. You can draw because he’s looking away and his tail feathers will conceal your movements. Aim at the anus, at the base of the tail.
If you hit a bird that doesn’t fall, run after it. A turkey that’s not shot perfectly may run or fly, leaving little blood to follow. Catch up to it as quickly as you can to administer a follow-up shot or step on its neck. Be careful of flopping wings and the broadhead that could still be in the turkey.
Taking an alert, wary gobbler is one of bowhunting’s greatest challenges. If you can call in a skittish gobbler, draw without getting busted by his beady eyes and hit a small vital area, you’ll have new respect for the amazing wild turkey.