Bowhunting Spring Turkeys
Bowhunting Spring Turkeys – I started bowhunting spring turkeys way back when all of us shot aluminum arrows and before the advent of the modern mechanical broadheads and pop-up blinds. Success was scanty at best, and even when I managed to call in a turkey and hit full draw without detection, a solid hit offered no assurance of a recovered bird. Killing a turkey with a bow was considered nothing more than a parlor trick. Things have certainly changed in the past several decades.
Today, the largest contributing factor to turkey hunting success is the mechanical broadhead. Back in the day we frequently “pin-wheeled” gobblers only to have them spread their wings and sail off a ridge and into the blue yonder, dead but far from a bird in hand. Some of these flyers we recovered; most we did not.
Bowhunters tried all kinds of approaches to making our turkey arrows deadlier, first adding washers or small-game stars behind our conventional broadheads to impart shock on impact and hopefully discombobulate a bird long enough to allow a running pounce. Then we filed notches into the trailing edges of one-piece broadheads to slow penetration, hopeful to leave the arrow in the bird and prevent flying or running through brush. None of these approaches solved the problem. We still lost entirely too many birds.
Bowhunting Spring Turkeys -The first modern mechanical broadheads (there had been some questionable designs as early as the 1950s), like those from Rocket Aeroheads, introduced a new dynamic. They revealed that shock was not as important as cutting a big hole, though the most aggressive mechanical designs certainly introduce shock. The real problem is turkey’s vital areas are compact and not all of us are able to hit a baseball every time under pressure. Mechanicals cutting 1.5-inches wide or more turn marginal hits into killing shots, making even thigh hits lethal. If you are shooting enough energy—65 pounds or more at 29 inches draw length or greater—a super-aggressive 2-inch plus wide head that chops instead of slices can also impart shock. Without an aggressive mechanical broadhead every shot at a turkey becomes a gamble. Since adopting mechanicals for turkeys my recovery rate has climbed to 95-plus percent, even on poorly-hit birds.
Bowhunting Spring Turkeys – Another massive contributing factor to bowhunting success is the modern pop-up blind. I have certainly killed good numbers of turkeys off the ground without ground blinds, but it requires precise shot timing and lightly hunted birds. Some turkeys are more tightly wound than others, based on hunting pressure, and especially the predominance of natural predators. My local northern Idaho turkeys, for instance, are lightly hunted, but an abundance of coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions makes our gobblers ultra skittish.
The pop-up removes the challenges of hitting full draw undetected on a called-in gobbler. In fact, it makes it almost too easy. It is a wonder that a bird with such keen eyesight would remain so clueless about a cube of cloth materializing in their habitat, but so it goes. Pulling a bow into anchor becomes simple, but there are stumbling blocks to practice around. You’ll be seated in a blind chair, or on your knees, while shooting. If this is foreign to you, practice it and make it second nature. A bigger problem is shooting through windows or shooting ports. The bow sight sits a few inches higher than the arrow rest, making it easy to get a tight bead on your bird but clip the bottom of the shooting port after release, ruining an otherwise perfect shot. Even after years of hunting from pop-ups, I make a habit of pulling my head aside before the shot to check arrow clearance. Setting up a pop-up in the backyard and practicing on a foam target is the best way to prepare.
I also understand that toting a 20- to 25-pound pop-up over hill and dale isn’t always practical. For true run-n-gun scenarios I have long employed ghillie suits to pass detection from sharp-eyed gobblers. Rancho Safari has long made the best and most practical, though owner Jerry Gentellalli recently passed, so future supplies are questionable. You can always make your own, taking a faded suit of camo and hand sewing hanks of burlap, scrap camo, and jute rope. Just take care to keep areas cleared where your bowstring will pass.
Calling and Decoying
Much is made of calling turkeys, though I think much of the ballyhoo originates from those selling things who want you to believe they know something you do not. The sharp-stick truth is turkeys aren’t all that bright and calling success does not require championship-caliber skills. In fact, when it comes to wild birds, less is often more. My basic approach is to imitate nature. If turkeys in your area are mouthy, call away. If they are quieter, proceed accordingly. The best advice I can give is to offer just enough calls—basic yelps work just fine, produced with whatever call type works best for you—to keep a gobbler moving your way—no more, no less.
Bowhunting Spring Turkeys – I call this taking a gobbler’s temperature. If a gobbler responds strongly to your calls, you are doing something right. If they begin to clam up or lose interest, you are doing something wrong—most likely calling to much or too loudly. Start taking a gobbler’s temperature early in the process, and don’t be afraid to let a tom sweat by calling less frequently and making him hunt you. Understand, in the natural order of things, the hen usually comes to the thundering, strutting and spitting gobbler. Reversing the natural order can mean playing hard to get.
Decoys are often a misunderstood part of the equation. I have called in more birds than I can count, for myself and others, without using decoys. Decoys can actually hinder efforts for setting up a slam-dunk bow shot. First, when a strutting gobbler hovers into range and first catches sight of your decoys, most likely they will puff into full display and stand their ground. The hen, recall, is supposed to come to them. If you set your hen decoys at 20 or 25 yards away, hoping to set up a shot at the same range, your gobbler is just as likely to hang up at 50 or 60 yards. Move hens decoys in close, right below shooting ports, to help narrow this gap. Hen decoys can also be positioned to coax a gobbler into passing before your blind, when topography and vegetation permit.
Gobbler decoys are also a big gamble. If you’re looking to tag only the oldest most confident gobblers, they can aid your efforts. But they can also serve as intimidation for younger gobblers or those less inclined to fight, keeping them at bay. The better approach is to use a jake decoy paired with a hen to illicit jealousy. A boss tom sees a jake with a hen, or set up to do the deed, and he is more likely to run in to put the upstart is his place.
The largest part of the puzzle is the ability to hit a baseball-sized vital area under pressure, and often on a shifting, spinning target. Quality practice and precision bow tuning are paramount. So is understanding your limitations—which translates into an honest assessment of your maximum effective range. If you can hit a baseball every time at 40 yards, wonderful. If your skills make 15 yards more realistic for consistent hits, 15 yards it is. Pop-up blinds, and some applied patience, make this realistic.
Read more turkey tips at insidearchery.com