Early-morning rays of sunlight beamed through my bedroom door, causing my eyelids to split. I had overslept my alarm! Jolting from my bed, I frantically pulled on my camo and headed out the door. Tearing out of the driveway, I made the short, two-mile trip to a gobbler-rich farm I had scouted and hunted for the past three days.
In those three days of hunting, gobblers had forsaken my ground blind setups more than once. The bird topping the hit list was a particular 4-year-old veteran. The third day of hunting found this longbeard roaring like a lion toward my decoys. But once he broke the 100-yard barrier, his cognition saved his life as he avoided my effective bow range like the plague. Certainly, he knew what ground blinds are all about, and an out-of-the-ordinary approach was in order to arrow this plump, old butterball. It had to use the age old tactic of run and gun turkey hunting.
Once I got to the 40-acre dirt field I had been hunting, the veteran strutter was there waiting for me. As my car coasted slowly past the field, I formulated a solid game plan that would hopefully have me marching off the field with a freshly arrowed bird slung over my shoulder. I quickly parked my car and hit the ground running with my bow and a single hen decoy.
A dense block of timber that wrapped around the perimeter of this central Wisconsin field would enable me to float until the gobbler made his way off the field. At that point, I would be able to make my move and hopefully entice him with my fake hen and some seductive calling.
Gobbles boomed across the Wisconsin turf like thunder as I waited somewhat impatiently. Suddenly, the big gobbler turned into Roadrunner and was off the field in no time. I stood there scratching my head, thinking my morning was over. However, he began gobbling extremely hard again after making it into the woods.
I booked it along the field edge and got as close as I dared before shoving my Dave Smith hen decoy into the dirt just eight yards off the tree line. Before calling, I made sure I was set up with a wall of pine branches to block my draw if and when the strutter approached my decoy.
My calling sequences were choked out by his thunderous gobbles. The decibels quickly elevated as I realized this hunt was all over but the shooting. I hooked my release to the string loop as I stared through my facemask for the iridescent colors of the approaching gobbler.
There he was; 20 yards and closing! Like clockwork, he was blocked by the wall of pine branches as my string coasted to full draw. As he displayed his stuff next to my fake lady, I leveled him like a pancake smothered with maple syrup. He flopped three times and then collapsed for good. I let out a sigh of air and pumped my fist while saying, “Thank you Lord!”
I have taken a pile of gobblers with a bow from a ground blind over the past decade. However, I have also watched longingly out the window of my blind as fast and furious action unfolded in another location far from my setup. It is those times that inspired me to do most of my spring turkey hunting on the run in recent years. Since I have been hunting without a blind, I have hunted fewer hours to kill more birds.
Have birds been shying away from your ground blind and giving you the slip? Are you tired of logging hours in a blind without even getting the chance to draw your bow on a big ol’ longbeard? Here’s an attack plan that will put more birds in your lap this spring for a top-pin shot.
When you sit in a ground blind, you are very limited. While today’s pop-up style blinds expand in as little as 10 seconds, doing so inevitably makes a commotion. Quietly setting up a blind will eat up 20-30 seconds of precious time, and no matter how quiet your try to be, you will almost never slip in ultra close to a tom and get set without spooking him. Besides that, hauling your blind, a bag or two of decoys, a bow and some calls is anything but quiet.
Hunting toms on the run allows you to ditch the cumbersome ground blind and set up in just seconds. And if that setup doesn’t work, you can jump up and move to the next spot without the time-consuming teardown and setup involved with ground-blind hunting.
When it comes to bowhunting turkeys on the run, a shotgun hunter’s approach is often most effective. However, you have to be much more discriminating since you need to pull the bird in close and still get to full draw undetected. Now that you know the benefits of hunting toms on the run, let’s look at a few other considerations:
Pack Light: To be mobile, you need to pack as light as possible. I usually use a jake and a hen decoy, and sometimes I use only a hen. Besides that, I shove a slate call with a striker into my pocket, along with a pack of three mouth calls. My bow and release are the only other items I take.
Beat Their Eyes: Turkeys have eyesight second only to pronghorn antelope when it comes to North American game. To hunt without a blind, you need to be camouflaged from head to toe. You need a facemask that covers as much of your skin as possible yet allows you to shoot without any conflict with the string or anchor point consistency.
Set Up for Success: Where many on-the-run bowhunters fail is the setup regimen. If you have killed any turkeys with a shotgun, you know you can sit in the wide open as long as you are backed up to something that breaks up your outline and use decoys to take the spotlight off you. That’s fine if you’re toting a 12-gauge, but killing toms with your bow requires much more movement.
When you are quickly contemplating where to set the decoys and where to stash yourself before calling to a tom, keep in mind that the tom should have to walk behind one or more objects that will entirely block his view of you so you can draw without giving yourself away.
For a field-edge setup, in lieu of sitting right on the edge, I will usually tuck myself five or more yards into the brush off the field. This decreases my visibility of the field but increases my odds of getting to full draw undetected. The trade-off is well worth it. In this case, I place my decoys where I can easily shoot at least five yards on either side of them. Once a tom steps into that shooting lane, it’s too late for him.
In open hardwoods, a gobbler can approach from any direction. You’d think they would approach from the direction they are gobbling from, but that is rarely the case. Turkeys are notorious for circling and coming in from a direction you never anticipated. This means you need to pick a setup where the bird will go behind obstacles no matter where he comes from if you want to get drawn. I typically place the decoys a little further away than usual to ensure the decoys are his focal point.
This brings us to another favorite setup of mine—the logging road ambush. I took a double-bearded gobbler hot off the roost from a logging road ambush two springs ago. When a tom is gobbling and strutting down a logging road, that road usually serves as his approach route.
First, he can see better and feels safer on it. Second, hens can see him as he struts his stuff. In this case, you can set up the decoys on the logging road so he will have to walk past you to get to them. If he hangs up shy of the decoys, you should still get a crack at him so long as you can get drawn. However, if everything goes as planned, he will have his fan facing you once he passes by on his way to your decoys. Draw back and wipe him out!
Cut the Distance: When dealing with unresponsive birds, it may take some tricky moves and a good knowledge of local terrain to approach a tom from another angle. Killing a bird right off the roost is ideal, but rarely applicable. Luckily, bow and go turkey hunting offers you the mobility to stay on gobbling toms until time runs out or you put a bird on the ground.
Learn and Use Diaphragm Calls: Mouth calls are the most effective option for a bowhunter on the run. Once a tom is in view, you will need your hands for your bow and release, rendering box or friction calls useless. Today’s latest mouth calls are simple to operate, and if used with the proper air exhalation, sound just like the real thing.
Make It Count: Turkeys are tough targets. They never seem to hold still for more than a split second, and the kill zone is no larger than a grapefruit. Besides their small size, picking out a spot to aim amidst a big black blob can be very difficult, especially when you are eye to eye without a blind hiding your movements. Buy yourself a lifelike turkey target and start role-playing realistic scenarios. Shoot from every possible angle and at various distances while dressed in full camo. Be prepared for anything!
The Ultimate Turkey Challenge
Hunting gobblers without a ground blind is not easy. However, I believe that when done right, a bowhunter can expect to get more shot opportunities by ditching the blind and hunting on the run. You are ready for the challenge. Grab your bow and go snuff out a big tom this spring!