By Alex Gyllstrom
Bowhunting turkeys can be a difficult task for many reasons. For starters, these are creatures that see absolutely everything, meaning you've got to be exceptionally careful of any movement even if you're covered up in a ground blind. Maybe even more importantly, there simply isn't much of a kill zone to aim at.
The following is a list of five things you may be doing wrong. Fix these, and your chances of a successful season will increase exponentially.
Drawing Too Early
This is hands down one of the most common mistakes made in the turkey woods with a stick and string. How do I know? Well because I have done it a lot. It certainly is easy to see how it happens, right? Your anticipation is high and you hear one bird screaming his head off as he gets closer. You know he's in range, you see his white head and you rip that string back. Instead of running into your decoys and posing for you, he hangs up. Now what?
Planning your draw whether you're in a blind or doing it the hard way out amongst them can be the factor that your entire hunt hinges on. It's easy to get excited and draw at the first sign of that longbeard, but don't let the excitement cloud your judgment. Simply take a couple deep breaths and watch his body language. If he's in full strut, wait for the back of his fan to face you it's likely blocking his view behind him. Taking those few extra seconds for him to get distracted with your decoys can mean you have all the time in the world to draw and settle in.
Listen to him, if he's drumming or gobbling he most likely has no idea you're in the world so there is no rush. If you see that he's definitely coming, let him come. Don't draw when he's at 50 yards hoping he will stroll right into 10. Read his body language and plan your draw carefully. Most of the time you only get one chance, so make it count.
Call Yourself Right Out of the Game
Turkeys are birds of communication. Wow, thanks Captain Obvious. No secret there, right? We all need to keep in mind what it means when a longbeard gobbles. He is trying to locate the hen he hears, meaning you, and get "her" to come to him. Too often we start wailing away on calls thinking that he's coming because he's answering. So, we keep calling and calling, all the while thinking he's on his way. Sometimes this is the case and it all comes together, but what can happen is he hangs up in one spot and gobbles at you with the same expectation you're coming to him because you're being so vocal.
Overcalling is something every turkey has likely done at least once every season. In your calling sequences, remember to try and have that "playing hard to get" approach if you find a bird that isn't completely fired up. Calling more sparingly can give him the idea that the hen he hears is uninterested. Some patience and the right kind of persistence can push him over the edge and he might close the distance needed to get into your effective range.
Aiming at the Wrong Spot
A strutting turkey is one of nature's most beautiful sights. They seem to swell up to twice their normal size and body posture changes entirely. When a gobbler goes into strut, you're seeing his feathers stand up. This can wreak havoc on a bowhunter. Be cautious of thinking you have a big surface to aim at, when in reality the body is the same size. Understanding the slight consistencies, in or out of strut, in the body and the bird's anatomy can help you place that arrow in the boiler room.
First, a head shot is a head shot in strut or not. If a gobbler is close enough and you feel confident, aiming from the beard up on a longbeard is arguably the most lethal shot on a turkey. This is a high risk, high reward shot though. A little off the mark in any direction and you're watching him high-tail it for the next county. A turkey's vitals are relatively close to the area surrounding the wing joint. If you study some pictures, both in and out of strut, you can see an identifiable line where the wing connects to the body. This is your "X" and hitting this mark will most likely achieve two things. One, it will get into the vitals resulting in a quick, clean kill. Two, it often breaks the wing bone preventing the bird from flying or getting very far at all. Take a breath concentrate and pick your shot.
Practice How You Hunt
This is one I've again had to learn the hard way. The setup in perfect, the bird is charging in and it's a done deal. I've come to full draw and taken my time before squeezing my release and yet the arrow soars high or flies about two feet in front of him. What in the world happened? It finally dawns on me that my positions were completely different in a hunting situation than standing in the backyard practicing. I needed to start practicing from the same positions I was hunting in.
Most of us can stand casually in the backyard and punch the "X" all day on a target at 20 yards. However, that is not the way we set up on a hunt. Most of the time we are on our knees or squatted awkwardly, leaning around brush or a blind window. Even the slightest change like this can drastically affect our mechanics and arrow flight. Practice these awkward setups before hunting to understand proper form for these positions. That way, you can hit your mark at the moment of truth.
You're Not Where They Want to Be
One of the most frustrating things that can happen in the turkey woods is hearing gobbles and thinking you're in the game, only to hear the gobbles get further and further away. I firmly believe that woodsmanship and understanding how the turkeys utilize the property you hunt trumps even the best sounding calls. Don't get me wrong, a well-executed calling sequence is huge in the turkey woods, but being set up where they want to be stacks the deck heavily in your favor.
Scouting and doing some work before you start hunting is one of the often overlooked strategies. Sure, roosting birds is helpful and can give you a great idea where to start, but taking it a step further to know where and when the birds are using different parts of your ground is essential. Taking notes of dusting locations, scratching and strut zones can be a real game changer. Put out some trail cameras to confirm flock sizes and locations. These steps can help you find the perfect ambush location.