A Satisfying "Thump"
October 28, 2010
Step-By-Step Guide To Bagging Boss Gobblers With A Bow
Wild turkeys have made a fool of me. It's this ability to confound that lends the birds "big-game" status and causes so many to invoke almost mythical powers to a quarry with a peanut-sized brain. That was once my own attitude when I mixed turkeys, bows and arrows. Today I'll adamantly insist that tagging a spring gobbler with bow is a high-odds proposition; relative to any big game I could name.
Turkeys require pinpoint shooting for regular success. It pays to practice on realistic 3-D targets, as well as likely shot scenarios, such as shooting from a blind.
Despite the innumerable frustrations suffered while bowhunting turkey, I recently tagged my 50th archery gobbler. Of course, seldom is any archery hunt a slam-dunk, but turkey are far from impossible. The key lies in the most basic calling skills, a decent piece of ground to hunt, straight shooting, and especially the right setup. I'll even rank calling skills a distant second to top-notch set-up; proper concealment and decoy deployment.
First Things First
Access to productive ground is an undeniable part of the bowhunting equation. Hammered public lands are a tough assignment for bow turkey. For regular public land success you'll have to hike a bit farther than the average guy or find exclusive private ground for yourself. Too, akin to hiking farther from the beaten public path, traveling farther from major cities is often rewarded by less-harried, more generous landowners granting trespass for the asking, especially when toting archery gear.
It's difficult to dismiss the shooting end of this dodge. Turkeys offer a decidedly small vital area. Hitting as close to center (from any angle) as possible is always the goal. This involves hitting a baseball-sized vital zone. If you can accomplish this at 40 yards, good for you. Let's be honest, though. Everyone thinks they shoot better than they do, often forgetting nerves under real hunting conditions.
Do yourself a favor and screw a 1.5- to two-inch cutting diameter mechanical onto your arrow. It doesn't matter which brand, only that it makes a big hole. I like New Archery Products' Gobbler Getter or Rage's three-blade from a compound, Eastman Outfitters' FirstCut EXP Magnum when wielding a recurve. The newest fad involves "head loppers" from Arrowdynamic Solutions or a new Magnus model designed for neck/head shots. They require larger, aggressive fletching and very close shots for consistent accuracy.
Don't let so-called experts buffalo you on this calling business. Championship-caliber hen talk is seldom necessary for even bowhunting success. Some of the best callers I know call birds right out of their lives by being overly confident. It pays to call only enough to keep a gobbler moving in your direction, not one bit more or less. Take your lead from the real thing. It's not often you hear live hens rattling off loud cuts and endless yelps.
Another pitfall is failing to understand what your call is relating, more importantly, timing these messages as a situation unfolds. Yelps equal "Come here," clucks equal "Look," purrs "My space" (my food or mate). Yelps are self-explanatory, clucks confidence calls, purrs used to tell a gobbler that more than one bird is on the scene. These are the important ones to remember; though there are others I won't confuse you with here.
Finding productive bowhunting ground means going where others won't go. Private lands, or hiking farther than the next guy, can tip the odds in your favor. No matter where you hunt, finding fresh sign is the first step to success.
How intensely these calls are produced also says a lot about what's related. The very best example is the cluck. Soft, non-aggressive clucks allow turkeys to maintain contact while traveling and feeding. This soothes the flock and keeps them assembled. A loud, raucous cluck turns into a putt, denoting danger. Keep in mind what you're trying to relate to a gobbler and why. If a gobbler's alone and hot he'll nearly always come to the most basic, quiet yelps. Remember also to choose a call design you're comfortable with, be it a diaphragm, box or slate.
I could ramble on until I ran completely out of space. If calling is your insecurity invest in turkey-hunting videos to learn more.
Wild turkey couldn't smell a week-old fish right beneath their noses. They do hear pretty well, but they live and die by their eyesight. Two major obstacles are thrown in your path to bowhunting success due to this factor alone. First, you must be close to make sure of your shot, and second, the prerequisite draw cycle produces considerable movement. Finding your anchor can create as much attention-grabbing movement as a traffic cop marshalling a busy intersection.
Pop-up blinds changed everything, and are the primary reason I now say with conviction that taking a turkey with a bow isn't that difficult. It seems a contradiction that such wary, sharp-eyed critters can be duped by a cube of camouflage cloth, but even set in the wide-open they go largely unnoticed.
The commotion of drawing your bow, no matter where a gobbler's attention is directed, is no longer a factor. The most effective modern blinds--Primos/Double Bull Archery or Eastman Outfitters, as examples--set up and pack in seconds. They also provide instantly deployable shooting ports so even a gobbler showing up from an unexpected direction can be taken easily by closing one set of windows and opening another. One note of caution: Practice shooting from your blind to assure you're indoctrinated on the tricky business of getting arrows cleanly through shooting ports.
When I backpack, or otherwise trek deep into wild country, toting a heavy pop-up is not really an option. Rancho Safari's Shaggie Shield to the rescue! Designed for archery hunters on the move, the Shaggie Shield provides quick turkey-hunting concealment without the weight or bulk. These freestanding, instantly deployable, single-wall shields offer dual, height-adjustable shooting ports.
The Shaggie face includes a plethora of camo material, burlap and jute-rope hanks, hand-sewn to camo netting to blend with any setting. They weigh less than a pound and pack to champagne-bottle dimensions. I've used them extensively since prototype stage to take mature gobblers as close as 10 yards, most completely unsuspecting of their fate. Recent refinements make them faster to set up for
those times when you get caught flat-footed. Like pop-up blinds, Shields require shooting from your knees or while sitting, so rehearse accordingly.
Another highly viable option are 3-D or ghillie-suit camouflage outfits. All those cut-leaf shapes or fabric hanks break up human outline, scatter light reflections and generate shadows to create the illusion of depth. They're deadly enough that turkeys in plain sight have allowed me to reach full draw without spooking; including a pressured New York eastern bird. One of the most effective is Rancho Safari's Shaggie System, a classic ghillie with construction paralleling Shaggie Shields.
Shooting flat from your rear is a skill that should be rehearsed before bowhunting from the ground. The sitting position can make drawing a heavy bow difficult, while longer bows become a distinct hindrance. Too, the less movement you make during the draw cycle, the better. Practice pointing right at the target and pulling straight back--smoothly.
Sure, you can tag a turkey without a decoy but they offer a definitive edge while bowhunting. The obvious factor of attraction is certainly at play, but just as importantly while bowhunting, they can serve to misdirect attention from the shooter. This advantage is most imperative while operating outside a blind, creating a visual distraction for a gobbler to focus on, instead of you.
But here's the deal: A gobbler responds to a call expecting to see the hen that's producing all the seductive talk. Being a sight-driven creature the decoy provides the visual confirmation he seeks. But then natural turkey behavior turns against us. Once in sight, strutting for all he's worth, the hen's expected to obediently come to the gobbler. The decoy can actually cause a gobbler to hang up, waiting for the hen to make her move. How you place decoys makes or breaks your hunt.
When bowhunting from the ground, invisible in your 3-D suit, strive for decoy placement that forces a tom to move past your position, which often places the decoy slightly beyond where you are set up. Tree trunks, rocks, logs, stumps or brush are then used to screen the draw cycle. How you place dekes becomes trickier in featureless country, easier when obstacles or topography help to steer birds more predictably.
It's also feasible that your gobbler will become so entranced by a fake hen that he develops tunnel vision and fails to see you drawing on him even in the open. It happens. I've killed more than one bird off the decoys after failing to reach full draw sooner, having nothing to lose and going for it. More realistic dekes are making this more common. A-Way Hunting Products' Turkey Skinz Decoy Cover, which includes real, sewn-on turkey feathers or BuckWing's Bobb'n Head LifeLite Turkey Decoys, which create lifelike head movement with the slightest breeze, offer great examples of a new age in turkey decoys.
Blinds and shields simplify matters. Simply place decoys directly beneath shooting ports. This means hung-up birds are more likely to pause within range, rather than just outside of it.
When more than one gobbler responds to your calls it's common to see them aggressively approach decoys. Competition quickly clouds otherwise clear judgment. This competition can be artificially induced by pairing a hen decoy with a jake. The idea is that a boss tom can't stand to see an upstart getting any action and responds immediately.
Paramount to turkey bowhunting success is finding a good place to hunt. Pounded public lands make the assignment that much more difficult. The author killed this four-bearded trophy gobbler on private land in Texas.
This premise has been taken further of late, decoys depicting jakes mounting hens now available, like BuckWing's Bobb'n Head Breeding Pair. It's not uncommon while using such combinations to see decoys attacked. Remember, too, that jealous gobblers confronting jakes attempt to face their opponent, meet him eye to eye. Swiveling jake decoys to face your position can result in strutting toms facing dead away, obscuring tail fans offering a prime opportunity to draw your bow undetected.
My most reliable set-up has evolved into two hens and a single jake. When I hunt the vast and rugged west, where covering a lot of ground is required, I prefer lightweight, spring-loaded, cloth decoys (Renzo's or Montana Decoy). Three allows me to set decoys at various angles for the best visibility from any approach, though this ruse also applies to the 3-D dekes I use closer to civilization. Another important note: Use strutting gobbler decoys prudently. Unless dealing with a known behemoth, or more than one gobbler especially, they can spook rather than attract all but the most mature, confident toms.
Turkeys in various geographic locations, subjected to various degrees of pressure, might react differently to each setup you devise. Stone-set rules don't apply, nor a single cure-all ploy that will fool every gobbler every time. Successfully bowhunting turkey requires an ability to learn from mistakes, change tactics in mid-stream, but just as importantly, to never lose heart. Hunt smart and hunt long and that first archery gobbler is assured.