October 28, 2010
With a few tricks and the right gear, you can arrow your trophy gobbler this spring
Let's be honest. Turkeys don't wield X-ray vision, extra-sensory perception or arrow-deflecting shields as some would have us believe. The big birds simply aren't the most difficult nut to crack. Turkeys don't demand the physical stamina that, say, high-country elk or mule deer do, and they fall completely off the intelligence scale when compared to something with the smarts of a mature whitetail. They're not as inherently mysterious as bears or cats. They own a peanut-size brain, and their noses are less astute than your own. They make a lot of racket when it comes right down to it, and they respond to calls with alarming frequency.
Now, don't get me wrong; turkeys are no pushovers. They remain supremely capable of challenging your bowhunting skills and especially your best shooting, but with a few tricks and the right gear, you can arrow your trophy gobbler this spring.
Bow-and-arrow gobblers have never been more obtainable than they are today. Supporting this claim are the facts that turkey numbers are soaring and their populations are spreading. Turkeys could very well become the premier hunting quarry of the new millennium. Of more consequence, archery gear that supports turkey-hunting success has never been so widely available.
THOUGHTS ON CALLING
I'm assuming you've hunted turkeys before, know where they are found, understand basic calling set-up and a bit about calling in general. Calling turkeys does not require championship-caliber skills. You may have to be more patient to call them closer for the bow, but be it a jake or sage old tom confronting you, basic calls will usually suffice.
Still, learning to talk turkey is all important. Each turkey vocalization you produce means something specific to your responding gobbler. Nothing turns a bird suspicious faster than using the wrong call at the wrong time. I could use the rest of the space allotted here to explain the nuances of turkey calling, but I'll leave that to folks who are better at this than I. I'm hinting at videos.
When hunting Merriam's turkeys, high-country weather can be fickle and unpredictable. The author found himself without enough warm clothes on a spring hunt when a sudden snowstorm arrived. The turkey didn't seem to mind at all, coming across 100 yards of open snow to the author's calls.
Woods Wise Products videos are especially useful to this end. "Real Vocal Turkeys" begins with hatchling "kee-kee" whistles and purrs, expanding into adult yelps, clucks, purrs and gobbles. You see and hear more than 20 live turkey sounds, what they mean and when to use them. I called in my first gobbler nearly 20 years ago, but I still watch Woods Wise's "Pressurized Gobblers" before each new season. The video expounds on turkey small talk, decoding the true meanings of common call and describing how to get a feel for a talkative tom so as to make the right move. Knight & Hale Game Calls' "Ultimate Spring VI, Shifting Gears" is also worthwhile, detailing how to adapt to tough situations by using different calls and calling styles.
Ten years ago my attitude toward bowhunting turkeys was much different. I bagged one here and there, but success remained hit and miss. Most of my frustrations hinged directly on shortcomings in my concealment. Those razor-eyed turkeys simply nailed me every time, especially when I tried to draw my bow. More often than not, this resulted in a fleeing gobbler and a blown opportunity. Enter 3-D camo, which has opened new worlds of turkey-hunting success.
Three-D camo sports all those leafy ends to scatter light reflections, create its own shadow and break up the human outline like no flat camo can. Three-D suits create depth, and turkeys often seem downright befuddled by it. Three-D jump-started my run of consistent archery-turkey success with suits like Downwind 3D Camouflage and Rancho Safari's Shaggie System. Downwind has an attached pull-over face mask/hood, lightweight construction that goes over a sweater when it's cold, a T-shirt to wear when warm and the camo comes in any pattern you might fancy.
Rancho Safari's Shaggie System includes hanks of burlap, camo cloth and jute rope to create what a buddy calls the "body blind." Both require arm guards or trimming to assure no string interference while shooting, but they make you invisible. I still wear 3-D on wilderness backpack hunts or when trekking across big country, and I am still able to shoot many gobblers by doing so. No matter which suit you choose, include camo gloves and a face mask.
More recently, pop-up blinds have exploded onto the market to make turkey thumping almost too easy. Turkey seem to see in only two dimensions. Erect a pop-up blind against a wall of brush, in the wide open, and it might as well not be there as far as turkeys are concerned. I recall a pair of gobblers fighting beside a blind I was in, actually flapping against its side. A gobbler fleeing a fatal shot once grazed off my blind. I've also shot boss toms from blinds at ranges better measured in feet than yards. The most common stumbling block to bowhunting success--getting your bow to full draw without detection--is no longer a concern with pop-up blinds.
After hearing a hot gobbler, try to advance far enough to assure he will hear your calls, then place a decoy and find a place to hide without alerting your quarry. The rest of the game involves careful calling and patience. When forced to hunt turkey without a blind, 3-D camo becomes a requirement. Shot timing is critical, but the loose leaves of 3-D clothing help break up your outline and fool a turkey's keen eyes.
Shooting ports provide your shooting lane, so remember to double check arrow trajectory to avoid nicking a window edge and deflecting your arrow. Too, the blackness inside a blind that disguises you can make seeing sight pins difficult. A lighted sight or good fiber optic pins solve this dilemma. While the average pop-up does weigh slightly more than a fairy's wings and require a few extra minutes of prep time, most people find these nuisances easily justified by point-blank shots.
One of the best pop-up blinds in the business comes from Double Bull Archery. Its patented framework design provides six-minute set-up, more available space and no game-spooking surface flap. These free-standing blinds are made of cotton-polyester blends to reduce shine and flap, and silent window systems assure you can take birds approaching from an unexpected direction. When packed, these blinds are a bit more bulky than others, but the advantages far outweigh the added bulk. While traversing roughe
r country or backpacking, Game Tracker's Carbon Pop-Up Hunting Blind offers a lighter alternative in a tight, pack-strap package, plus instant spring-action setup. The Scent Eliminator System, with jet-black activated charcoal added inside for scent containment, muffles nylon flap and creates an inky interior. DECOY DETAILS
The turkey decoy provides a visual cue to help pull a responding gobbler closer and position birds for the shot. It can bring a gobbler into the open, coax him that last few yards or position him in a shooting lane. More important when hunting without a blind, the decoy provides a point of focus, allowing you to draw your bow while a gobbler's attention is directed at the decoy.
There are several schools of thought concerning the use of decoys. One simply favors using a single hen to bring gobblers closer. Others employ multiple hens. The last uses a hen and jake decoy, the upstart tom placed just behind the hen, simulating an attempt to breed. This last setup seeks to lure an approaching gobbler into a jealous response.
Where you position your decoy(s) depends on your hunting situation. In a blind, set decoys just outside the front wall--say, five yards from the shooting ports. If your bird decides to strut right up to the decoy(s), you have a slam-dunk opportunity. If he hangs, you still have a reasonable shot. When hunting without a blind, place decoys to draw attention away from your position, setting up inside your effective range but to one side where birds will pass or strut close at hand. Generally, gobblers attempt to establish eye contact with the decoy, swinging around to face the fake. Keep this in mind, and use it to your advantage.
Decoys come in many forms, but convenience is your number-one priority. For me this means packability. I've used Feather Flex Decoys for years with success. Made of light foam, they weigh nothing and fold or roll to fit in my daypack. They pop back into shape when needed. Buckwing Products' collapsable decoy is made of thin rubber, offering the same properties.
Love or hate them, mechanical broadheads are custom-made for turkey hunting. There's no better way to get such impressive cutting diameters and accurate flight. It's no secret gobblers present small vital areas, complicated by their fidgety nature. They require pin-point shooting, and that's what mechanical heads are all about. If you do miss your mark slightly, wide cutting diameters give you an edge, swinging to cut something vital or creating such a devastating hole that a quick kill is assured. The average mechanical also transfers energy while opening, providing added shock to bowl over your target.
New Archery Products' Gobbler Getter not only fits these descriptions but has a blunted tip to impart additional shock on impact. Based on the time-tested Spitfire 100 and 125, these heads provide 1 1/2-inch cutting diameter, with blades designed to open easier. Rocket Aeroheads creates sure turkey-killing heads by sheer cutting diameter. The Buckblaster, with fixed blades removed, provides a 2 1/2-inch cutting diameter in a 110-grain package, the Miniblaster IV the same in 80. Barrie Archery's Assassin 85 and 100 open to 1 1/2 inches, the Gator 80 and 100 to two inches. You get a 1 1/2-inch cut from WASP Archery's Jak-Hammer SST and 23⁄4 from Vortex's two-blade 125.
THE COMPLETE PICTURE
All this gear only comes together in combination with ample shooting practice. Concentrate on 20- to 30-yard pin-point shooting and you'll bag plenty of birds. Practice shooting while sitting flat on your rear if you don't own a blind or from your knees or while occupying a stool if you do. Practice shooting from inside your blind. Concentrate on perfect shooting form to facilitate arrow-clattering groups. If you can nail a tennis ball at 20 yards every time, you're ready; if you can accomplish this at 30, you've got it made.
Osceola turkey, found only in the southern reaches of Florida, reside in dense swamps where they are difficult to locate and even more difficult to coax with a call. Author Meitin got lucky on this gobbler, a bird with a 10-inch beard and inch-long spurs taken after three hard days of fighting swamp brush, mosquitos and tropical heat.
When you do get your shot and are lucky enough to score a hit, there are two options: pouncing or waiting and trailing. If you're sure of a vital hit in the heart or lung area, keep your bird in sight if at all possible. A fatally hit bird can scoot under brush or sail off a steep ridge, making recovery difficult. Should you knock your bird spinning and flapping, pouncing is typically the best option. Sometimes the initial shock is enough to discombobulate a bird long enough to let you grab him, whereas he may regain his senses and flee given time. Be sure to gain control of a gobbler's cutting wings and spurs before handling.
If you hit your bird solid but not in a vital area, it's best to wait. A wounded bird will generally run instead of fly, leaving trailing blood behind. Keep him in sight if you can, but do not spook him and induce flight. Wait a couple of hours and even a gut-shot bird skewered with a nasty mechanical will be lying dead from blood loss.
Most bad hits result from poor shot timing. A calm, strutting bird always makes a better target than one alerted to your presence. Wait for birds to pass behind disguising cover before drawing, or wait for a strutting tom to turn behind his fan to obscure his vision. From a blind, shot timing is simplified, but you should still wait for the best shot angle and especially wait for a standing shot.
When choosing an aiming point, most archers shoot for the wing butt to break down a gobbler. Bowhunting editor Jay Strangis has taken a good number of gobblers with a bow and promotes holding low on the bird rather than high. His logic: If you catch the hip joint, a gobbler that needs its legs to become airborne is finished. On facing shots, aim for the base of the neck; on going away, aim for the anus to assure you find heart and lungs.
Shooting from inside a pop-up blind can present shooting problems not encountered during normal shooting. Practice well ahead of the season, and use a lighted or quality fiber-optic sight to assure that your pins show up well in the dark interior.
Ultimately, nerves separate the successful from those who have only excuses to offer after the season is past. It's these nerves that keep us coming back, the involuntary shiver that comes with the first shocking gobble of morning, the lost breath and quivering muscles that arrive when a strutting gobbler hovers into sight. Pull it off with a bow, and any turkey becomes a trophy, even a legal jake taken after a long box-call conversation or a hen during open fall season. Follow these tips and you'll find tagging your archery turkey this year is easier than you might
Editor's Note: With 27 turkey bow kills at this writing, BOWHUNTING's adventures editor, Pat Meitin, could be shooting for his 30th bow-killed turkey by the time you read this. He offers these field-tested tips for putting a gobbler in the bag this season.