April 07, 2023
The two opponents enter the ring and posture toward one another in an act of intimidation and defiance. Well-toned muscles ripple, and both look for a tiny window of opportunity to take the upper hand.
When it comes to boxing, the sport’s featherweight division has a weight limit of 126 pounds. Wild turkeys are in a "featherweight" division all their own, being worthy opponents for each other and the hunters who pursue them.
Big gobblers can fight to the death, inflicting horrific wounds and damage to one another with their beaks and spurs. The turkey’s feathers are designed to help shield areas of crucial blood supply and vitals, with thousands of feathers with shafts, barbs and barbules adding layers of protection. Add a skeleton of hollow bones in the background and you have formidable armor that helps withstand challenges from other birds as well as shots that come from bow and crossbow hunters.
Anyone who has bowhunted turkeys will undoubtedly have a story of heartbreak and disappointment. The vitals of a bird are small and well protected, so a misplaced shot will leave feathers but seldom a blood trail. That’s why knowing turkey anatomy is paramount, and getting substantial bolt penetration or a pass-through shot is the ultimate goal. With this in mind, here are several tips for upping the odds for success this spring.
Learn As You Clean
If you harvest a tom this year, paying attention to the bird’s anatomy as you clean it can make you even more lethal in the future. Hunters who have plucked and eviscerated a turkey gain knowledge that extends well beyond the scoring ring on a 3-D target. The bird’s heart and lungs are small, while the large breast muscles that take up most of the upper body have little blood flow. When cleaning a bird, you’ll also notice the lungs are tight to the ribs below the spine. The bottom line is knowing exactly where to place a bolt can be challenging without a proper necropsy of a real turkey.
Shoot at 3-D Targets
Being able to decipher where the vitals are located behind raised feathers requires time on the practice range hitting them with a bolt. Shot placement is a game of angles, and knowing where your bolt will exit the bird is as important as the entrance hole. If you think you don’t have to worry about the point of impact because you have enough speed and energy to push the bolt right through a bird, you’ll be disappointed.
Aim Small, Miss Small
No matter the species you are hunting, it’s important to shoot frequently, with the goal of being as precise as possible. When practicing, use the length of a second bolt to show the flight path of your bolt in your target. Understanding the different angles you might shoot from, and how they impact the corresponding aim points, is the best way to ensure your tag goes on a bird this spring.
Choose Broadheads Carefully
There are numerous choices when it comes to turkey-killing broadheads. No matter which one you choose, always make sure to practice with the head before you go afield to ensure accuracy. As a rule, fixed and rear-deploying mechanical broadheads usually have fewer problems with feathers. If you’re planning to use a broadhead designed for head and neck shots, be aware that these broadheads have long blades that can cause clearance issues when used with a crossbow. Hence, look for crossbow-specific models.
A heavy broadhead, such as the 150-grain SEVR Robusto, will provide enhanced kinetic energy and penetration. A broadhead with a wide cutting diameter will have more feathers and bone to cut through, but it increases the odds of reaching the vitals when the margins are tight. If you are shooting less draw weight, consider a broadhead with a smaller cutting diameter.
Practice Like You Hunt
Turkey hunters often find themselves sitting at the base of a tree or tucked away in a blind, and the best way to ensure success when hunting is to practice in advance the situations you will encounter in the field.
Sitting and shooting may sound like an easy process, but holding a crossbow steady, still and ready to shoot usually causes muscle fatigue. Try it in practice sessions to find out how long you can sit at the ready. Shooting sticks or a rest will help, but prolonged reach and holding will cause numb fingers and shaky arms.
One of the biggest problems associated with shooting from the sitting position is crossbow lean. When a bird shows up, hunters will often contort and move to find the bird with the crosshairs. However, the bow still needs to be level when you pull the trigger or all of your practice will be in vain. The best way to avoid bow lean is to attach a level to the scope as a quick reference when lining up for a shot.
Even if you hunt from a blind, you still need to go over everything. A blind makes it easy to stay concealed, provides a better field of view when you’re sitting at window height and allows you to prepare for the shot without having to worry about your movement. However, the birds do not always appear where expected, creating new obstacles to overcome. For example, acute-angle shots often create the potential for catching the blind with a bolt or bow limb.
It’s important to try and set your blind on level ground so you have a clear and open view through the shooting windows of the lanes where birds will approach. Blinds set on a slope will not provide clear shooting lanes, and bolts will often catch the blind material when shot. While hunting from a blind seems like the easiest way to stay concealed, those who do not practice from them often run into issues.
There are many strategies for setting up hen and jake decoys to entice a big gobbler to come charging in. Decoys are a great way to focus birds and bring them into your preferred shooting lane. Savvy hunters set decoys at the same range they practiced at home with 3-D targets. This strategy takes the guesswork out of hitting vitals when a bird is at or near the decoys.
If you hunt in an area where two birds can be harvested, practice re-cocking your crossbow quickly and quietly. One of the most important things to watch for is ensuring you cock the bow without catching debris under the string or in the cams.
You also should have the cocking rope or handle in a place that’s easy to access. Blind hunters will want to sit back from the window to provide clearance to lower the bow, get a foot in the stirrup and draw the string to the cocked position without the limbs catching the chair, blind or sticks. With a cocking aid or other device to reduce draw weight, a hunter can cock a bow while sitting flat on the ground, but it’s essential to practice this several times to ensure safety and control.
Spring crossbow hunts for turkeys are fun, with the birds usually at close range. Use your advantages to ensure you have meat in the pot and don’t spend a long time tracking your bird.
It’s the little things that often rob people of success. Shoot regularly, develop a mental checklist and ensure you always know where your bolt will impact a target. As with any bowhunting, the more you practice, the higher the odds of success in the field.