It’s one of the surest signs of spring. Chilly mornings wrapped in camo and huddled up inside a blind with your bow, the sky starting to lighten while you listen for the first gobble of the morning. Between your teeth is the soft edge of a turkey call while you wait for just the right moment to blow that call. It’s a morning out turkey hunting with a bow.
While most people focus on deer hunting in rifle season, getting out early in the season and chasing spring turkey is special. I guess any outdoorsmen’s goal should be to extend their time in the woods as long as possible. That is one of the big reasons I hunt turkey. It gets me in the woods sooner, and what could be better!
If you want to take a shot at turkeys, you will need to find a good piece of land that holds a good turkey population. Now, the good news is that there are swathes of public lands all over this nation. Every state has acreage set aside for public use, which includes hunting, in most cases.
If you want to go the route of gaining permission, that can be good, too! Just look for land with some sort of pine growth as turkeys really enjoy roosting in sturdy pines.
The most overlooked part of turkey hunting with a bow is scouting. Scouting is essential hunter’s detective work that will get you on top of birds for the type of close-range shot that you are trying to achieve with a bow.
You have to know several things about the bird you are after.
Where do they roost?
Where do they travel?
If your scouting efforts can provide you with this kind of information, then you will have success. So, how do you go about figuring these kinds of things out? Well, it all starts with simply looking for turkey sign. The good news is turkeys leave some tremendous sign that is easy to discern if you know where to look.
They prefer perching in pine trees, so finding turkeys and turkey sign often starts with finding the stretch of pine forest that they call home. At the base of larger pine trees, you can begin your search for roosting signs.
Feathers and scat are the two of the most important signs that you will find. If you find a large pine with dropped feathers and turkey droppings littering the trunk and roots, you have found a turkey roost.
Sometimes it is not that easy, and you need to find a general area before you can dig deeper into a pine forest and roosting location. There are some telltale signs that turkeys leave when they are getting around. A dry silty path can be best when you are looking for these kinds of signs.
Turkeys drag their large feathers in the dust and dirt, and this creates distinct drag marks that are easy to identify. Another sign that often accompanies these marks is going to be the easy to discern tracks of a turkey. These are large tracks that feature a small heel with a large middle toe pointing forward with two smaller toes jutting out at either side.
If you find these, you are certainly on a path that was recently taken by turkeys. There should also be droppings on these paths.
Note: Goose sign can be remarkably similar to turkey, but the habitats are very different. Keep this in mind.
Taking turkeys with a shotgun conjures up thoughts of head to toe camo and a nice comfy seat against a tree. However, there is not enough camo in the world to cover you up while you pull your bow back. Turkeys have tremendous eyesight and will see that movement and disappear long before you have a shot to take.
Because of the moving parts, turkey hunting with a bow requires different types of gear.
You will not be shooting a cartridge full of birdshot at your target like with a shotgun. Your weapon uses one projectile, so you have to recognize that. That means you either connect or you don’t. You want a quality traditional bow or compound bow.
Either traditional style bow will get the job done. This could be a recurve bow or a longbow. I would recommend a recurve because they are easier to travel with in the woods. Particularly tight woods. Takedown recurves also take up little space.
A quality compound bow will hit the target with tremendous force and can also be zeroed with a sight that will likely increase accuracy at distance. The vitals on a turkey are small, so your accuracy is a big deal.
Probably more important than the brand of bow you have is the time you have logged shooting it. How accurate are you at 20-30 yards?
A hunting blind can be made up of natural materials, or you can bring a popup blind. I like the concealment of a popup blind when I am using a bow because all of my movements, calling, and drawing in the blind are invisible to the bird. This is critical to success.
There are a ton of pop up blinds on the market. I hunt out of a $100 model and have also included a simple breakdown stool that comes along with me.
One of the ways you look to dispatch a turkey is by shooting at its head and neck in an attempt to decapitate the bird. Now, that can seem like a serious challenge if you have only seen turkeys from afar. Some great broadheads penetrate deep and expand on release to cut and cover more surface area.
The vitals of a turkey are small and surrounded by meat and bone. At the midline of the body lies a small heart and lungs. You want to go through the wing into these vitals. A shot into the breast could work, but it will tear up the meat.
Traditional broadheads are more than capable of getting the job done, but you might want to look into mechanical broadheads, too. The Gobbler Guillotine is one such model that expands widely and creates that wide cutting plane.
If you opt to hunt public land, there is a good chance that the turkeys will be quiet. If turkeys are pressured, they are careful, and they rarely gobble. These birds are masters when it comes to discerning calls, so you better be on your best calling game.
Like shooting a bow, using turkey calls takes lots of practice. There are several different types of calls that you should consider.
Calls are used to affect the male turkeys or Jakes. These turkeys will either chase a female call to mate or chase another gobbler call to push out a competing male.
These half-moon shaped calls are amazingly effective and are small, cheap, and easy to carry. They take some time to learn, but you can sound just like a hen after a little practice.
Box calls are used in your hand and can be learned very quickly. These require lots of motion, which is another reason why a blind is a great option because you can do all your calling in the cover of the blind.
Slate Friction Calls
This type of call uses two parts. A slate circle and base with drilled holes that is scraped with a striker or peg that can create a bunch of unique sounds that mimic a hen.
These calls are meant to imitate a male turkey that is competing for the local hens. This can drive a Jake crazy and have them come right to you in a hurry!
Many tactics can be used when turkey hunting. We are going to discuss two tactics that are quite different but equally effective.
The most common form of turkey hunting happens from a static position where you are calling a bird into your range.
You begin by locating a flock and their roost. Set up far enough away from the roost so that you do not bust the flock before you can draw away a turkey.
In the early morning, these birds will begin to fly down from the roost, and then you can begin calling. Try both male and female calls but do not overcall as you can scare birds away. If you are in public land with pressured birds, call very rarely, if at all.
You can also set up decoys to bring turkeys closer to your blind. These could be males or female decoys.
Busting a Flock
If you are looking for a quick hunt, then you can locate a flock and literally bust it on purpose. This tactic is best used in open fields so when the birds return from the bust, you can see them and call them back to your blind.
To bust a flock, you can simply run through them! It is kind of fun, and it really alarms the birds, but you can use natural cover or a close-by blind to set up and wait for the flock to reform. Calling is an option when you use this tactic, or you could use decoys or both.
Turkey hunting with a bow is not easy, but it is a great way to test yourself and better understand the world of turkeys and how they operate. It is a great opportunity to get yourself into the woods during the early spring season and even just before firearms deer season in the fall.
Remember, scouting for turkey opens you up to all finding other signs for other species, too.
The overwhelming motivation for turkey hunting is to extend the hunting season. However, bringing home a bird or two for the oven is not a bad deal either!