Last spring I tagged my 60th archery gobbler, a total assembled from across the nation and including all the North American species (once in a single spring). Now understand I don’t consider myself a master turkey caller by any stretch of the imagination. I’m rather impatient when it comes right down to it, and on any given day my archery shooting could be considered quite average. So what’s the secret? First, put away the darn shotgun and just do it.
Bow-bagging turkeys isn’t as difficult as many bowhunters believe. It’s true you’ll need some special gear inherent to bowhunting restrictions, a decent place to hunt (working harder to hike well away from crowds to find less educated birds) and an ability to shoot straight and talk turkey. Otherwise, your first bow gobbler’s a goal you can accomplish this spring.
GO FOR IT!
Finding a good place to hunt is important to successfully bowhunting turkey. You need naïve birds — not those made neurotic by hunting pressure — if you expect to enjoy even semi-regular success with archery gear. Wheedling or buying your way into exclusive private lands, seeking fringe areas others overlook or working harder to pack into true wilderness or backcountry few have the gumption to explore on public lands is half the battle. In my experience, traveling well away from metropolitan areas normally means farmers and ranchers are subjected to less harassment and are more open to granting private-lands permission after polite inquiries.
Turkeys are small (relative to other “big game”) and rarely hold still long. In other words, they can prove highly challenging to hit with an arrow. Being a proficient shot is an important contributor to success, but more important is understanding that shots must be close (under 25 yards is best) and conditions as ideal as possible.
The bowhunter gains a decided turkey-hunting edge by adopting wider-cutting broadheads, increasing his margin of error and turning marginal shots into killing ones. Standard deer-hunting heads result in more lost birds than tagged. Mechanical broadheads with 1.5- to 2-inch cutting diameters (and body shots) work best when spring gobblers are your target. Such wide-cutting designs also impart a bit of shock and slow penetration. Having your arrow remain in the bird after impact is, in fact, highly desired, slowing the bird’s progress through thick brush and restricting flight. The other solution (especially if mechanicals aren’t legal in your area) are Arrowdynamic Solutions’ and Magnus’ wide-reaching “head loppers” with 2- to 4-inch cutting diameters, designed specifically for neck/head shots. They most often require larger fletching to maintain predictable accuracy and intimate ranges (under 25 yards) to assure killing hits.
Shot placement is what bowhunting’s all about, of course, and this also applies to turkey. It goes without saying a 2-inch mechanical through the pump-house spells instant death to a 25-pound gobbler (remembering turkeys’ small stature permits accessing vitals from any angle). Yet, in turkey hunting you have other options. The head/neck shot’s predictably deadly, but offers a smaller aiming point. It’s a small, darting target and a challenge even with 4-inch-wide, head-chopping broadheads. Another lethal option is the drumsticks, breaking a bird down instantly and preventing escape via flight or running. The drumsticks are fed by large arteries that spill blood liberally, resulting in quick death — especially after a 1.5- to 2-inch mechanical broadhead slices through.
Turkeys are also relatively small and fragile. That’s where a big mechanical comes into play. Even a gut shot typically results in a tagged gobbler, so long as you choose the correct follow-up approach according to observed shot placement. The dilemma is always whether to charge and pounce or sit tight and give a bird time after a hit. Much depends on terrain. Atop high ridges or mesa edges, even a mortally-hit bird that gets its feet beneath him and takes flight is easily lost. On flat ground or bottoms, a marginally-hit bird can often be run down, granted you’re in decent physical shape and vegetation’s not overly restricting. Thinking on your feet is always important. In very basic terms, if you’ve knocked your bird for a loop, opt for the charge-and-tackle approach (being especially careful if your arrow’s still in the bird). On gut or similarly marginal hits, I’ve had better luck leaving birds alone, trailing a couple hours later. When a bird takes flight, do everything possible to keep him in sight, gaining better insight into where to start a grid search. Note: Bird dogs are extremely helpful in recovering marginally-hit birds or those that have glided into distant cover (check regulations to assure legality).