July 13, 2015
By David Hart
If there's one steadfast rule in fall turkey hunting, it's that success depends largely on how well the birds scatter when you break up the flock.
I had to move fast. Another second and all the birds might fly off in the same direction, effectively ending my hunt before it began. I set the bow down and ran for the birds, waving my arms like a madman. It worked perfectly. Most of the birds sailed off into the wooded creek bottom below.
Those birds would be tough to call back, I figured. However, at least two went left, paralleling the ridge I was standing on, before splitting as they flew out of sight. Perfect.
Thirty minutes later, a soft cluck broke the afternoon silence. I slipped a diaphragm call into my mouth and replied with a series of soft yelps. The turkey responded immediately, and a few minutes later I caught a black shape slipping through the thick understory just 60 yards away. I eased the bow in the bird's direction, lowered my eye to the scope and flicked off the safety.
A screen of limbs separated me and the turkey, a jake, but there were enough gaps that I figured I could easily slip an arrow through a plate-sized hole. Turns out, I was wrong. I squeezed the trigger when the bird stopped at 30 yards, but the arrow deflected off a pencil-thin limb and sailed off into the woods. The jake turned and walked out of sight.
As I learned in the southern Virginia woods that day, crossbows may be a great hunting tool in many situations, but they certainly have their drawbacks.
A 3-inch load of No. 5 shot can plow through a screen of vines, limbs or grass. An arrow? Forget it. That's one significant drawback to hunting turkeys with a crossbow.
Because you are typically sitting on the ground, you'll have to contend with any obstructions between you and the bird.
According to veteran fall-turkey hunter Lance Hanger, of Parker Bows, really the only solution is to set up where you won't have to deal with stray limbs, tall grass or other potential arrow deflectors. But that means you'll be exposed.
"The best alternative is to set up in a ground blind," he says. But they can limit your ability to"run-and-gun," a vital component to a successful
fall turkey hunt.
No one ever said crossbow hunting moving birds would be easy! But there are advantages....
The Noise Factor
The great thing about crossbows, I soon learned, is that the "twang" of a shot won't spook other birds like the report of a shotgun might. As soon as the jake disappeared, I cocked my bow and moved to a more open area before offering a few loud, aggressive yelps in a desperate attempt to call
back the spooked bird. He wasn't buying it.
However, another bird answered from my left. A few minutes later, I was looking at another turkey, a mature hen, through my scope. This time, there were no obstructions to deflect an arrow when I squeezed the trigger.
Could I have called in that second bird after a miss from a shotgun? Possibly, but more often than not, the roar of a shotgun will spook nearby birds. It might also spook nearby non-hunters. The soft sound of a crossbow likely won't draw any unwanted attention, making a crossbow the perfect tool for hunting around houses, livestock or pressured birds.
Make It Count
But the silence only helps when turkeys are out of sight. Once you shoot, you'll need to recock your bow and slide another arrow onto the rail. Unless you are in a ground blind, you can say goodbye to any turkey within sight and the opportunity for a second shot.
"You have to make that first shot count," says Hanger.
That's why he likes to get his birds close, usually within 35 yards. He then aims for the elbow of the wing under the premise that a turkey with a broken wing won't fly. Equally important, the vitals are located directly behind that point on the wing.
He says many hunters aim for center mass, which means the arrow will be too low and too far back to hit any vital organs. Shooting for the wing elbow also minimizes meat damage because it's above and ahead of the breast.
Although some crossbow hunters like a neck shot, Hanger prefers a broadside shot. He won't hesitate to shoot a bird walking directly at him or directly away from him if he is certain he'll hit the spine. There is a chance a wounded bird will cover some distance on the ground or in the air if you
miss the spine.
To reduce that risk, choose a wide-cutting broadhead, but don't go too wide. Larger turkey-specific blades like Gobbler Guillotines can be too wide to clear a crossbow's stirrup. Virtually any broadhead, fixed or mechanical, will do a number on fall turkeys. Hanger likes Rage Hypodermic mechanical blades.
"I like a cutting width of 2 inches, but the main thing is to make a good shot," he adds.
Of course, you have to call them into range in order to get a shot. That's not necessarily a guarantee when you hunt fall turkeys with a crossbow, but that challenge is exactly why crossbows are such a great addition to any turkey hunt.