March 17, 2015
By Lynn Burkhead
I’ve bowhunted turkeys enough times over the last several years to know that it’s a lot like the opening moments of ABC’s long-ago show called The Wide World of Sports.
When it all goes right, there are few things more exhilarating than bagging a longbeard with a compound or traditional bow. It's the thrill of gobbler-getting victory, if you will.
But when it all goes wrong, there are few things more humbling than missing, messing up or just plain old not getting close enough to have a good shot opportunity at a fluff-tailed bird with a brain the size of a pea, gobblers that make a career out of serving up humble pie and making a hunter look like an April’s Fool all over again. And that's the agony of defeat, spring turkey hunting style.
Take for instance the text I received a couple of spring seasons ago from my outdoor-writing pal Brian Strickland, the back-page columnist for BowHunt America, as he used a modern stick-and-string to try and harvest an Eastern gobbler in the eastern third of Kansas.
“Missed one at 20 yards,” Strickland texted yours truly. “(He) came in screaming and drumming.”
And with the next words sent by way of his smart phone, I could almost hear the heavy sigh coming forth from the Land of Oz.
“(I guess) some things are better accomplished with a scatter-gun!”
LOL. And maybe. Or maybe not.
Having been fortunate enough to accomplish the feat of tagging a turkey with a bow — my best ever gobbler, in fact — I can truthfully attest to the fact that it can be done. While also wryly noting that I’ve had more than my share of humble pie served up after several unsuccessful turkey hunts with the bow.
If I haven't scared you off yet, interested in giving bowhunting for spring turkeys a try this season? If so, then follow these seven pieces of hard-earned advice.
First, you have to realize and accept that hunting turkeys with a bow is a bit more challenging than it is with a shotgun. Lord knows I’ve proven you can miss them with a shotgun, let alone with a bow.
When trying to bowhunt these birds, there will be times when 99 percent of your hunt goes right, a turkey is agonizingly close to your shooting position, and yet a good shot opportunity never presents itself at all.
Bowhunting lovesick longbeards can be challenging for sure. But that doesn't mean that it isn't a whole lot of fun either because it is.
Second, you don’t need a special rig to chase turkeys with a bow. What you use during the spring can be the same set-up that you use on whitetails and big game in the fall. This spring, I plan to use my Bear Archery compound set at 55 pounds along with Easton Axis arrows tipped with a Rocket expandable broadhead.
Third, be sure that you hone your rusty archery shooting skills this spring before giving this challenge a try. That’s because the kill zone on a turkey (either a lethal shot to the head; a straight-on chest shot into the vitals; a shot at the base of the wing into the vitals; or a shot at the base of the tail into the vitals as the bird struts away) is much smaller than the kill zone of a whitetail, mule deer, or elk, much smaller.
In short, you need to be able to put your arrows consistently into a golf ball-size circle at 25 to 30 yards.
Fourth, use a blind. Sure, turkeys can be killed with a bow that is used by a hunter sitting outside of a blind (Phillip Vanderpool of Hunter Specialties comes to mind and is very successful at this tactic).
But, in my humble opinion, before you move on to that added challenge, first go out and tag a few birds from a blind. That’s because coming to full draw, and doing so undetected, is by far the most challenging aspect of bowhunting longbeards, which have uncannily sharp vision.
Fifth, use a realistic-looking hen decoy out front and just a little off-set from the blind’s main opening. For the past several seasons, I've been using a taxidermy hen decoy by world champion turkey taxidermist Cally Morris of Hazel Creek, Inc. and it's tough to beat. But a number of the ultra-realistic hen decoys on the market these days will also work including the H.S. Strut Suzie Snood, the MAD Shady Baby, the Avian-X LCD Breeder and the Dave Smith Decoys (DSD) Submissive Hen.
If you like, add in a strutting subordinate tom decoy like the Primos Killer B or the Flextone Thunder Chicken to complete the ruse and give an inbound gobbler something to focus on while you come to full draw.
Sixth, when coming to full draw in a blind, be sure to wear a black top, a black cap, a black face-mask, and black gloves. This will help you blend into the inky darkness of your blind and can help make the process of coming to full draw, completely undetected, just a bit easier.
Finally, when you’re just starting out, I recommend having a hunting buddy in the blind with you to help finish calling to the bird so that you can concentrate on getting drawn and executing a quick, lethal shot.
While both hunters can work the calls to get a bird fired up and strutting his way into range, kindly pass the job of finishing the bird to your partner. He can concentrate on calling the boss gobbler in for those final few steps while you settle your sight pin on the longbeard's vitals.
Then it will all be up to you as to whether or not you experience one of spring turkey hunting’s greatest thrills or one of its greatest agonies.
Just ask my pal Strickland or better yet, me. We can both tell you the joys and compounded miseries of chasing longbeards with a bow.