As an obsessed bowhunter that primarily thinks about the pursuit of whitetails year-round, I consider springtime the “off-season.” Most of what I do throughout the spring and summer months still revolves around preparing for the fall and deer seasons. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get excited about chasing longbeards for a few weeks, just as long as I get to do it with the stick and string. Ever since taking my first bird with a bow back in 2010, I’ve been hooked on that method for turkey hunting.
Where to shoot a turkey with a bow
There are a few things I try to communicate to guys and girls looking to get into chasing turkeys with archery equipment. The most important thing to understand is where to shoot a turkey with a bow. This requires a strong understanding of where the turkey’s vitals are, and whether or not the bird is in a strut. The nice thing about turkeys compared to deer is that they often give you many different angles as they spin around or change directions. I try to wait for my favorite angle, which is when a strutting (or half-strutting) bird is turned toward me slightly. When this happens, the feathers come together to form somewhat of a bullseye to aim at. If you hit a bird there, he likely won’t make it more than a few steps.
I won’t go through all the possible shot placement locations; there are plenty of good resources out there for that, but definitely take the time to study those and get a really good grasp on where the vitals are in different scenarios. Typically, they are higher than you may think but know that you don’t have much room for error when bowhunting turkeys. Another option that some opt for is headshots only. That way, there is very little chance of wounding birds; it typically results in a clean kill or a clean miss. However, if you can become very knowledgeable in where to aim, and you're confident in your ability to hit that spot, you can be very successful in aiming at a turkey’s vitals.
Blind or No Blind
As a beginner to archery hunting turkeys, I’d suggest starting out by using a ground blind. You can get away with so much more movement as opposed to being without one. Obviously, there is that much more movement required to draw your bow than to move your trigger finger with gun hunting. I’d recommend starting with a blind, getting a couple of archery turkeys under your belt, and then if you want to up the challenge and fun you can try hunting them without a blind.
Without a blind, it’s a pretty different experience. I prefer this way now because I feel like I’m more ingrained into the setting and the hunt compared to being inside a blind. I also love it because it adds a much higher level of difficulty to the pursuit. There are a few things that you need to keep in mind on these types of hunts. First, you need to have a comfortable seat. I prefer the turkey lounge chairs that sit just a few inches off the ground. They allow you to sit for long periods without your legs going numb but also help you keep a low profile to the ground. Also, it’s a good idea to practice shooting from one of these chairs. The process of aiming and shooting while sitting is quite a bit different than simply standing.
Second, you need to have some cover. Again, because of the movement required to draw your bow, some additional cover can help hide that. I try to choose spots where I have cover both behind and in front of me. Sometimes, I’ll even carry in my own fake branches to make sure I can have that cover no matter where I end up; especially earlier in the season before everything greens up.
When setting up a turkey decoy, I consider its orientation and how a bird might approach it. When bowhunting turkey, I almost always use a jake decoy in combination with a hen or two. The jake is where I put most of my efforts in placement, since this is what most of the toms come to. I typically put it out at about 15 yards and face the jake decoy toward where I’m sitting. More often than not, the tom will circle in front of the decoy to face off. This is critical because it creates an opportunity for you to draw your bow undetected. The best-case scenario is when a bird faces away from you and has his tail fan covering his head (and ability to see), even if just for a second or two. This is when you want to come to full draw, and then it’s just a matter of waiting for the best shot angle.
When it comes to bowhunting deer, or other big game animals, arrow penetration and pass-throughs are often discussed as a top priority. With turkeys, this is less important. In fact, I prefer when my arrow does not pass through the bird. If an arrow sticks in, it can do a lot more damage as the bird moves around, resulting in a quicker kill or making up for less-than-perfect shot placement. You see this with many turkey-specific broadheads on the market today; large cutting diameters, barbs to stop penetration, and even rounded bullet-style points. I recommend going with one of these options. Of course, I have killed turkeys with the same broadheads I use in the fall, but there is a reason you see turkey-specific broadheads being made. They are simply more effective for the job.
There’s no doubt about it, hunting turkeys with archery equipment is a challenge. I’ve often told people that when gun hunting the game is over if a turkey gets in range. But with a bow in hand, the game is just getting started. So many things have to happen from that point forward to be successful. That is the fun of it and what makes me continue to bowhunt for turkey season after season. In conclusion, if you know where to aim, and have the patience when it comes to making the shot, you’ll be rewarded with a thrilling new way to chase turkeys in the spring. Best of luck and have fun.