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Bow Hunting Turkey

Man holding bow and turkey on back

Wild turkeys can be a fun hunt, as their excellent vision and tasty meat make them challenging and rewarding targets. Turkey season is in the spring, when they are mating and especially responsive to calls. Wild turkey meat is healthier and leaner than the turkey you find in the grocery store.

Bow hunting requires less distance between the hunter and target than rifle hunting does. This means that the hunter will need strong skills in camouflage and stealth in order to stay hidden from the turkeys, who have excellent eyesight and hearing.

Even if you’re experienced hunting turkeys with a rifle, there are special considerations for bow hunting that you’ll need to practice. This article will walk you through the essential information to become an excellent turkey hunter with a bow and arrow.

Gear


For turkey hunting, it’s important to wear full camouflage that will blend in with your surroundings. This includes face covering or paint, hat, gloves, pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. Avoid wearing red, white, and blue so that another hunter doesn’t accidentally mistake any part of your wardrobe for the head of a turkey.

You can get broadheads made specifically for hunting turkeys at your local archery shop if you’d like, but your bow, arrows, and broadheads from deer or other hunting will work for turkey hunting as well.

Whatever broadhead you choose, be sure that you are practiced with it and can send it flying straight. Getting a clean, ethical kill with the broadhead that works best for you is the highest priority. Many turkey hunters do opt for mechanical broadheads, as their expansion ensures they will stay within the turkey.

Blinds


Image – blinds

Ground blinds help you stay concealed from the turkey. It’s crucial that you are able to draw your bow without the turkey noticing your movement and spooking. Ground blinds can help you here. Most are portable and can be moved to your ideal hunting area.

It is possible that turkeys will be able to identify blinds, so it’s helpful to brush in your blinds and place it firmly in the shade. You’ll want to sit in the darkest part of your blind, so measure visibility and your relationship to any decoys from this spot.

Blinds are best for hunters who have scouted the area and know where turkeys are likely to roost and travel. Remember, with a bow, you are waiting for a turkey to come within 20-30 yards of your spot before you can shoot.

This means that many hunters choose to hunt from the ground. This option is better for hunters who are experienced at stealth and can draw a bow at the exact right moment when they are ready to shoot. You can set up on your knees, with your left shoulder pointed where you think the bird will come from. Stay behind cover as much as you can without blocking your visibility. Then, wait until you are ready to shoot before you draw your bow and alert the turkey to your presence. Mastering turkey calls (covered below) will help get the turkey across those final yards.

Aim


Image – drawing of turkey vital zone

When you’re hunting turkey with a shotgun, you generally aim for the neck of the turkey, and pellets from the shotgun spray from there to kill the turkey. When you’re working with a bow, you don’t have this spray, but just a single point of impact. It’s better to aim for the turkey’s vitals, which are in the body of the turkey. This is a larger area to aim for, which increases your chances of getting a clean, ethical kill in just one shot.

If a tom is approaching while puffed up, wait before you shoot. It’s difficult to locate the right vital zone through all of the puffed feathers. The best place to shoot is the heart and lungs, which are just behind where the wing joins the body.

It’s ideal for your arrow to penetrate one or both wings in addition to the vitals. This way, the bird will die quickly and be unable to fly. Turkeys that run or fly do not leave good blood trails, and are often difficult to recapture.

You can purchase a turkey-shaped target to help you practice at home. Because you’re shooting such a specific area, it’s a good idea to become proficient at picking out the vital area and ensuring that you are hitting your target every time.

Turkey Calls


Image – turkey calls

Before setting out for your hunt, choose and practice your turkey calls. This can be one of the most fun parts of turkey hunting, and is the best way to attract birds. You can choose from push-button calls, box calls, slate calls, or diaphragm calls.

Push-button calls are very easy to use, and you don’t need to practice much in order to make realistic sounds. Box calls create more volume if you want to call turkeys from farther distances, but be sure to practice before you go – it can take some time to learn how to create realistic calls through them. Slate calls can produce subtle or loud calls for a variety of distances.

Diaphragm calls (also called mouth calls) are the most difficult to use, but they also produce the widest range of sounds and therefore have the most uses. Diaphragm calls sit on the roof of your mouth, and you force air over the read. This requires real practice, but has huge rewards.

Decoys


Decoys can be very helpful in luring turkeys close enough to your spot to hit them with an arrow. When it comes to decoys, you get what you pay for. The more expensive decoys are often also more realistic, giving the look and posture that can convince a turkey to come closer.

You can find decoys that mimic gobblers and jakes in aggressive stances, or that mimic hens during mating season. Know the responses that your decoys are likely to elicit, and match your turkey calls to your decoys if a bird is within visual range.

Strategy


Turkeys often gobble in response to loud noises, meaning you can locate them primarily from their sound rather than watching their movements. You may want to scout your hunting spot the night before. To do this, visit a hilltop near an area where you have previously seen turkeys before sunset. From this vantage, watch and listen for the turkeys. You can make short owl or crow calls to surprise the turkeys into gobbling. This will let you know where the turkeys have roosted.

The next morning, return before dawn and take your position within 200 yards of the roost spot. Use your blinds and otherwise conceal yourself, and then start with subtle calls, increasing the intensity of the calls until you are hearing a response. Be patient, and keep your calls subtle in order to attract a tom once he’s responded.

This scouting process is absolutely essential if you intend to hunt with blinds, which limits your mobility. A few days of scouting can go a long way come hunting day. If possible, you also may want to install trail cameras that can help you determine turkey’s movement patterns.

Overall, bowhunting turkey is a rewarding and fun recreation, but it requires serious patience. If you’re transitioning from shotgun hunting, you’ll need to get used to waiting for a turkey to come in closer range for your bow. Turkeys take their time coming to you, especially later in the season, and you don’t want to scare them off with a hasty shot.