I love turkey hunting, whether it’s taking one of my kids, filming a hunt for a friend, or grabbing my Mossberg 850 and heading out for an early morning solo hunt. For something different, I always had an itch to hunt a spring gobbler with my bow, but every time I went to the closet to grab my bow, I ended up reaching for my shotgun instead. Killing a turkey with my bow felt just out of reach because I did not feel knowledgeable or adequately prepared for such an undertaking. A few years back, I watched a hunting show by someone who has now become a friend of mine where they were killing turkeys with a bow. Watching someone kill turkeys with a bow over and over, and gleaning some tips and tricks, the fire was lit. I had to try this.
Though a wise ol' tom will often leave you guessing as they are notorious for changing the script, there are a few strategies I have put into practice that I believe could put you much closer to obtaining your prize with your bow.
One effective strategy I use in harvesting mature gobblers with my bow is concealment. With a gun, the only movement I need to fire is pulling a trigger. A bow must be drawn back before the shot, creating much more movement. Accomplishing this in traditional turkey setups in front of a tree is nearly impossible without additional concealment. There are a variety of ways to accomplish additional concealment but there are pros and cons to each method.
Using a Ground Blind
The first and arguably most effective concealment is to use a ground blind. With many to choose from at a variety of price ranges, my go-to blind in recent years has become the TideWe 270-degree see-through blind. This blind is deployable in minutes, effectively concealing me yet leaving a wide range of view. Traditional blinds left me with limited viewing. The TideWe see-through blind changes the game with a fantastic system of customizing my openings to just what is needed for each setup. Coming in at a price point below other competitors, it was a great option that has been extremely rewarding, including a harvest of a 2-year-old gobbler this past season that may not have happened without it.
I had set up a couple of 2-year-old gobblers about 150-200 yards away on a ridge with a couple of ridges between us. Crawling on my hands and knees I set up my decoys and quietly crawled back into my blind. After a few calls on my slate call, these gobblers were fired up. Seeing they were already with some hens, I knew some time was going to be necessary to get these gobblers to leave their hens and come to my setup. After some more light calling, another gobbler over a ridge to my right sounded off. Not long after, both gobblers in front of me let down from their strutting and headed down the ridge in my direction. A little competition was all it took!
Some time went by, with some more light calling, but no more gobbles came. After another 30 minutes or more, I really thought the birds had worked off in another direction and I was about to abandon the hunt. Had I not been in my TideWe see-through blind, I might not have noticed the pair of toms slipping into my right without making a sound, making a bee-line for my motion-activated half-strutting Jake decoy. Seeing them out of the corner of my eye, I was able to grab my bow, nock an arrow, prepare for the shot, and shoot one of the toms as they began flogging my decoy. There is a good chance that I would have missed this shot opportunity had I not had the advantage of the see-through blind.
Though the see-through ground blind is the most effective, it does have its disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage is the weight and bulk needed to carry it with you. Turkey hunts seldom go as planned, and adjustments are common. Having to pack up a blind, carry it, and re-deploy sometimes is not only a chore, but also impractical to effectively harvest a turkey.
Another effective option for concealment is camouflage fencing. This concealment is less than a ground blind, it is lightweight, easy to carry, and quicker to deploy. I am always careful to choose the right time to draw utilizing this tool as more motion is visible to the turkey but can be very effective in certain setups.
Utilizing Natural Resources
A last option for concealment and arguably the least advantageous is utilizing available resources to construct a blind, such as branches, logs, and other natural resources. The drawback of this method is relying on the resources to be present in addition to the time it takes to construct. However, this can be effective in a pinch or on a tight budget.
Placement of Decoys
Another strategy I have used to harvest a turkey with a bow involves decoy placement. Typically, decoys are placed 20-30 yards from your setup. An effective range with a shotgun reaches out to 30-40 yards or just beyond. I don’t want turkeys to come any closer than I have to so as not to spot my movement and spook. However, with a bow, I like to put turkeys within a 10-20 yard range. With this in mind, placing your decoys within 5-10 yards from your setup is ideal.
I know this may feel entirely too close. However, closing the distance of my decoys pulls the turkeys into maximum effective range for a bow harvest. If I have properly mastered concealment, this eliminates the turkey from spotting me prematurely before the shot. With the decoys placed at 5-10 yards in front of my setup, I still have the option of harvesting a turkey at 20-30 yards for those stubborn birds that fail to commit to my setup.
Shot placement is also an important strategy to consider to effectively harvest a mature gobbler with a bow and arrow. For most bow hunters who are used to hunting whitetail deer, the first and most obvious place for a shot would be the vitals area. That’s where the twelve-ring is on a 3D target right? While this is effective at killing a turkey, it is not quite as effective for finding the turkey. I have talked to many bow hunters who have even given up hunting turkeys with a bow due to making a great shot on a turkey only to have the bird fly off and never be recovered. Though I can make a good shot at killing a turkey by aiming for vitals, not recovering the animal is very disappointing.
Focus on a Shot
One way might be to purchase one of several broad heads designed for shooting a turkey in the head. Though this might technically be effective, the odds of hitting a turkey in the head even at 20-30 yards is extremely difficult and leaves little room for error. A better solution I have found is to focus on a shot that allows me to recover the turkey. If a turkey's legs are broken, it cannot fly. Given turkeys are large birds, they must have some momentum in order to obtain flight from the ground. If a turkey's legs are broken, it cannot run, thus eliminating flight. If I focus on a shot that will break their legs, I can most likely recover that turkey. In most cases, this same shot will not only keep them from flying, but it will also produce a mortal wound to successfully harvest the bird.
On a mature gobbler, obtaining a target area for this kind of shot is very easy as I’ve learned from a good friend, David Holder of Raised Hunting. “Shoot them in the shiny spot.” This is a phrase David has coined. If you look at the shiny feathers on the wings of a tom, you will notice that the area of these feathers is just above the feet and legs. Aiming at this area of the turkey is ideal for breaking both legs as well as puncturing the wings. In most cases, it will also hit enough vital organs to cause enough blood loss for the turkey to expire quickly and humanely. I have adopted this shot placement and to date, I have not lost one turkey I have shot with my bow.
I harvested my very first turkey with a bow with this strategy in mind. I had set up on my property and had a tom hang up on the neighbor’s fence line just out of sight. However, I heard what sounded like some jakes answering behind me to my calling. Since this would be my first bow harvest, I had made up my mind that if jake came into range, I was going to take the shot. Moments later, three Jakes appeared from behind me. As they circled around to my setup, I came to full draw. As I settled the pin on the shiny spot of one of the jakes, the jakes became nervous at my decoys. As I released the arrow, jake darted to the left, leaving the arrow to hit him from behind instead of the broadside shot where I was aiming. The arrow had made contact with the legs and enough vitals that I found the dead turkey just 30 yards over the ridge in the woods.
My first turkey with my bow! The shot placement left me recovering the bird just a short distance away. A day I will never forget! What once was a dream became a reality. The knowledge I gleaned prior to that day made it all possible from concealment to the placement of my decoys, to knowing where to take the shot. That was all I needed to make the dream come true.
Harvesting a mature tom is a feat no matter how it is done. Whether you choose to do so with a bow or a gun, my hat is off to anyone who can successfully get the job done. However, if you are like I once was thinking I just didn’t have what it took, I hope my story and these strategies are just enough to get out there and give it a try this spring. There is nothing like the reward of bagging a turkey with a stick and string.