Published by archerchick on 10 Feb 2011
SPRING TURKEYS By Joe Byers
Bowhunting Wild Turkeys May Be The Ultimate
In many ways. hunting turkeys with a bow is much like hunting with a shotgun.
In deer hunting, for instance. there is a big change from a caliber .30/06 rifle to a
fifty-pound compound. The rifle is accurate about as far as the eye can see, may
have magnified telescopic sights and the bullet has the shocking power to anchor a
buck where he stands. Turkey bowhunting, on the other hand, isn’t all that different from a shotgun.
Maximum range with a 12—gauge shotgun is about forty yards, which still is a long
shot with a bow. but at least in the ball park. Many gobblers taken at longer distances
probably would have gotten closer to the caller if he had been more patient. Secondly,
shotguns usually come with a primitive bead front sight that is probably bigger than a sight
pin on many bows. Turkeys are turkeys and no matter what a person uses to hunt
them, or what part of the country they come from, gobblers and hens all ” speak”
the same language.
The good news about the similarities is that a person doesn’t have to search for
specialty books, videos. tapes, etc.. to leam about it. The National Wild Turkey Federation
is a prime source of hunting information. primarily through its publication
Turkey Call(Membership cost is $15 per year from: NWTF, Dept. BHA. 770
Augusta Rd.. Edgefield. SC 29824.) Looking through a number of back issues will
offer pointers about special techniques that successful hunters use and past editions
will be available from a local chapter, friends or from public libraries.
Many video outlets now offer hunting videos and for a few dollars you can savor
this springtime ecstasy in the comfort of the living room. An excellent series of
videos has been produced by Rob Keck and 3M Corporation, available through
the NWTF. The series took first place in the Outdoor Writers of America Film/
Video Awards Competition. Caution must be taken against the condition known to
many as turkey fever. There is no known cure and the only therapy that makes the
malady bearable is to spend as much time as possible each spring in pursuit of gobble-mania.
The difficult job of tackling a turkey is as hard, or easy, as one-two-three. If turkeys
were present in the fall deer season they will probably be there in the spring. Once
turkeys have been located, a key ingredient to success is to learn how to call. It should
be noted that stalking or driving turkeys in some states during spring hunting is actually
illegal as well as usually unproductive.
Objective number one is to get the turkey to come from over there to over here. To do
this, an archer will need a calling device or two. In today’s market there are many
to choose from; so many in fact that, like choosing a first compound bow, the selection
can be difficult. The best caller for archers is probably the diaphragm type.
However, it is also the most difficult to master. Diaphragm calls are semi—circular
devices about the size of a quarter that fit in the roof of the mouth and produce a
sound as air is exhaled through the mouth.
Some manufacturers now offer diaphragm calls that can be held between the lips.
They may be easier to use, but often don’t give quite the variety of calls. For the
first—timer, the box call is an old stand—by and the new slate callers produce
outstanding calls with little practice. There are even push—button yelpers that make a
perfect call every time, although the vocabulary is limited. Many hunters carry
more than one call with them, using a series of calls to simulate a small flock of
hens seeking company. One effective technique is to use a friction call- slate or box
— then use a mouth call at the same time. This “two hens talking at once” scenario
is one many gobblers just can’t resist. Calling, in turkey hunting, is important,
but perfection isn’t necessary.
I have two hunting buddies who took gobblers on their first turkey hunts, although
they used shot-guns to do it. One killed one of three gobblers at twenty—five yards
which were running right at him! A hunter who can yelp — the basic communication —
is going to call in turkeys, although not as often as someone who knows and can reproduce
all the sounds of a wild turkey. For those who are proficient at calling, the contentment calls —
clucks and purrs — are excellent, because they not only will bring in birds. but tend to attract
In the mission improbable game plan, calling is perhaps the easiest to accomplish.
If a bowman can breathe, he can call and that covers most of us pretty well.
The second key factor is to draw the bow back without being seen. Coming to
full draw slowly sounds fairly simple. To the person who has never matched wits
close in with a gobbler, it can appear elementary. However, turkey hunters soon
learn how these feathered birds get their first — wild — name. They have absolutely
no sense of curiosity.
A good friend, for example, uses the technique of whistling to stop a buck in his
tracks. On numerous occasions, he has come to full draw from the ambush of an
elevated tree stand, then given a single shrill note. Usually, the deer stops and the
archer releases. From this same stand, a wild turkey was spotted approaching one
fall day. Figuring the same game plan would work, the hunter held absolutely still until
the bird walked under the stand. However, at the instant of the whistle, the turkey
exploded into flight.
Lacking curiosity is usually not a problem to the turkey, because the big eyes on
the side of the bird’s head allow for almost circular vision, which means they don`t
miss much. Most important, turkeys can see color. This keen eyesight makes the movement
of the full draw process the Achilles heel of many archers. Difficult as it is,
there are ways of making success more likely, however. The first is the need for
total camouflage. Unlike deer hunting, orange and white fletching will stand out
and be quickly seen by approaching gobblers.
The dyed fletching of Easton’s Camo Hunter arrows is a good choice. Basic black and
white turkey feathers blend in well, also. Colors such as red or blue are absolute no nos!
Not only are they poor camouflage, but constitute the target colors and could appear as
those of a gobblers head. They might get you on the business end of another hunters missile.
Camouflage clothing will vary with the time of the season as well as the geography
of the country. In general. most deer hunting camo will work well. The pros often use a
vertical pattern upper garment and leaf—colored trousers as they usually sit on the ground
with their backs against a tree.
The selection of a calling site is probably as important in turkey hunting success as the
quality of calling; some would say more so. In general, it appears easier to call gobblers up
a slope or along the same level than it is downhill. This means that if a tom is gobbling on the
roost in the early morning, it is worth the extra effort to get above him or on the same level, if
hunting hill country. Gobblers also are creatures of`habit and usually fly down to travel the
same direction each day. Pre-season scouting is the key to these behaviors. When
opening day comes around, an archer can be in the direction the gobbler is most
likely to travel.
An ideal set-up for bowhunters is to take a position in a clump of large trees.
Mature white oaks are ideal for this purpose as the trunks grow wide and match
vertical camo patterns. The key to this ambush site is that the large trunks will be
ten to twenty yards from the shooter. As the gobbler walks behind them, the hunter
is screened out and can draw the bow. This is a set-up that can be easily misunderstood.
In one sense it is like using a blind to shoot from, only in reverse. The
hunter needs to be sitting, kneeling, or standing against an object that camouflages
him well. It is important not to be in thick cover that may deflect an arrow or interfere
with drawing the bow. Where the blind does the most good is out near the turkey
so that when he walks behind it, the bowman can go into action.
I had the opportunity to hunt on the White Oak Plantation late in the Alabama
season one spring. With a departure time of high noon, we were only allowed one
morning, but had enough action to make it worth the effort. Bo Pittman, manager at
White Oak, leases big chunks of farmland and swamp country on the eastern part of
the Black Belt region which is ideal turkey habitat.
From first light, when the barred owls began their verbal dueling, the gobblers
began their serenade and continued until I had to leave. One calling site looked promising and
had the ideal scatter of tree trunks. Sitting at the south end of the grove, there were
eight or nine large trees toward the area where a tom had gobbled earlier and I
could picture him strutting behind one so I could draw.
The tom would gobble in answer to my calls, the ambush site was perfect. but he
wouldn’t come in. Later, I learned why. Seventy—five yards between us was a small
stream about twenty feet wide. These bodies of swamp water don’t seem to be
going anywhere but are there nonetheless. Part of the calling-in process must
deal with structure between the hunter and the hunted. As a rule, turkeys will not
cross streams. fences. or crawl through downed treetops or thick brush. Their best
defense against predators is their keen eyesight and turkeys feel comfortable in
the open where they can see if danger is near.
This thick brush problem threw me a curve on another gobbler in the morning. I got
to within a hundred yards of the bird, thanks to the thick brush. The problem, however,
was to locate a spot where the gobbler could be called into range. Each time I called
he’d gobble back, but would not come any closer. In a half-hour. I tried several calls, double called and
moved to new locations; but nothing worked. Thirty—three gobblers had already
been taken from the White Oak properties and these late—season birds were pretty
The morning pattern had lots of turkeys located, but no shots taken. One trick that can
work with call-shy gobblers is to use a decoy if it is legal to do so in your area. Alabama does not allow
them, but most states do. The bogus birds can be especially helpful to archers. Specifically, the
decoy will distract attention away from the exact origin of the call and
focus it in another direction. This may only be for a few seconds, but it may be
just the edge a hunter needs.
One of the best things that can happen is for the turkey to strut and “turn its back”
on the archer. In this event, the turkey’s tail will block its view and the archer can
move at will. To make this happen, a hunter must understand the mating pattern of a
gobbler. When one struts, he is displaying his beautiful tail feathers so that they will
be seen by a hen; sort of. “‘Check this out, honey!” Because the gobbler thinks he is coming
to a hen that is anxious to mate, the tom will focus his attention on the call’s origin.
For this reason, many users of mouth callers use their hand in a cupping fashion to throw
the call to one side or the other. This is also why, if a gobbler is approaching, it is not
wise to call anymore. If the gobbler cannot locate the source of the call, he may begin
to strut in a circle, attempting to locate the hen. Decoys also will help in this department
if the lure is placed about fifteen yards away from the hunter. With luck,
the gobbler will circle the decoy offering the hunter a close, lethal shot.
The final act in taking a turkey with stick and string is to make a killing shot.
This is more difficult than it sounds. A strutting gobbler fifteen yards away may
appear as big as a barn. Yet, the kill zone on the turkey is quite small. Much of his
body is a mass of fluffed—up feathers. The bulk of the flesh is tasty, but not fatal,
breast meat. The vitals are no larger than a man’s fist and located behind the wing but
where it joins the body. This offers a good shot from the broadside position, because
the arrow may break a wing as well.
The second deadly shot on a gobbler is the spine. The ideal way to do this is for the
gobbler to face away from the hunter. If the bird is strutting, aim for the vent. The
head and neck area is the shotgun hunter’s favorite target, but the almost constant
movement of these parts make them difficult targets for archers. The head of a
gobbler is actually quite large, but a difficult target.
Shot placement is crucial in turkey hunting for quick, clean kills. It is the more difficult
because of the unwillingness of gobblers to stand perfectly broadside.
Bowhunting turkeys is not a sport for the hungry. If “bringing home the bacon”
is really important. a person may do better to hang around a barnyard or a grocery
store. However. if hunting excitement and challenge are the rewards an archer seeks,
then gobble-mania is hard to beat.
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