A New Plan for Killing Turkeys with a Bow

Video can you hunt turkey with a bow
A New Plan for Killing Turkeys with a Bow

The author enjoys runnin’-and-gunnin’ for spring gobblers — no shotguns, no ground blinds, and most of the time no decoys! (Author photos)

When it comes to turkey hunting tactics, being mobile and efficient is about as good as anything out there to fill your tag. Many use the “run-and-gun” method with a shotgun, but then change their technique when it comes time to grab the bow. In my opinion, this is a vital mistake and a missed opportunity on a ton of fun. Being mobile and bowhunting turkeys is about as exciting and thrilling as it gets for a turkey hunter. But where do we start? Do we use decoys? How do we set up for an incoming tom? And what kind of calls are most effective for this method of madness with the bow in hand? For the last five years or so, this is the only kind of turkey hunting that I’ve done, so let’s dive right in and talk about a few keys to success for your next bowhunting adventure — run-and-gun style!

The Right Equipment

In order to be successful at bowhunting birds with no blind and no shotgun, we need to think about mobility more than anything else. I want to be as mobile and lightweight as possible when chasing turkeys with my bow and I want to be efficient. What that means is I do not carry anything with me or in my vest that I will not need. For me, I carry a few calls — which include a slate and glass call, one box call and numerous mouth calls. Mouth calls are very important because they allow me to be hands-free while holding or drawing my bow during the moment of truth. Learn the basics on a mouth call — yelps, clucks, purrs and how to cut.

Your turkey calls are one thing you can’t leave behind. The author carries a slate call, a glass call, a box call, and numerous mouth calls each time he heads afield.

When it comes to decoys, more times than not I don’t bring them. Decoys do have an advantage in certain scenarios, but due to the bulk and weight I typically leave them behind. If I do bring a decoy, I will either run a collapsible hen or jake that I can stuff in the back of my vest. For my bow, it’s very important that I have a limb leg of some sort on my bow so I can sit it down and be hands-free, all while allowing it to be in the upright position and ready to strike.

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The Gameplan

With running and gunning bow birds, I typically like to do most of my hunting later in the morning. If I’m hunting at first light, I try to pick a good fly-down location and let the woods come alive on their own. It can be challenging to break a tom away from his hens right away in the morning, so I don’t get too aggressive. If this is the only time I have available to hunt, I will try to cut off the flock and get ahead of them. Only if it’s necessary will I try to pull the tom from his hen by calling to him. If I can hunt all morning I will sit back and watch/listen to make further plans for later when toms tend to break away from then hens on his own in search for a new girlfriend. Nine o’clock in the morning to noon is usually the time this will occur.

Mimicking turkey movements and changing locations can give you a major advantage by keeping any incoming toms guessing.

During this timeframe, my goal is to cover as much ground as I can on foot while glassing along the way. This is how you can oftentimes find a tom that wants to play the game. I typically will make a large circle around the property that I’m able to hunt and will blind call while doing so. What I’m attempting to do is sound like a real hen, walking around feeding and calling. This mimics what a real turkey would be doing at this time of the day and my hopes are that a lonely tom hears my calls and decides to talk back.

Sometimes I will also use a “shock” call like an owl hoot, or a crow call during this time of the day to try to trick a tom into giving away his location by gobbling. This is similar to getting a bird on the roost to gobble, only now they’re on the ground. Typically, once a bird gobbles once, he can be coaxed into getting fired up and this is exactly what we’re looking for.

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Setting The Trap

So, here’s the scenario — we’ve finally found a bird that wants to play our game and is gobbling back to our calls. He’s now figured out where our location is and we’ve figured out his as well, so half of the battle is already won. From here, we must now make a few educated guesses to further set the trap to get the bird killed. What I mean by this is that we need him to commit to bow range, so we now have a few options for our setup.

If you’ve decided to bring a decoy with you and are in semi-open or open terrain, they can be used to our advantage. This can be a very deadly tactic, as you’ll want to set the decoy up 10 to 15 yards away and facing you. That way, the bird will circle the decoy and give you a great opportunity to draw your bow undetected.

If you’re in the timber, or decided to not bring a decoy — which is typically what I do — then you must have a very strategic plan on how to get drawn. What I like to do is scan the surrounding area and think like a turkey would. I’ll look for game trails, holes in fences, openings in the timber, logging roads, or anything that will make a tom want to come in to that spot. Turkeys like to see and they like open terrain features inside the timber so they can use their keen eyes to their advantage. Stay away from super thick areas of vegetation, or places that make it difficult for a turkey to get to. Fences, deep creeks, and steep ravine walls can all make a bird think twice about coming in.

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Once I’ve figured out a few easy routes that the bird can take I now take a minute to range spots and pick my ambush location. I want to be in a spot where I’m concealed and where I can get drawn, as the bird is either walking past me or walking away from me. Drawing as the bird is facing you will almost always end in him busting you, so keep that in mind.

Closing The Deal

It’s now the 4th quarter and we need a score. If the bird has gobbled back and is now on his way, I like to give them the silent treatment to finish the deal. Once he’s fired up you’re not forced to call any longer — his curiosity alone will lure him in. His mind will be on finding the hen and he’ll be walking around doing just that. This gives bowhunters a perfect opportunity to get drawn on him. Remember, he doesn’t know exactly where we are at, so use that to your advantage.

If the bird is gobbling, but not committing after some time of waitin, it’s a sign that we need to back out and change locations. Sometimes by doing just that we sound more like a real hen moving around and that’s enough to drive him into a frenzy.

In closing, running-and-gunning for bow birds can be as exciting as turkey hunting can get. It’s a great tactic and one that I really hope all of you will try out this spring, especially if you’ve never done it before. Good luck and have fun!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>