If you are passionate about turkey hunting with a bow, you’ve probably discovered that making a good shot on a gobbler is only half of the story. The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say, is finding the bird after the arrow flies.
Brooks Johnson from Primos Double Bull Blinds spends several weeks every spring chasing gobblers with a bow, so he has vast experience in recovering arrow-hit longbeards. “If a turkey isn’t hit just right, it will quickly vanish into the woods,” Johnson said. “When this occurs, the chance of recovery, from my experience, is about 50 percent.”
Johnson believes many hunters fail to recover birds because they run after the birds immediately when the arrow strikes home. “Shooting a turkey with a bow isn’t like shooting it with a shotgun,” Johnson said. “After the shot, hunters should wait until all the turkeys, including the one that was shot, have left the area.”
In many cases, if left alone, a wounded bird will walk a short distance and bed down. On the other hand, if you push a bird immediately, it may run and hide. “Turkeys are dark and can easily blend in with the landscape. If they know they are being pushed, they will get under brush or some other cover and may never be seen again,” Johnson said.
“A wounded turkey often walks in a straight line until it dies or runs into an obstacle like a road or stream. Then it will just hunker down and will be easy to find,” Johnson said.
“If I shoot a bird in the afternoon or evening, I usually wait until dark to pursue it. In the evening, a wounded bird usually doesn’t travel very far. Most wounded turkeys can’t fly into trees to roost, so they just walk off into the woods and bed down. I look for birds after dark armed with a flashlight. I’ve had good luck locating birds after dark.”
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You can do a few other things to tip the odds in your favor. According to Johnson, one key is to make sure your arrow doesn’t pass completely through. “To reduce the chances of a complete pass-through, I use a lighter weight bow,” Johnson said. “I normally shoot a recurve, and I’ve found that a draw weight of 30 to 40 pounds is plenty to bring down a bird. With proper arrow placement, birds usually go down within sight.”
Some archers use broadheads that impede penetration, Johnson doesn’t agree with that approach. “I prefer a broadhead that does a lot of cutting and extensive damage,” Johnson said.
To ensure that your arrow hits a turkey’s small vitals and does massive internal damage, use a fixed-blade or mechanical broadhead with a large cutting diameter. If you want to guarantee a very short tracking job, aim at the bird’s head. Head shots end in one of two ways: a stone-dead turkey or a complete miss. Two broadheads specifically designed for shooting birds in the head are Arrowdynamic Solutions’ Gobbler Guillotine and Magnus Archery’s Bullhead.
By being patient after the shot, choosing the right broadhead, and reducing the draw weight of your bow, you can greatly increase your chances of serving up Thanksgiving turkey in May.
The author is an outdoor writer from Muskegon, Michigan.