5 Get-It-Done Tips for Bowhunting Turkeys

Video turkey bowhunting tips
5 Get-It-Done Tips for Bowhunting Turkeys

Last spring, author Darron McDougal arrowed this gobbler at 8 yards as it strutted for his hen decoy. He lured the tom into view by piquing the tom’s interest with calling, then going silent and letting the tom make the next move. (Photo courtesy of Darron McDougal)

It was the morning of every turkey hunter’s dreams: Temperatures were ideal, and at least five toms were gobbling constantly. I carefully expanded the hubs of my Primos SurroundView 270 blind, then adjusted it for the best view of the lush clover field. I tip-toed 8 yards away from the blind, shoved a hen decoy into the dirt, then scuttled back to the blind.

I called occasionally to the roosted birds. Hens flew down and entered the field, but the toms didn’t follow. A tom to the south was answering regularly once he flew down, but he wasn’t visible, nor was he moving closer. I called once more, then gave him the silent treatment.

Briefly, I spotted another tom along the opposite field edge, but he was courting a hen and the hardwoods soon swallowed up both birds. Bummed that he didn’t respond to my decoy, I held tight. Then, I heard dead goldenrod stalks cracking 10 yards away. Through the SurroundView mesh, I spotted my prey. The tom from the south had come in silent, and his focus was trained on my hen decoy.

Carefully, I raised my bow and reached full draw. The tom stood still for several moments, displaying in half-strut for the rubber lady. Finally, he entered my shooting window and stood broadside next to the decoy. My pin settled, and the arrow launched. The fluttering tom went motionless within seconds. Like dozens of times before, I tagged a turkey with my bow. It never gets old.

If you’re bowhunting turkeys for the first time, or if you’ve tried in the past with minimal success, let me provide some tips to help you bow bag a tom this spring.

1. Hunt Where They Are

During my first few turkey seasons, I sat all day in blinds several times waiting for toms to come to my calling and decoys. Success was minimal. When I quit limiting myself to one spot or even one property, my success soared.

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The author finds the most success by hunting turkeys where they are, not where they were. (Photo courtesy of Darron McDougal)

Today, I’ve bow-killed dozens of turkeys because I either keep moving on public land until I find gobblers, or I drive around and spot toms on private land and then ask the landowners for hunting permission. Unlike deer, many farmers and landowners happily allow turkey hunting. I no longer wait in one spot for endless hours unless I’ve patterned toms and know they’re coming at a specific time.

If you want to increase your success, get access to properties with toms. If you’re too chicken to ask for hunting permission, then cover tons of public land until you get a tom gobbling. Don’t sit in a dead spot waiting for what might never occur. Go make something happen.

2. Deploy Strategic Blind and Decoy Setups

I almost always place my blind in the wide open rather than along a field edge, and I don’t brush it in. This allows me to setup virtually anywhere. I’ve bow-killed piles of gobblers from blinds placed in the wide open, some as close as 4 yards. Turkeys tolerate blinds, especially when paired with realistic decoys.

The author places his blind wherever he wants to and doesn’t brush it in. Many times he’s arrowed gobblers from blinds placed in the middle of a field with decoys 10 yards away. (Photo courtesy of Darron McDougal)

Since cover isn’t a concern, I position my blind based on terrain and visibility. If I’m hunting a field, I usually choose the highest point where my decoys are visible from virtually anywhere. Plus, other turkey experts and myself have noted that toms rarely approach decoys placed in a val-ley. In contrast, they’re incredibly apt to travel uphill to approach decoys.

Anther blind-placement consideration is the time of day. On morning hunts, don’t setup your decoy(s) east of your blind. Likewise, don’t place your decoy(s) west of your blind on afternoon hunts. Not only will it be challenging to aim at a turkey with sun in your eyes, but your movements also will be highlighted. Always place the blind with the sun behind you.

Next, place your decoys too close or too far away. If you place them at 4 yards, then you must determine before you hunt where your bow shoots at 4 yards. Because your arrow doesn’t correspond with your top sight pin due to trajectory at that range, it’s likely that you’ll need to aim with your 40-yard pin (depending on your setup) to hit where you want to. Also, don’t needlessly lengthen your shot at an already small target. Put your decoys between 8 and 12 yards away, and know where your bow hits at those distances. For me, it’s a slam dunk top-pin shot.

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3. Call Realistically

Don’t overcomplicate calling. I’m a good turkey caller, but I don’t carry a dozen calls. Often, I have only two mouth calls. I prefer them because they sound more realistic and reduce movement.

Not only is shot placement the key to bringing down gobblers by bow, but the author also believes large mechanical broadheads are the deadliest choice based on dozens of successful hunts. (Photo courtesy of Darron McDougal)

For sounds, I usually do a mix of clucks, purrs and yelps. My only strategy is to be realistic. In other words, I don’t yelp over and over with the exact same tone. I change the volume and pitch the calling in different directions to sound like a live hen moving around. I’ve encountered so many live hens and have heard so much turkey talk that sounding like one is nearly second nature. Always study real hens and note what they do that gets gobblers fired up, then try to replicate it.

In some cases, tossing leaves to simulate a hen scratching for food is the best call. Or, sometimes going silent like I did on the hunt referenced earlier speaks louder than yelps. Toms that’ll gobble their heads off but won’t budge are begging the hen (you) to come to them. So, if you go silent, sometimes curiosity kills the cat.

4. Place Your Shot Precisely

You can be the best turkey caller and make the best setups, but if you can’t put your arrow in the right spot, you won’t be a successful archery turkey hunter. Even though I’ve bow-killed dozens of turkeys, I still study anatomy diagrams every now and again. A strutting turkey looks deceivingly huge, and it’s easy to point your pin at the center and slap the trigger. But, that’s a fast track to missing or wounding turkeys.

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You can be the best caller and make the best setups, but success all boils down to one common de-nominator. Can you make the shot? (Photo courtesy of Darron and Rebecca McDougal)

What is the deadliest shot on turkeys? Arguably, a solid headshot is probably it. While I’ve killed four birds with headshots, I’ll admit that the head is the toughest target — it rarely stops moving.

On body shots, angle is absolutely everything. If you misconceive the bird’s angle, you’ll easily make a marginal hit. Always study the angle before taking your shot.

Regardless of angle, I cut the bird into thirds with imaginary horizontal lines — lower third, middle third and top third. I aim at the middle third or even the top third. While a turkey struck low through the drumsticks typically dies fast, a bird hit low and forward generally yields only floating feathers and breast meat on your arrow. Side of a miracle, you won’t kill a tom with such a hit, and even finding him for a follow-up shot is highly unlikely. Someone once said, “Hit ‘em high, watch ‘em die. Hit ‘em low, watch ‘em go.” It’s a good rule.

My favorite angle is head-on at 10 yards or less. On this shot, you have two definitive aiming references: the beard and neck base. Hit dead center above the beard or anywhere on the neck/head, and it’s game over for Mr. Tom.

For more on shot placement, visit https://www.mathewsinc.com/turkey-shot-placement.

5. Finishing Touches

Beyond shot placement, I can’t overemphasize how important it is to slow down and take your time. When a tom is strutting amongst your decoys, you have more time than you think. Aim precisely, and don’t rush. I made the mistake of rushing shots several times when I started turkey hunting, and believe me, it will cost you birds, even on what should be slam-dunk opportunities. Slow down. Slow down. SLOW DOWN! When he’s strutting for your decoys, he’s usually there to stay. Make it count.

When a tom is strutting by your decoys, he’s usually there to stay and will give you plenty of time to make your shot count. (Photo courtesy of Darron McDougal)

Here’s a parting tip: seriously consider shooting a large mechanical broadhead if your setup has enough power. Around 45 pounds or higher with a stout arrow will suffice. A large cutting diameter can forgive a marginal shot. Don’t be less discriminating with shot choice, but in the event that you make a mistake, another inch of cutting diameter can spell the difference between a perplexing blood trail or dead tom in the decoys.

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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 >>