By Erik Barber
Your heart races as a nearby tom gobbles just before strutting into your decoys. As you grab your bow, you hear the gobbler’s unmistakable drumming and its wing tips dragging. Your hunt’s climax is about to unfold at 10 yards, and you’ll soon arrow your first turkey. If that’s your goal for this spring, here’s how to get started.
Scouting the area you’ll hunt and understanding how turkeys use that area is vital to success. Loudmouth toms quickly reveal their location by repeatedly gobbling. They’re most vocal just before pitching from the roost at dawn and after flying up to roost in the evening. Listening from afar at dawn and dusk is an effective way to hone in on toms. If you hunt near home or your workplace, set your alarm for a predawn wakeup, pour a thermos of coffee, and soak in springtime sounds as you mark gobbling toms on your mobile-mapping apps.
To take scouting a step further, watch turkeys in open areas after they fly down, and analyze how the toms interact with others. Aggressive or social gobblers that flock with other turkeys are more susceptible to decoys, while subordinate toms that shy away from flocks require careful coaxing to lure them into bow range. Shy gobblers might flee the county if they see an aggressively postured decoy, but toms that rule the roost might stomp into range looking to fight as soon as they spot the intruder.
A blind, decoy and a few calls are all you need to bowhunt turkeys. Used properly, a seductive yelp and a hen decoy will reel in a lovestruck tom, while a pop-up blind hides your movements as it approaches. Be sure to choose a blind that’s big and tall enough to let you draw your bow easily, and smoothly release an arrow.
For decoys, it’s hard to beat a feeding hen, which looks natural and relaxed. An upright hen decoy imitates an alert bird trying to identify danger, which can send a shy tom running for cover.
An endless array of turkey calls line the shelves of archery shops, making it almost impossible to choose between the box calls, pot calls, and mouth-blown diaphragm calls. It’s nice to have a mixture of each to shine in any situation, but you can keep it simple and be effective with just one turkey call. A basic slate-surfaced pot call yelps loud enough to cut a stiff breeze, and purrs soft enough to lure hung-up gobblers into range. Pot calls are easily mastered by practicing a few days before you hunt.
The last thing a turkey hunter wants is a bad shot. If you plan to hunt turkeys from the confines of a pop-up blind, practice shooting from inside your blind beforehand. You must learn how much room you need to draw your bow, and know how your arrow will clear the blind’s material to find its mark. Nothing is more frustrating than an arrow deflecting off the window as a fired-up tom pounds your decoy.
Bowhunters must also understand turkey anatomy before heading out. Shooting at 3D turkey targets helps you understand the bird’s small vital zone. If you don’t have such a target, study the turkey’s vitals online.
No matter what you do to stack the odds in your favor, turkeys are finicky and don’t often cooperate. A gobbler’s mood can change by the minute, and a keyed-up bird can strut into your setup and present a great shot when you least expect it.
Therefore, stay persistent when nothing seems to be working. You can’t kill them from the couch! Besides, spring mornings are a beautiful time to enjoy the outdoors, awaiting thunderous gobbles.