Turkey Hunting — Traditional Style
April 08, 2016
No, this is not a recipe on how I like to cook turkeys. It is about my favorite way to hunt turkeys.
I'm not really sure if I love to hunt turkeys or if they are just the only game that is really huntable in the spring besides pigs, bears or fish. Either way, turkeys are definitely up there on my list of favorite animals to hunt.
Notice I said "to hunt" and not "to guide." I also guide turkey hunters, and a good number of my clients are traditional shooters. I think the reason I like hunting over guiding is because sometimes it is tough to watch a fellow traditional guy hunt turkeys.
I have learned how to hunt turkeys by making virtually every mistake possible, so I try to save my clients the pain of making all the mistakes I have made. Inevitably, however, every year I cringe a little as I see history repeat itself as some of the clients make the same mistakes I've made.
The first tough thing about turkey hunting with traditional equipment is getting into bow range. One thing I learned by hunting turkeys without a blind is that less is best. By that I mean try and make yourself and your equipment not only camouflaged, but also streamlined. For example, when I am hunting turkeys and I am just sitting and calling, I take the quiver off my bow. In my mind, those extra arrows and fletching are just that much more for a sharp-eyed turkey to see when you lift your bow for a shot. I am also a firm believer in full camouflage.
A watch, ring, even shiny-framed glasses can give away your position if you are not careful. I have also seen some great-looking recurves and longbows with shiny finishes on them. Those may look awesome on a display rack, but they stick out like the proverbial sore thumb in the woods.
I grew up hunting turkeys long before any of the "pop-up" blinds were used or even thought of. To me, a turkey blind was when you cut a few branches and used them to hide behind. I think because I started out hunting turkeys the old-school way, it has made me a better hunter. If you can draw on a sharp-eyed turkey, you can draw on anything.
Decoys were and still are a very important part of luring a bird in close enough for a good shot with a traditional bow. It gives them something to look at, and makes it easier to get away with drawing your bow.
Although I enjoy hunting turkeys without a blind, the fact is, in states where it's legal, a blind is the most effective way for a bowhunter to lure a bird into range without being busted. For guiding, blinds are awesome. I also like turkey hunting with a pop-up blind because the shots are generally closer and I can bring my kids with me and they won't spook every bird in a hundred-yard radius. Having said that, there are still a lot of mistakes that can be made while hunting out of a blind.
First, make sure you purchase a blind tall enough to accommodate your traditional bow. A lot of pop-up blinds are designed for compounds or rifle hunters and just will not work for a traditional bow. Also, while hunting out of a blind, the most common mistake I see is hunters getting silhouetted between open windows or screens. For a blind to work, you must have only one side open just enough for you to see and shoot out of. I also prefer to go with black clothing because it blends in with the dark interior of the blind. Additionally, I like to add some black camo paint or a glove on my bow hand that will be closest to the window or opening of the blind. Lastly, when hunting out of a blind, I try and take care to not face the blind opening east or west. If you are facing the sunrise or sunset, light will come into the blind, making you easier to spot.
I usually hunt out of an Ameristep blind with shoot-through netting. The netting helps hide you from their keen vision and really has no affect on arrow flight, provided you have an arrow that is properly matched to your bow. To test it, try setting up a target and taking a few test shots to increase your confidence in shooting through the screen.
Besides getting a turkey in range, the toughest thing about killing a turkey is knowing where to shoot them. About half of a turkey's size in full strut is actually bird. The other half is all feathers.
When I am hunting without a blind, I prefer to shoot a bird in full strut that is facing away from me. In this position the bird's eyes are hidden from view by its fan. I try and shoot right in the keister at that angle. When in a blind, I prefer a broadside shot. When the bird is broadside, I try and shoot two inches behind the wing butt. This shot will take out the lungs and put the bird down fast. Some hunters aim for the head, which can be instantly fatal, but I am not that good, and the head is rarely still. In fact, the head is usually the first thing that moves, so I like the larger kill zone of the chest.
For traditional archers, turkeys can be a tough target. I try and set my decoys close in, usually only 10 yards away from my position. That way even if they hang up a little, I can usually get a 20-yard shot. If they come right in, my shot is usually five to 10 yards.
If you haven't already tried turkey hunting with a traditional bow, don't try it. It is addictive, frustrating, and rewarding — a dangerous combination known to be habit-forming.