Q: I have been bowhunting spring gobblers for several years, with no luck. What can I do to improve my chances?
J. Clark, via e-mail
A: Turkey hunting can leave even the best bowhunters frustrated. With that said, stick with it, because when that arrow connects on your first strutter, you will be hooked. Over the years, I have developed several tactics that have helped me find success on a regular basis.
Decoys have improved a lot since I first started hunting turkeys. Realistic full-body tom/jake decoys have proven to be most effective for coaxing in longbeards. My setup consists of a jake and hen combo 90 percent of the time. Adding movement to my decoy spread has proven deadly. In fact, I have killed birds with just a tail fan on a stake that can be raised and lowered by a drawstring. A real fan works best, but a manufactured tail fan will also work because the added movement is the key factor.
Hunting out of a ground blind is a game-changer if you haven't been using one. Turkeys aren't alarmed by the blind, so you can confidently set up in the open where birds spend time strutting. The ground blind covers your movement and allows you to relax, as compared to sitting motionless against a tree. Set your decoys facing the blind, eight to 10 yards away, so leery birds are less intimidated. And if they do hang up, they are still within range.
It will be much more difficult, but you can still find success without a blind. Learn to draw your bow with limited motion, and position your decoys where the bird will approach behind cover. Timing the draw is crucial to success. If the bird is in strut, draw when he turns and faces away from you. Multiple birds coming into your decoys will increase the difficulty of drawing undetected.
While scouting to locate birds, identify roost areas, strut zones, and frequent travel routes. Document times you see birds in each area, and set up accordingly. When birds are pressured, they will change their patterns, so reevaluate and adapt your plan of attack. I love to set up near strut zones where the decoys will be highly visible to any traveling birds.
The latest craze in turkey hunting involves using a full-body tom decoy as cover to stalk strutting toms. I have been using a tail fan to do this for years with great success. This tactic defies all the rules of turkey hunting. Movement is usually a deal-breaker. But when "fanning," as I call it, movement can trigger a response, and the bird may charge. For best results, use the topography to approach within 100 yards before showing the fan. This style of hunting is unorthodox, but it is exciting. If you decide to try fanning, make sure to take every safety precaution, preferably hunting in an archery-only season.
The next challenge is making the shot. It is very easy to rush the shot on any animal, but especially so on turkeys. I attribute this to their flighty nature, and our own belief that they may spook at any moment. Typically, you have time to concentrate on making the arrow count. Study a diagram of turkey anatomy and where to aim. Straight up from the legs, regardless of angle, is usually good advice. Due to their small vital area, I use mechanical broadheads with a large cutting diameter to inflict more damage.
I have purposely saved the topic of calling for last. It is part of every turkey hunt, but it is easy to overanalyze. Pick out a call that you are comfortable using, and then learn the basic sounds. Success leads to confidence when calling. I am an aggressive caller, and I have learned when to crank it up loud and when to back off. The only way to learn what works for you is to use your call, so don't be afraid of messing up. Real birds sound less than stellar more often than not.
I wish I could tell you there will never be times of frustration when bowhunting gobblers, but unfortunately that isn't true. However, these tactics have all helped further my success each spring, and hopefully they will lead to success for you, too. Good Luck! ®®®
— Matt Palmquist, Contributor