I’m an avid turkey hunter who has lived for calling them in and shooting them in the face with a load of Hevi-Shot! This year, however, I’ve decided to take on the challenge of hunting them with a bow. In my experience hunting with a shotgun, my go-to decoy setup is a single hen placed 20-25 yards from my calling position. Should I use the same setup for bowhunting? -Jeremy M., Omaha, Nebraska
Your single-hen setup can be very effective for hunting turkeys with a bow; however, it is not what I consider to be a go-to setup.
I, too, started out hunting turkeys with a shotgun. I took my first one with a bow in 2003 and haven’t looked back since. I’ve taken lots of birds with a bow since then, and I’ve guided many bow and shotgun hunters. I’ve tried just about every decoy tactic I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve learned that while both shotgun and bowhunters rely on decoys to position turkeys for a shot, the end game for each type of hunter is different.
Shotgun hunters can often get away with taking a moving shot, and they don’t always need their decoy setup to position the incoming gobbler in a precise location. A single hen is perfect, because it is a nonthreatening setup that doesn’t usually spook less-dominant toms that might otherwise run from a male decoy. In addition, 20-25 yards is well within shotgun range, while still far enough away to avoid drawing undue attention to you.
Even when hunting from a ground blind, drawing a bow within range of one of the sharpest-eyed animals on the planet is a challenge. Unlike shotgun hunting where you can typically swing on a bird once it’s in range, and even if spotted, still deliver a well-placed load of shot, bowhunters typically need their decoy setup to hold and distract gobblers once they are in range. That often requires the use of a male decoy.
My go-to setup for bowhunting turkeys is what I call the love triangle. The love triangle consists of two hen decoys set very close — say three to five yards — at 45-degree angles.
Directly between the two hens, but farther out at 10 to 15 yards, I place a male decoy over a bedded hen. Sometimes I use a strutting tom as the male decoy, but usually it’s a jake.
When a gobbler approaches the love triangle, he typically locks in on the male decoy and develops tunnel vision. The two hens closest to me act as contentment decoys, letting the gobbler know there isn’t anything wrong over here. If he happens to catch movement, or hear a noise when I draw, he seems to write it off as just one of those two hens. If he makes contact with the male decoy, he becomes so focused you can practically do jumping jacks while drawing your bow. And even if he hangs up a few yards away, he’s still in easy bow range.
Of course, the love triangle doesn’t work every time. The key to consistent success always lies in your ability to adapt. When bowhunting pressured birds, or a tom that has proven he doesn’t want to fight, I will remove the male decoy from the triangle, or I’ll even go with your favorite single-hen setup. However, when you find a gobbler that’s willing to commit, the love triangle is an ideal bowhunting setup.