By Tony J. Peterson
The problem with bowhunting wild turkeys is that it should be easy. They are generally just lovestruck creatures strutting their way across the landscape each spring. Talking one into the decoys for a 10-yard shot shouldn’t be that difficult, but it oftentimes is. This is due to a multitude of reasons, which are all pretty much tied to the birds’ tolerance levels. Even lightly pressured longbeards have a low tolerance for mistakes on our part. Harder hunted birds, like those found on public dirt, are even less tolerant of our screw-ups. Obviously, the best way to bag your bird this spring is to understand what the most common mistakes are, and how you should avoid them.
Ignoring Travel Routes
Turkeys, like deer, have their preferred routes. This might not seem true when you casually spot a flock in the back of a cornfield in March, but that glimpse doesn’t tell the true story of turkey travel. Whether it’s a two-track or a specific ridge, or even just an entry point to the groceries, turkeys know where they want to walk. If you glass, run trail cameras, or simply hike around looking for tracks, pay attention to bird concentrations throughout the entire day. The more you scout, the more you’ll find areas that the birds use on a daily basis. This is where you want to hunt, because calling in a tom to a spot he is already comfortable walking through is a heck of a lot easier than trying to talk one into an area he doesn’t usually visit. Also, don’t ignore the fact that turkeys — like deer — use funnels and pinch points for travel, which can narrow down the best options for blind placement.
Buying Bad Blinds
Super cheap blinds are generally a poor choice for bowhunters who actually like filling their tags. They tend to let more light in, are noisy, and are oftentimes shinier. All of these things will work against you if you’re hunting remotely educated birds. Sure, you can brush in a blind (and should), which will cut down on the shininess of it. You can tie it up, stake it down, and generally try to keep it from moving in the wind or when you bump it with your elbow, which will quiet it down. You might even be able to tape up some of the spots where light sneaks in so that you can move better when a bird is close. Or you can just opt for a well-built blind that does all of these things for you. This isn’t meant to say that you need to go broke buying a good blind for turkeys, but paying up for some quality is worth it. Also, here’s a pro tip: Just like when buying a backcountry tent, go bigger than you think you’ll need. Even if you tend to hunt solo, really small blinds are tough to hunt from.
Faulty Shot Setups
I absolutely hate setting up a blind in the dark. Not only is it usually a loud, disjointed mess, but I often make little mistakes in my decoy placement in relation to my shooting ports. Setting up in the daylight and really eyeballing your likely shot is a much better bet if at all possible. In the dark (and occasionally during full daylight) I’ve put decoys too close, too far, and given myself too small of a shooting window. Any setup like this always sucks. If you do have to set up in the dark, don’t settle for a bad setup. Risk getting spotted to slip out and make things right so that if you do get your shot, you’ll shoot turkey vitals and not the side of your blind or a bunch of brush.
When it comes to decoys, we tend to focus on how realistic they look. This is a good thing when you’re bowhunting birds, because you want to put them in a trance. But even the best looking decoys can be set up poorly, which can trip a little warning sign in approaching longbeards’ brains. A decoy standing a little wonky, or a multi-deke setup that just looks unnatural can cause real birds to question the whole thing. When they do, their body language will tell you that it’s about to get a lot harder to kill them. To avoid this, think about how real turkeys interact and how they travel. They don’t turn their backs to one another duel-style very often. Hens don’t position themselves on each side of a Jake to stare adoringly at him. Real birds almost always travel in the same direction, and the boys are almost always last.
Rushing The Shot
A few years ago I called in a Minnesota tom who came in so hot that he bent the metal decoy stake that was propping up my fake Jake. That same spring, I called in a beast of an Iowa bird that took his sweet time strutting into range and it seemed like forever before he settled into my spread. That bird was a real test of patience, which is not uncommon. These cautious committers often get away because bowhunters draw too early, or try to shoot the instant a bird gets into range. Waiting is often a much better bet, because when toms do commit to a spread and settle in, they are highly killable. I’ve had several that let me shoot them twice while they were fighting my Jake decoy. Don’t rush it when you see a bird approaching. Sit absolutely still and allow him to size up the spread and really get in the mix. When he does, you’ll have plenty of time to draw and make a good shot.