"If they could smell, you'd never kill one." It's a statement we have all heard, and likely said, about one of the most instinctive animals in North America. The wild turkey, regardless of sub-species, can be incredibly frustrating, while downright fun to chase with archery tackle.
But if you're going to hunt these birds with a bow, you better have the right setup. It has taken years and a lot of spooked birds to figure out concealment, proper scouting and good decoys are essential to punching an archery turkey tag.
It's no secret their eyes are their lifeline. Staying concealed to get drawn within effective range is probably best accomplished with the use of a well-placed ground blind. It's been well documented that unlike with deer, it's not critical that the blind itself is well concealed or brushed in. The more natural however, you can make your ground blind setups, the better.
Some of my most memorable hunts have taken place out of blinds that were tucked back in cover completely concealed from detection. Whenever possible, I take the time to make sure as much light as possible is out of the inside of the blind. I also always wear black clothing and a facemask to disappear into the inside of the blind as best as possible.
Concealing yourself from animals other than turkeys can sometimes make all the difference in your success. There is nothing worse than having a longbeard fired up and coming, then half a dozen deer blow out sending him the other way because they got spooked by a ground blind in the middle of an open field. I have had to find out the hard way that cutting corners with blind setups can be all that separates filling or not filling a tag.
With the amount of ground blind options on the market, it can be a little intimidating to make a selection. Some key factors I look for are easy setup, window configuration and overall size. The hub-style blinds are typically my favorites. Setup and breakdown is fast and easy and there are many models with plenty of room for gear and multiple hunters. Some of the newer models come with ties or loops to make brushing the blind in easier.
Blinds created from natural habitat are a great way to really blend in with your surroundings. Like ground blinds, you don't get to move around much, so you should approach the setup with the understanding that you are committing yourself to a fixed location. This makes scouting and knowing how the birds use the property very important.
Evergreens, such as cedar boughs, make for great cover and provide for a dark interior, making it easier to conceal your silhouette and movements. Of course, utilizing whatever you have available on your particular property will have to work if cedar trees aren't available. The important thing is to take the time to situate the blind in the right place with adequate cover.
Breaking up your outline and having enough cover to draw your bow are the minimum requirements. Stock up on sturdy zip-ties or wire to tie limbs, brush or any other natural vegetation to comfortably conceal you and your movements. It's also a good idea to clear the ground of any sticks, leaves or anything else that can make noise as you get in position for a shot.
Bare dirt is silent and allows you to adjust and maneuver as needed. One of the best things about building natural blinds is that you can construct them to fit your shooting style perfectly and you're only limited by your imagination on the architecture. It's hunting and it's supposed to be fun, so have fun!
Finding the "X"
A potential downside of hunting from blinds is the lack of mobility. I have been in many situations where a quick adjustment or moving positions has resulted in a dead bird. When bowhunting from ground blinds though, that isn't always an option. This makes scouting and being on the "X" vital to arrowing a gobbler.
"X marks the spot" — there are no truer words for an archery turkey hunter. Success most often comes when you know where the birds want to be, so you can set up there or at least en route to that location. It's common sense, yes, but can't be overstated. Sure, good calling and a little luck are always helpful and can result in getting the drop on a love-sick tom, but I always try do what I can to leave as little as possible to chance.
I have found that trail cameras are great tools for identifying travel routes, dusting areas and scratching or feeding locations to understand where flocks are spending most of their time. From there, it's just a matter of choosing the most ideal spot for an ambush. Bottlenecks in fields, pinch points on ridges or any other terrain feature that can put a gobbler where you want him are great spots to key in on.
Set the Stage
Decoys are one of the final, and usually the most fun, pieces to the puzzle when it comes to filling an archery turkey tag. "You get what you pay for" couldn't be more true when it comes to turkey decoys. Have hunters been fooling longbeards for years using inexpensive, simple, non-detailed decoys? Of course.
There are always exceptions for any situation, especially when dealing with turkeys. But after a few years of taking shots on the edge of my effective range and at uneasy longbeards that seem to know something just wasn't quite right with the vaguely turkey-like structures they came to investigate, I decided to invest in quality decoys and have been blown away by the results ever since.
Ever since I ponied up the cash and got well made, highly-detailed decoys, my shots have been closer and the fooled longbeards have nearly always been completely distracted by the convincing fakes. I've been able to get drawn and settle in for an effective shot much more easily. Having the extra time for shot execution with their attention completely off me and my hiding location has made all the difference in my archery turkey success.
One thing I have learned chasing turkeys with a bow is there will be surprises. They are wild animals after all and they follow their instincts as well as any in North America, so they can only be predictable to a point. Proper scouting, attention to detail and the right setup can stack the odds in your favor enough to put you in range and at full draw of a longbeard this spring.