May 21, 2020
By Brian Fortenbaugh
Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am super-passionate about two things: Hunting turkeys in the spring, and spending time in the outdoors with youngsters. So, the fact that I’ve been the host of our Youth Hunter Essay Contest grand prize winner on a spring turkey hunt (initially in South Dakota and now in Wyoming) for the past 10 years, has been a real treat for me.
All the kids, and some of their adult sponsors, have fortunately been successful on these hunts. And each and every one of them was an absolute pleasure to be around and hunt with — including our 2019 grand prize winner, Hans Miller, and his dad, Jonathan Miller, from La Grange, California.
Like a lot of the youngsters I’ve hosted, Hans was no stranger to turkey hunting. But what he hadn’t accomplished yet was to take a bird with his bow. I, along with my good friend and Wyoming outfitter Dave Nelson, planned to change that.
My hunt with Hans and his dad was scheduled for the first few days in May, but being the turkey “nut” that I am, I traveled west from my home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Billings, Montana, a few days earlier to try to kill a bird in Montana with my good buddy Dave Deming, who just so happens to have access to some beautiful properties about an hour west of Billings.
Unfortunately, Dave’s work obligations prevented him from actually spending some quality “blind time” with me, but he was kind enough to tell me what he knew about the local birds’ daily routines and where he thought it would be best for me and friend/cameraman Bob Theim to set up on one of the properties he had acquired permission for me to hunt on.
Dave’s scouting and advice was spot-on, and the next day I was able to convince a longbeard to come in to 12 yards, at which point I shot him in the head (one of my more impressive shots in recent memory, if I do say so myself). With my Montana bird in the bag, it was off to Sheridan, Wyoming, with young Hans and his dad!
The plan in Wyoming was for me to call for Hans, and once he killed his bird, I would then do the same for his dad. If Jonathan was also successful, then I would try to kill bird.
The first morning, Dave Nelson and set up two blinds about 10 yards apart in the predawn light. We were roughly 100 yards from a known roost, and once daybreak came, we were treated to a symphony of hens yelping and jakes and toms gobbling. Shortly after flying down, a group of birds took enough interest in my calling and our decoy set to give Hans a pointblank shot, which he made with near pinpoint accuracy. That evening, Jonathan did likewise on a beautiful Merriam’s tom — a truly great day full of memories for father and son!
With the pressure off me (I tend to get a little stressed until the winner kills his bird), I took the opportunity to hunt for myself the following morning. Luckily, the turkeys we had roosted the night before were cooperative, and from first gobble to dead bird was literally 15 minutes.
As I write this, I would love to tell you that our 2020 YHEC grand prize winner, Ethan Paulat, and his dad Mark, from Wisconsin, also experienced a great and successful Wyoming turkey hunt. But unfortunately, due to travel restrictions and health concerns caused by COVID-19, this year’s hunt didn’t happen. Don’t worry, Ethan was ecstatic with our Plan B: an awesome prize package that included a new Hoyt bow and bunch of other great equipment from our friends in the industry!
So, enjoy the accompanying video which illustrates the aforementioned hunting action. And kids, we will soon be announcing our 2021 Contest, so keep an eye out for it in our November/December 2020 issue, and make sure to enter for a chance to hunt turkeys in Wyoming with me next spring, as well as other great equipment prizes.
Setting Up For Success
I’ve killed a bunch of turkeys with my bow, although truth be told, they are the one critter I still really enjoy hunting with a gun. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that have helped me achieve more consistent success when hunting gobblers with stick and string.
Unlike a lot of animals, turkeys don’t give a rip about ground blinds. What I mean by this, is you don’t need to brush them in or set them up weeks prior to you hunt. The only thing you really need to be mindful of is keeping all windows and doors behind you closed, and wear black (shirt, headcover, and gloves) to hide your movements inside the blind. Also, make sure the blind is staked down good so it doesn’t move in the wind.
As for decoys, I like to use multiple ones — typically two hens (one feeding, one breeding) and a jake, or a strutting tom. The important thing when setting up decoys is to set them close to (7 to 11 yards) and facing the blind. The reason for the latter is if a gobbler comes to your calling and spies your decoys but doesn’t think the hens can see him doing the things he does in the spring, he will often walk between the decoys and the blind, giving you a ridiculously close shot. On that note, make sure you practice at ultra-close distances, because you’d be surprised at where your arrow impacts the target at say 5 yards. Lastly, I recommend shooting mechanical broadheads with a wide cutting diameter, like those from Rage, because a turkey’s vitals are roughly the size of your fist, leaving little room for error.