Mobile Tactics For Bowhunting Turkeys

By Darron McDougalMay 6, 2024

In 2011, I had previously bow-killed plenty of gobblers from a ground blind, but I also spent countless hours waiting in a ground blind for something to happen while the action unfolded elsewhere. I’m wired to be curious — always wondering what’s happening over the next hill or around the next bend — so I felt that it was time to break the chains and go mobile.

One morning, I arrived with my bow and decoys at a private parcel enrolled in a program that opens it for public hunting. I carefully walked down a logging road that cuts through mature red pines when a gobble at the back of the 40-acre parcel put a skip in my step. Daylight was fast approaching, and I had to get closer, put out my decoys and find a place to hide 15 yards away from the decoys.

Mobile Tactics For Bowhunting Turkeys
When you’re comfortable with hunting from ground blinds, it takes guts to abandon the blind and go mobile. However, if you do it right, you’ll hunt fewer hours to get more opportunities be-cause you’ll be able to stay in the action. (Photo courtesy of Becca McDougal)

After all of that, I leaned against a pine tree, pulled up my face mask and made a few soft tree yelps. The tom answered, so I put the call down and let his curiosity build. Soon, he fluttered to the ground, landing on the logging road about 80 yards away from my decoys. 

He instantly started spitting and drumming as he beelined toward the decoys. When he was about 5 yards shy of the decoys, his head passed behind a tree, and I yanked my bowstring to full draw. He stepped out by the decoys and paused.

 My arrow flew perfectly and zipped through him so fast that he just stood there. Then, he walked just off the edge of the logging road before his lights went out.

I had entertained the idea of hunting turkeys using a mobile approach for years, but I’d been too scared to try it because I’d become so comfortable with hunting from ground blinds. With that gobbler under my belt, though, I had the confidence to hunt this way more. 

As of today, I’ve bow-killed well over a dozen gobblers without a ground blind. I still use ground blinds when I have birds patterned because they allow me to be more flexible with where I set up. 

But when I don’t have much scouting info to guide me, I usually hunt without a blind. This allows me to hear a bird and get close before setting up since I don’t have the additional cumber and commotion of a ground blind.

If you’re tired of sitting and waiting in one spot and would like to try a more mobile approach, consider the following tips.

Mobile Tactics For Bowhunting Turkeys

Harness Mobile Hunting’s Main Advantage

As I alluded to above, getting close to the action is why mobile hunting is so advantageous. There is a big difference between calling to a gobbler from 500 yards and calling to one from 100 yards. So, without the restraints of a ground blind, get as close as you can — within reason — before setting up.

This is much easier to pull off with roosted gobblers because they have reduced visibility in the pre-dawn darkness. You’ll still have to be very quiet as you sneak in, set the decoys and then tuck into a good hiding place. But, eliminating the commotion of un-bagging and popping up a ground blind makes the maneuver far easier to accomplish.

It’s a different story during the day. Once I hear a tom gobbling, I open HuntStand Pro on my phone and try to determine landmarks relative to where I believe the tom is gobbling from. I view the Terrain layer to identify ditches, creek beds and other natural features that will block the tom’s eyesight as I approach. I highly suggest having the app and using it to guide you as close as possible before setting up while remaining out of view.

Again, getting close before setting up is the number-one advantage of going mobile. Harness it.

Mobile Tactics For Bowhunting Turkeys
Utilize HuntStand Pro to map out your approach using the 3D and Terrain layers.

How and When to Move

A ground blind hides most movements, including drawing your bow. Hunting without a ground blind leaves you far more exposed. Not only do you need to be wearing camo from head to toe, but you also must move only at specific times. 

Obviously, any move you make — turning your head, lifting your binoculars, reaching for your call, etc. — while a bird eyeball is visible is susceptible to detection.

We’re naturally inclined to turn our heads to acquire a turkey coming from behind us or position for a shot as soon as a gobbler is heading for the decoys. We also want to draw back the moment a bird is by the decoys or even earlier. 

But, we have to resist those urges when hunting without a blind and simply freeze. There are very specific times when your movements will go undetected, and if you want to get your opportunity, you must avoid moving until these opportunities present themselves.

What does this look like? First, an ideal setup will have tree trunks, brush piles, or other eyesight barriers between you and the turkey as he comes in. When a turkey’s eyeball is obstructed by such obstacles, you’re afforded the option of moving. 

But, the opportunity is usually very narrow, as his eye might reappear a split second later depending on how large the obstacle. Another time when you can get away with movement is when a gobbler is strutting and turned away from you, which positions his head behind his fan. But, beware of other birds. 

If they’re able to see me but the tom cannot, and he’s in my decoys, I’ll go ahead and draw, but I know my shot opportunity might be fairly quick if the other birds spook. 

Finally, another time when it’s OK to move is when a gobbler is a blur as he beats up your jake decoy. As long as you draw in one fluid motion, you should be able to reach full draw since his attention is solely on beating up the decoy.

Mobile Tactics For Bowhunting Turkeys
Use whatever cover you have and keep a low profile to cut the distance, getting as close as rea-sonably possible before setting up. (Photo courtesy of Becca McDougal)

Decoys or No Decoys?

When I’m hunting without a ground blind, I don’t do it without decoys, and I’ve only tried it a few times without a jake decoy. With my movements being more exposed, I need the bird’s attention fixed on something other than me, and decoys provide that allure and distraction. 

I’ve bow-killed most of my mobile gobblers as they attacked my jake decoy, and most of them never knew I existed because they were so fixed on the decoys.

Mobile Tactics For Bowhunting Turkeys
Decoys do a great job of holding a gobbler's attention, allowing you the opportunity to prepare for the shot.

If you find that birds in your area are decoy-shy but you still want to ditch the ground blind, I suggest using HuntStand Pro to identify travel corridors or funnels near a gobbling turkey. 

Sometimes, you can identify them on the go as you approach a gobbling turkey. Hunt more like you would for whitetails in November. The goal here is to call and get the bird coming your way, then go silent and let him come looking. The terrain should pinch his movement down to within 20 yards, otherwise it’s not really a great funnel for bowhunting. 

Get Creative With Access

When you’re hunting on public land along with everyone else, it’s advantageous to consider opportunities for creative access. The goal is to go deeper than everyone else or at least come at the gobbler from a different angle. Think boats and e-bikes.

Hunting on public land fringed by water can make for good creative access. With a boat, kayak or raft, you can come at gobblers from an angle that most hunters don’t take. 

Mobile Tactics For Bowhunting Turkeys
Creative access via canoe, raft or boat can put you on birds that other hunters haven’t pestered too much. (Photo courtesy of Darron McDougal)

Further, most critters don’t feel threatened by water (except for gator country), so a paddle splash here or there probably won’t throw any red flags. In some cases, you might even be able to reach gobblers by water that are otherwise inaccessible.

In areas with sufficient road systems and where e-bikes are legal to use, you can cover a lot of ground — miles and miles — in a couple of hours. This is ideal for mid-morning and midday hunting, especially if you don’t want to burn yourself out by plodding around in heavy waterproof boots. I use my e-bike a lot for going mobile.

Mobile Tactics For Bowhunting Turkeys
The author with a gobbler that he bow-killed after riding his e-bike and then hiking 100 yards to set up on some roosted toms. (Photo courtesy of Darron McDougal)

If You Insist…

Everyone has different bowhunting skills, and some folks reading this will desire to try hunting mobile yet struggle to let go of a ground blind. If that’s you, don’t worry. There are mobile ground blinds that are lighter, not to mention faster and quieter to set up and take down. 

One example is the Primos Stakeout, which is a “shield-style” blind. It’s designed more for shotgun hunting, but it works for bowhunting, too. You’ll just have more narrow shooting coverage than if you go blind-less, but the flip side is that you’ll have a lot more concealment. 

Ameristep also has some net-style blinds that can help disguise you without hindering your mobility. 

Mobile Tactics For Bowhunting Turkeys
If you’re not quite ready to cut ties with a blind but desire to go mobile, try a shield blind like the Primos Stakeout, which is designed for shotgun hunting but works for bowhunting, too. (Primos Hunting photo)

Final Thoughts

One final tip is to hide the best you can without hindering your shooting coverage. At the bare minimum, sit against a large trunked tree. Ideally, look for horizontal cover (logs, branches, etc.) as a foreground or backdrop along with some vertical cover (trees). 

This will melt your outline into your surroundings. And, when you set up, draw your bow to make sure that you have clearance for your arrow, limbs and cams. Pay special attention to your bottom bow cam and make sure that it’s above the dirt.

Going mobile beats sitting in a ground blind because it allows you to go to the action rather than wait for it to come to you. With a mobile approach, I’ve found that I hunt fewer hours to kill more birds for the simple reason that I can stay in the action. 

The only thing that keeps most bowhunters from trying it is fear of failure by being detected and losing an opportunity. But, as long as you follow the tips in this article, you’ll run a lower risk than you think of spooking a bird. Break the chains and go mobile. What do you have to lose?

Check out Tommy Alford’s solution for a run-n-gun bowhunting setup in the video below.

Darron McDougal
Darron McDougal is a full-time freelance outdoor writer/editor who lives in Antigo, WI with his bride, Becca. He's hunted in 12 states and successfully taken elk, bear, hogs, turkeys, pronghorn, whitetails, and mule deer, most with archery equipment on DIY hunts. The McDougals enjoy all things hunting and shooting. They believe in God and love to travel.
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