LAST UPDATED: May 8th, 2015
Your bow in hand and arrow nocked, the horizon in the Eastern sky begins turning pink and orange, the gobbles in the trees above tell you the game is about to begin. Are you ready? In this “Beginner’s Guide to Chasing Long-Beards,” you’ll learn six simple tips guaranteed to help your turkey bowhunting career more successful.
Turkey Tip No. 1: Do your scouting homework.
The single most important part of being a successful turkey hunter is having an idea where your birds are and what they’re doing. There is simply no substitute for quality scouting if you want to be a successful turkey hunter, but what is “quality scouting?”
Quality scouting is having a pretty decent idea as to what your birds are doing throughout the day, not just where they roost or where they feed. If you know where they want to be, you can be waiting at that spot before they get there and that alone will put the odds in your favor.
Finding a roost is the easiest part of scouting, you simply follow your ears to where the birds are before sunrise or after sunset. Turkeys love to roost near water, whether it is a creek, stream, river or pond. Turkeys also prefer to roost in Cottonwoods, large Oaks or other mature trees. Hunting the roost can be incredible, but often times the action is early and short lived as the birds move out. Turkeys typically fly down out of the roost 15-20 minutes prior to sunrise, sometimes earlier or later, but 15-20 minutes is fairly standard. Wind, rain and cloud cover are all factors that will affect how early or late the birds will come down out of the roost. There aren’t many things in the outdoors that are more exciting than sitting within 50 yards of a roost tree full of gobbling birds when it is turkey season. When the birds come down out of the tree, they’ll peck around for a few minutes waking up and then begin to strut for the ladies. The hens will promptly begin leading the toms (strutting all the way of course) to the feeding area where they’ll show up an hour or two after daybreak. Depending on the weather conditions, the birds may stay in the field for the duration of the day, but most likely they’ll take a little break to hang out in a shady location before heading back to the field (or other food source) in the afternoon. From the feeding area, they’ll begin to work their way back to the roost to spend the night. Turkeys will generally have several “roosting” trees in a given location; this area will almost always be used unless the birds are continually pushed off the roost or spooked out of the area before dark.
Using your Stealth Cam trail camera is a great way to scout for turkeys while you’re at work or school.
Turkey Tip No. 2: Don’t give up in the middle of the day.
The majority of bowhunters are deer hunters, and as deer hunters we’ve been trained that daylight and dusk are our best opportunities to harvest animals, and while this may be true with crepuscular animals such as deer, it doesn’t hold as true with turkeys. Mid-day and early afternoon often provide better opportunities at calling in a Tom. Sometime in the mid to late morning the hens and toms will separate, either because the hens are going to nest, or because the toms are giving up on the hens that are unwilling to breed. As the season progresses on, typically, the birds will spend less time together in the mornings and evenings because the hens that have been bred leave to sit on their nest. This is the best opportunity to call in a long-beard, this is the time during the day that you will have the least competition with live hens… and that is a good thing.
During these warmer, slower hours of mid-day, you can increase your chances significantly if you have an idea where the birds tend to “loaf.” “Loafing” is often times a shady area on the edge of a field where the birds hang out and pass the time. If you can place yourself where the turkeys naturally want to be at any given time during the day, you will give yourself many more opportunities as success, guaranteed. Calling a tom to a location that he already wants to be, without the distraction of live hens is the perfect scenario for a turkey hunter. Remember, your goal for scouting prior to the hunt was to know where the birds want to be throughout the day, so that you can beat them to that location.
During the middle of the day turkeys like to “loaf” in shaded areas, if you know where these areas are, success is just around the corner.
Turkey Tip No. 3: Don’t be afraid to use a push-button turkey call.
Turkey calling can be as exciting as it gets when it’s good and it can also make you want to pull your hair out when it’s tough. Fortunately for turkey hunters, we don’t have to be world champion turkey callers to get the job done. There are four main types of calls that turkey hunters have access to: diaphragm calls, box calls, friction (slate) calls and a push-button call. All of these calls have advantages and disadvantages over the others, but as turkey bowhunters, let us discuss the two best calls for bowhunting turkeys.
The diaphragm call (or mouth call) is the favorite of many experienced turkey callers because it gives you a great deal of tone versatility and it can be 100% hands free. When you need to make a cluck and you’re at full draw, the diaphragm call is the only call that can make that happen. You can switch out diaphragm calls for different wind conditions or just different sounds altogether. The down side of the diaphragm turkey call is that it takes, by far, the most time to become proficient. For beginning hunters, it is a great idea to practice the diaphragm from the beginning (while practicing the easier calls), but don’t feel like you have to take it to the field until you’re ready. Keep in mind, turkeys all sound different, similar to a human voice or the bugle of a bull elk, so you don’t have to sound “perfect.”
Perhaps the best option for beginning turkey bowhunters is the push-button call. This call gets overlooked by lots of people because they see the push-button turkey call as a “child’s” call. The push-button call takes only one hand to operate and has an almost fail-proof design. Simply push the button to make the cluck, yelp, purr, putt or whichever call you like. This call is by far the easiest to learn and sounds great as well. With a few minutes practice you will have all the skills you need to call in and kill a gobbler with your bow.
Turkey Tip No. 4: Patience equals success.
The number one mistake that turkey hunters make is being impatient. When birds are gobbling and moving all around, it’s easy to get caught up in the action and get in a hurry. The best example of this is when you’re calling to a tom that you know is close. You call, he gobbles, you call, he gobbles, you call, and he goes quiet. We all want to hear that tom gobble every time we call; it reassures us that he hasn’t vacated the area. Lots of turkey hunters give up when a bird goes quiet, big mistake. More often than not, the bird is expecting you (the hen) to come looking for him, and most likely, he didn’t leave. Be ready, sit tight and he’ll either come in silently or when he gets tired of looking for you, he will gobble. Don’t be afraid to give him 20 minutes (or more) of silence before making a move. Practice patience and you will bag more turkeys, period.
Bowhunting.com Staff member Dan Schafer excercised patience to wait for these birds to get into range.
Turkey Tip No. 5: Don’t overcall.
Turkey calling is fun, but keeping your calling to a minimum is best, try not to call more than every 10-15 minutes. Learn to putt, purr, yelp and cackle and use them in that order. The majority of the sounds turkeys make are putts (not warning putts) and purrs, then the yelp and occasionally the cackle. If putts and purrs aren’t working, then mix in yelps with your putts and purrs. Saving the excited cackle for a tough bird is a great strategy, don’t pull out the “trick play” until you’re in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. When you do get the attention of a bird and you can see him coming, quit calling. He knows you’re there and is obviously interested, if he stops give some putts and purrs to keep his attention. If you continue calling, you risk him holding up to wait for the hen (you) because you’re too vocal. The tom will be in range shortly, don’t push him.
When a bird is coming in on a string, it’s time to be quiet and pick up your bow.
Turkey Tip No. 6: Lower your draw weight.
Bowhunters often get caught up in the speed and momentum or KE that their bow setup produces. Obviously, turkeys are smaller animals than the big game animals that most bowhunters chase, and the need for speed and hard hitting arrows is little to none. Far more important is being able to hold your bow at full draw for an extended period of time, especially if you’re not in a ground blind. You may have one opportunity to draw and then have to wait for the bird to enter your shooting lane, not being over bowed will allow you the holding time to make the shot count.
Lowering your draw weight will allow you to hold your bow at full draw for an extended period of time.
Bowhunting Products for Turkey Hunters
Every magazine you pick up or turkey hunting website you visit has hundreds of products that you could spend your money on. Here are a few of the products that could be considered “must-have” products for the turkey bowhunter.
New Archery Products – Spitfire Gobbler Getter Broadhead
Avian X Turkey Decoys by Zink Calls
A-Way Turkey Trooper 2000 Deluxe Turkey Call
Ameristep Lost Camo Blind
CamoFX Lost Camo face paint
ThermaCELL Mosquito Repellent
Sawyer Permethrin clothing spray mosquito protection