Bowhunting Toms And Bulls

Can you hunt turkeys the same way you hunt elk? Absolutely!  Public ground turkeys can be located with some twilight locator calls and some hustling.  If you did your homework and scouted the terrain, you should have a great idea where the turkeys want to roost and their transition zones.  Like elk, knowing the language and selecting the rights sounds at the right time are part of the game.  Pressured turkeys and elk are very challenging; knowing when to attack and not educating your quarry is crucial for success.  You can hunt both turkey and elk with methods like run silent run deep (my favorite), partner set-ups with sexy sounds or the classic ambush-attack via ground blind or whatever have you.  Let’s review each of these turkey tactics and how they can keep you tuned-up for the fall elk hunt. 

strk1You may not think so, but bowhunting elk has a lot to do with bowhunting turkeys.

I don’t spend a great deal of time hunting turkey in the spring; it’s usually my first harvest of the year with my bow and basically it helps me quench my hunting thirst.  Where I live in the beautiful Northwest, “over-the-counter” spring bear is what really makes me tick.  By the time the turkey opener has arrived, most bears are starting to think about coming out of hibernation.  So in fact, I have about a week to get my turkey fix and transition to the spring bear program.  In those seven days I put forth a tremendous effort to get myself, my wife, and at least one rookie hunter within range of a turkey.  The organic meat is a big deal as is the time spent with my lady and friends. 


Wild turkey is some of the best tasting meat you will have. If you haven’t tried it you don’t know what you’re missing.

I challenge everyone reading this to take a kid or yuppie friend out this year to get their turkey tag punched; it’s how we keep our heritage alive and gain more awareness for our pure sport of hunting.  When I first took my wife a few years back, I pretty much let her have my best spot and first crack.  She missed about three strutting Toms at close range and got her first dose of turkey fever.  Since then she’s put arrows through a couple of Toms (all on video) and we made some terrific memories together. 

sturk3Turkey hunting is a great opportunity to introduce someone to hunting. There can never be too many bowhunters.

If you are taking a greenhorn out, have them practice on a turkey target so they can learn the extremely small window that turkey vitals offer.  Turkeys are not going to die unless you hit them perfect.  While prepping my wife for her hunt I had her practice shooting out of a blind and from her knees with an elevated heart rate.  To do this, have your rookie complete about 10 push-ups then draw from their knees or a seated position and shoot.  If you fail to practice shooting out of a blind you’re going to diminish your chances of a well executed shot when the time comes to do it for real.

Run Silent Run DeepI got this term from an article that Randy Ulmer wrote on elk hunting years back.  The Cliff Notes version is to basically put your calls away and sneak in on elk  this is precisely how I have killed my 10+ public ground bulls in the last few years and I do the same with turkeys.  Leave your blind at home and get on your feet.  Slither within range of a flock and stay tucked away at all times as a turkey’s vision is second to none.  Unlike elk hunting, turkeys cannot smell you so detection is limited to your movements and ability to stay hidden.  When closing the distance on an unsuspecting bull or Tom, drawing your bow back without detection is an art.  I really like practicing slow and smooth draws at home plus timing how long I can stay at full draw to make myself game ready for the woods.  This stealthy way of hunting turkeys has a high degree of transferability to the elk woods  employ it this year in the name of better elk hunting.


The author (pictured above) poses with a fine turkey he shot while incorporating the tactics mentioned here.

Partner Set-UpCalling a turkey or bull into range is a blood pumping event that always tests the shooter’s resolve under pressure.  Obviously you need a great caller and a cooperating quarry.  Just like elk hunting you want to set your shooter(s) up ahead of you, probably at least 50 yards ahead.  I like to have one caller and two shooters forming the infamous “Flying V” set up.  This maximizes shooting lanes and overall effectiveness of your set-up.  Hopefully your caller can read the situation and coax the longbeard into range, the best time to call a big Tom is probably later in the day when the hens have dispersed to their nests and the lonely Tom is vulnerable.  The adolescent Jake’s will be on the hunt for companionship so be aware of the satellite bulls and Jake’s, they come from the same vein of desperation. 

AmbushThe ground blind is a valuable tool – years back it was a $400 investment, now you can pick up a solid unit within the $100-200 range.  I would put your yuppie greenhorn in the blind for their first hunt and set out a couple of decoys; perhaps two hens and a Jake.  Brush in your blind and if you can put your blind in the woods a few days before this will insure the turkeys won’t catch on to what you’re trying to do.  Don’t open up every window in your blind either and only open perhaps one or two shooting windows; and don’t forget to be dressed head-to-toe in black. Rake the ground free of brush so you can minimize sound detection from the blind and get some comfortable seats for your backside.  You can call from the blind as well, or just sit back and be patient.  If you put in your time in a high traffic turkey corridor, it’s just a matter of waiting for the shot. 



If you’re taking a “first time” hunter with you, do your best to make sure the experience is a good one. That doesn’t always mean a tag must be filled either.

Turkeys and elk are fun to hunt and a great excuse to get outside.  If you’re new to calling make sure to pick up a few reeds and practice the clucks and chirps before the opener.  I usually practice calling in my truck on the way to work each morning to fine tune the sounds.  I always hunt elk and turkey with a reed in my mouth and if a shot opportunity does arise you want to be able make a few sounds to keep your target at bay while you execute your shot.  Make sure to take that neighbor kid whose dad doesn’t hunt. It is up to us to continue the fine tradition of turkey hunting.  It will be a memory of a lifetime for both of you, and I guarantee that you’ll be just as pumped as them when that Tom hits the dirt.

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