Contributed By Gary Sefton
Frustrating! That was the “cleaned up”, one word description of my early attempts at bow hunting turkeys. Thirty years ago, when no one had even thought about portable ground blinds or decoys or 80 per cent let off or mechanical broadheads or any of the other modern contrivances that changed bow hunting turkeys from the ultimate frustration to a manageable challenge, I was hiding behind trees and bushes and getting busted every time I tried to draw my bow. Times change and since then I’ve managed to tie my tag on numerous turkeys all over the country and in doing so I have arrived at one undeniable truth about bow hunting turkeys. Sitting by a tree works when you’re hunting with a shotgun, but when you are bow hunting a portable blind is the square root of “essential equipment”.
Some years back, I tagged out for the statewide turkey season but I had a bonus tag for a nearby “bow only” Wildlife Management Area. I didn’t want my season to end so I unpacked my archery equipment. I had tried bowhunting spring gobblers several times with frustrating results in the pre- portable ground blind era and gave up on it but I decided to try to take advantage of this opportunity. I was already an avid bowhunter and videos and testimonials from friends convinced me that a portable blind was a viable and necessary ingredient for a successful bow hunt. I had to see for myself so I purchased a hub style ground blind and set it up in the edge of a field where I had been seeing a flock of turkeys feeding on a regular basis.
Turkeys have historically been hunted via a shotgun but advances in modern technology and the equipment available has made it possible for bowhunters to be successful.
The next morning I climbed into the blind with my camp chair and took a seat by the window. I was camo’d up from head to toe, still somewhat skeptical and feeling a little too comfortable to be turkey hunting but I was thankful for another opportunity. Hen yelps and gobbles at first light let me know I was in the right place and I wasn’t sure how calling would sound coming from a blind so I just sat there. It wasn’t too long until the flock arrived, followed by two strutting longbeards. The hens were soon busy pecking around within 20 yards of where I sat while the gobblers hung back and strutted their stuff. The hens weren’t totally relaxed and seemed skeptical of the blind, especially when I moved to get my bow situated for a shot but they weren’t fleeing, yet. I was having trouble getting the arrow clear of the blind wall so I stuck it out the window to give me more room to draw. Big mistake!
Twenty pairs of eyes stared a hole in the blind, the gobblers went out of strut and the whole flock started slowly moving away. No alarm putts, no running or flying, they just drifted out of the immediate area and were gone. Since the turkeys didn’t dash in a panic, I decided to leave the blind in place and try it again the next morning.
That night I called one of my bow hunting buddies and gave him a play by play report on my first ground blind experience. He was surprised to hear the turkeys’ initial response to the blind was skeptical. “What were you wearing?” he asked “Full camo with gloves and face mask” I said. When I told him the inside of the blind was black he said “That would be a big part of your problem, you stuck out like a sore thumb in there. The contrasting colors made it possible for the turkeys to detect some movement so they got nervous.” He said. “I wear black head to toe when I hunt in a blind.” He laughed when I told him about trying to get my bow drawn. “You can get away with some movement as long as you keep it within the confines of the blind” he said “but once you get outside of the blind wall those x-ray eyes pick up on the slightest movement.
Standard camo is a big No-No when it comes to hunting inside of a blind. Instead, consider going for a more “blacked-out” approach. This will ensure that you blend in with your surroundings inside the blind.
Set your chair as far back in the blind as you can. That should give you room enough to get your bow drawn inside the blind. And one more thing” he added “A bow with an arrow nocked on the string is awkward in a blind. Turkeys will usually let you know when they are coming in so wait until you are ready to shoot to nock your arrow, that way you won’t poke holes in the blind or run the turkeys off and don’t forget to keep the windows closed on one side of the blind so you don’t show a silhouette.” Now he tells me!
That night I plundered through my wardrobe until I found a long sleeved black fleece Yamaha logo shirt, a pair of black nylon warm up pants and a black ball cap. Some turkey hunting outfit I thought; I would be better dressed to go to the gym. My wife contributed a black scarf to use for a face mask and I found a pair of old dark brown cotton garden gloves to complete the outfit.
While I was rounding up my Ninja outfit an inspired thought came to mind about the other standard item in a bowhunters’ turkey arsenal. Decoys! Why didn’t I think of them sooner? A couple of hen decoys could divert attention from the blind long enough for me to get my bow drawn so I added two Dave Smith hen decoys to my pile of things to take to the woods. The next morning I placed the decoys about 10 yards in front of the blind and a little to the left of where I thought the turkeys would come from. I then climbed in the blind, moved my chair to the back wall and practiced drawing my bow. I found a good sitting position that allowed me to come to full draw inside the blind and waited for daylight.
While shooting in a seated position, nothing compares to the comfort and versatility of the Hunt More 360 chair. It is AWESOME!
The tree yelping and answering gobbles that greeted me as dawn began to break was cause for a mental “thumbs up”. The decoys were where they needed to be and the open windows were facing the right direction. I did a few soft yelps and purrs, picked up my bow and nocked an arrow. I didn’t have long to wait. The turkeys came walking in at eye level from the expected direction and the two gobblers went right to the decoys. Things got a little tense when I inadvertently nudged my box call with my foot as I was drawing my bow but the big birds soon calmed down and I was able to catch a strutting Tom facing away from me. I made a perfect eight yard shot and when he piled up I celebrated like he was a gold plated Boone and Crockett. He won’t make any record books but that hunt was the culmination of what I regard as a trophy experience, the kind I will continue to pursue as long as I am able.
Hunting turkeys with archery equipment may seem to some like an unnecessary handicap but “archery only” opportunities are becoming more and more common as turkey numbers increase nationwide. If you are a serious bow hunter and/or turkey hunter you owe it to yourself to try at least one of these challenging bonus hunts.
What You Will Need
If your bow is set up for deer hunting, you should be good to go for turkey hunting. I have known people to reduce their draw weight for turkeys, anticipating long periods at full draw but if you are hunting from a blind, it is unnecessary since you can let down and draw again if you are careful. My bow is set at 50 pounds with an 80 percent let-off and I use the same bow for deer and turkeys without any adjustments. You can also use the same arrows and broadheads you use to deer hunt although the popularity of spring gobbler hunting with archery equipment has prompted several broadhead manufacturers to design products specifically for turkey hunting. Most of the “turkey broadheads” have a large cutting diameter designed to do a lot of internal damage in the body of a turkey where maximum penetration is not called for. I have had good luck with the Rage™ Hypodermic mechanical broadheads. They have a 2” cutting surface and they expand readily with minimum resistance. NAP also makes an excellent broadhead designed specifically for turkeys; aptly named the Gobbler Getter.
The hub-style, Ameristep Brickhouse blind has plenty of options and the “shoot-through” mesh will hide you from even the keenest eyes in the woods, or, you can lower the mesh and shoot directly out of the open window.
You will need a portable ground blind. They come in two basic formats; spring steel and hub-style. The spring steel blinds are lighter and “pop up” instantly if stored properly while the hub-style blinds, though heavier, are much more stable and versatile. The indifference turkeys display to ground blinds never ceases to amaze me. They pay no attention to this giant camouflaged mushroom that suddenly appears in the field. Turkeys don’t have many chinks in their armor but this is one that is there for you to exploit.
You will also need decoys. I have had good luck with one or two hens but the strutting gobbler decoys can get you some close up action early in the season when the turkeys are still sorting out their pecking order.
The author, shown here, with proof of the lethality ground blinds bring to the game of bowhunting turkey.
Serious turkey hunters hunt when and where they can and hard core bow hunters welcome a challenge. Since portable ground blinds have taken “stick and string” turkey hunting from the ultimate hunting frustration to a more manageable extreme challenge, the “archery only” opportunities are there for you to take advantage of. Get a blind, get your bow and get out there this spring.