Bowhunting Turkeys- How to Have Higher Highs than Lows.
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
View the quick clip before we deep dive into strategies for successful setups.
If I had a dollar for every time someone said, "I really would like to bow hunt turkeys. The problem is, I can't get set up or make the proper shot." Not only would I be rich, by now I would be able to afford and complete the super slam. On countless occasions, some of the most passionate bowhunters I know become shotgun diehards once the gobblers start to chatter.
I have been fortunate to travel to multiple states in search of strutting Tom's. Through trial and error, and the teachings of many successful bowhunters, I believe we have developed a solid grasp on how to achieve better odds for the spring turkey setup.
Johnny Brown left, Marc Rolfing center and Jeremy Ballantine right were able to clean up on Nebraska birds in two days.
At some point every turkey hunter has been setup on a gobbler hammering away on the roost. Everything seems to be perfect as the Tom responds to your soft tree yelps. Yet when fly down time hits, he goes the opposite way. We sit there, shaking our head in frustration, thinking, "what happened, this seemed perfect, why did he go that way?" While it may have appeared perfect, the reality is the bird did not like something from his vantage point or he had prior plans to travel in a different direction. Nonetheless, you just put yourself two steps ahead on your next hunt. Understanding bird behavior is foundational to the perfect set up. If you are where that bird wants to be, your odds of having a successful hunt will drastically increase. In addition to understanding bird behavior, you must have the patience to wait the bird out. Many hunts are cut short because the hunter is unwilling to abide by nature's schedule.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A DARK INTERIOR TO YOUR BLIND
While we were set up on this gobbler, I happened to make an error on my first shot when the bird was at the decoys. A quick set of yelps from Jeremy Ballantine held him curious to the set up as I was able to nock another arrow and execute a clean shot. The biggest factor in this set up was the dark blind.
On this particular set up my hunting partner Jeremy Ballantine watched the bird for several days by following a group of hens through a sugar-lot. The Tom traveled a consistent route, so we aligned our set up with his daily routine. Shortly after fly-down he came to half strut, looking for his girls as he approached the logging road we were established on. As soon as he saw those decoys he was locked and loaded. This is the critical point. As a hunter, you must play to his senses vocally, but also visually. At first sight of the decoys this bird went right into full strut and never stopped until he was 6 yards out. Unfortunately, the blade of my broad-head caught the corner of the blind sending the arrow rogue. While I licked my wounds, Jeremy immediately began to make hen calls and shortly thereafter, the Tom stopped about 25 yards from the blind (see above picture). Even though the deflection of my arrow initially startled him, he became taken by perceived love from Jeremy's call. Tom's heart, however, was then filled with an Easton Full Metal Jacket.
BLACK IS CAMOUFLAGE, AND EXTREMELY IMPORTANT
This tip is crucial and yet so simple. I will keep it brief. If you are hunting turkeys in the woods, you wouldn't wear black to blend in, so do not wear camo in a black interior colored blind. Always blend with the surroundings and you will see results. This includes paying attention to the color of your gloves as well as a face mask. There have been countless occasions where we have been still in the blind with multiple eyes on the prize. The bird cannot see us and instead focuses only on our decoys. Other times, we have doubled up on birds even when there was drastic movement inside the blind. If you are blended in with your surroundings, you will not be obvious to the birds. This will allow you to focus only on executing the proper shot.
There are TWO blinds in this cow pasture. Over 70 birds were roosted in front of us that morning. Pictured here, are two gobblers which we doubled up on.
Ok, you head to roost birds and happen to find the tree they all fly into, or have a general idea where they are. Without a doubt, preseason scouting can aid in the best location for set up because it helps you understand the natural behavior of the bird. Concentrations of droppings, preened feathers and scratchings are examples of what I look for. Your hunt starts the moment you see your next morning target tuck himself into bed. Where is the best location to observe him? How close do you need to be in order for him to hear your soft hen yelps and grasp his attention? While I don't have any evidence to recommend brushing your blind in, or backing it up into brush, if the option to do so is available, I always will.
I shot this bird in a 20 acre corn field with not an ounce of cover around my blind & multiple birds came to this set up. If given the option I would try to blend my blind to any terrain possible. Note the blind in the background. This bird and others were committed to the decoy set up in an open cut cornfield. He was locked on the full strut decoy and breeding hen for this set up.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE GAME- ARROW SET UP
On a Nebraska archery hunt a few years back I doubled up on two gobblers. Each bird presented themselves at different distances and would not commit to the decoy setup. The first bird fed at 32 yards and the arrow impact hit hard where his neck connected to his body. He was dead on impact. Within minutes, another bird was gobbling away 43 yards behind our blind and I was too chose to execute a shot. My arrow penetrated what looked to be only several inches and I watched him scurry away while being chased by the remaining flock. To my surprise, he died just out of sight. The moral of the story, hunt with a heavy arrow. I have found the best performing arrow for turkey hunting is an Easton Full Metal Jacket tipped with a brass insert and 125 SEVR 2.1 head.
Turkey feathers are extremely dense so do not underestimate them. I have chosen the Full Metal Jacket because it is the hardest hitting arrow on the market able to penetrate deeper and break through feathers. The SEVR broad-head I have chosen to shoot in a 2.1 cut giving me the maximum cutting diameter. Vitals are small on a turkey, so go with a big cut. It does make a big difference. SEVR Broad-heads.
When it comes down to the wire and you've done all the proper scouting, your setup will bring a mature bird or two in towards your decoys. Side note: I prefer to place my decoys 10-12 yards outside the blind. When the turkeys arrive, your brain will want to draw back, place the pin as fast as you can and execute the shot. However, what most hunters don't realize is that when you are blended in with the blind, your movement will go undetected and the birds' will focus on the decoys, affording you the time and cover to set up for the perfect shot.
So if you have wounded birds in the past here is your opportunity for redemption. Check out the following photos I find to be the most effective demonstration on shot placement. If you are dead set on a head shot only, one great option is to choose a full length arrow with a stiff spine tipped with a Magnus Bullhead Broad head.
Remember, this is something we love to do and fully embrace the challenge and the process. Most of what I have learned thus far has been because I wasn't afraid to ask other hunters for feedback and advice. So find someone who has experience and don't be hesitant to consult. Jeremy is someone I can bounce situations off of because of his success in bowhunting birds. I trust his opinion and perspective. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on the contact page. If you don't connect with a bird on the first day, I challenge you to learn something from it and make a change for your next setup. Most importantly, enjoy your time pursuing the game. Best of luck this season!
The following images are screenshots from a clip Hoyt Archery posted several years ago. This is a great model to show where the proper shot placement should be. A turkeys vitals require very littler margin for error. Knowing the anatomy of a bird will make or break your success.
The below 4 minute video was put together by close friend and hunting partner Jeremy Ballantine. These are some birds we have shot over the years together. Enjoy, and feel free to send any inquiries to the contact information on this page.