There are unique challenges you are likely to face as a bow-toting turkey hunter, ones that will send you back to the truck with the weight of an unfilled tag instead of a gobbler slung over your shoulder more times than not. That’s turkey hunting, and we often learn from experiences in the spring woods. Yet, we hope this article with turkey hunting tips from pros will straighten the learning curve.
1. When Gobblers Go Silent, Trust your Scouting
There are many reasons longbeards go silent. The competition for hens may have dwindled. Hunting pressure might have taught them to keep their mouths shut. Or they might just be in a bad mood. Running-and-gunning is going to be tough when the woods aren’t reverberating with gobbles. If we don’t get a response first thing in the morning, we may get a sense that it’s going to be a quiet day. Do this instead:
Get to a field or open woodlot where hens feed and longbeards strut. Set up a hen decoy and wait. Make a few yelps every thirty minutes. It may take a while for a bird to show up, so be patient.
“Nobody really knows why, but there are some days when the birds just won't gobble, and you'd swear there isn’t a turkey within 10 miles,” said Bob Humphrey in the book, Turkey Hunting: Use The Secrets Of The Pros To Bag More Birds. “We know better. Just because they don’t gobble, doesn’t mean they’re not there. You should already know this from scouting; if you've seen birds in the area recently or noticed fresh sign, there's a good chance there are turkeys within hearing distance. Park your carcass and start calling.”
2. Try These Four Tactics For Hunting Henned-Up Toms
Henned-up gobblers tend to put bowhunters in a head-scratching dilemma. For one thing, you have to get close to a group of birds, which means more eyes and ears. Also, it’s hard to pull a gobbler away from the real thing, no matter how good your calling sounds or decoys look. Hope is not lost, though. Here are the ABCs of dealing with these stubborn birds:
A. Call like a mean girl.
If your target bird is with a hen, get her to lead the gobbler to you. Start with very-soft yelps and clucks until the hen responds. Then, lay it on thick by mimicking and cutting off her calls.
This is what CJ Davis, president of Montana Decoy, tries first.
“Everyone has an opinion on what works best and why, but there is no tried-and-true method for decoying and calling turkeys away from hens,” said Davis. “There are tactics that work sometimes, though. And sometimes is better than never in the turkey woods, especially when the season is short and a hunter is almost guaranteed to be challenged by henned-up gobblers. I try to call-in the boss hen in the morning and hope she brings in any gobblers on her tail.”
If that doesn’t work, Davis moves on to “plan B.”
B. Circle Ahead of the Flock and Cut Them Off Before They Reach Their Destination.
Turkeys typically have a destination in mind even if they seem oblivious to their surroundings. Try to determine where that is and get in front of the bird(s) to cut him off.
If you don’t connect with the tom down the trail, try the next tactic.
C. Come Back Later
Hens will mingle and feed with toms in the morning, but head to the nest in the afternoon, leaving the gobbler lonely. That’s when you can move in on his known strut zone and serenade him with calls and a single hen decoy.
D. Challenge Him with A Tom Decoy
“Rarely will a gobbler leave multiple hens just to add one more,” said Antler Geeks, Tony Hansen. “The presence of a threat is the best way to turn a docile lover into a spitting and drumming fool.”
If you are hunting with a buddy, slide a reaping decoy out of your vest and have your buddy flash it while you remain in a shooting position. When that bluish white head turns to red and raises up, hit the gobble call a couple of times to invoke an aggressive attitude. It’s like saying, “I’m here for your ladies and you can kiss my butt if you don’t like it.” Most times, a dominant gobbler will resent this kind of foolery and charge into bow range.
3. Use Decoys to Guide Gobblers to Your Shooting Lane
Failing to shoot a bird because you had no shooting lane is a tough pill to swallow. Yet, it happens a lot because most bowhunters try hard to ensure a turkey won’t see them when drawing. We bury ourselves in thick cover. Whether you are hunting from a ground blind or a natural blind, make sure you have lanes. Carry a pair of pruners in your pack to trim branches and use decoys to steer the longbeard into those lanes. Just be sure the decoys won’t interfere with a shot.
Utilize the decoy setup known as the "Love Triangle." This is one or two hens and a jake decoy set up at ten yards. An ol' tom will almost always circle the jake decoy to approach it head on. With the right setup, this will put him in your shooting lane for a perfect shot. Here’s how it looks on video (and note the job the Jak-Hammer does on this bird!):
4. Practice Awkward Shooting Positions
A pop-up blind is really the best tool a bowhunter can use to stay concealed. The problem is, they don’t fit every hunter’s style of hunting. There are times you need mobility in the spring woods and shoot from a natural hunting blind. As you are waiting for a gobbler to show up, plan the draw. Maybe it’s when he steps behind a tree or turns to approach a decoy. Either way, practice and get comfortable drawing back our bow in a few different positions and holding it back for a minute or so. We love the ground-hunting tip below from Will Brantley of Field and Stream.
5. Play the Wind on Blustery Days
Yes, can’t detect scent, but when the wind blows, it distorts your calls and makes it hard to hear a gobbler’s response. Wind also makes your decoys spin like a top. Don’t go through your usual routine and chalk up failure to the wind. Change your tactics and you will have a fighting chance to kill a turkey when the wind is blowing.
First, consider a turkey’s defense mechanisms against their prey. Everyone knows turkeys have phenomenal eyesight, and they can hear really well too. So once they fly down from the roost, they are likely headed toward an area they can hear well (lower elevation areas such as creek bottoms, hollows and depressions) or places they can see well, such as open fields.
“Sometimes you might just be able to pick out a single distant gobble as the wind ebbs and flows past your position,” said turkey hunting guru Steve Hickoff in his article “How to Kill Turkeys in Any Weather.” “Listen hard at the bottom of a big gust of wind. Make your calls then too. If you get one to gobble, lock in on that position and hustle to it. And always assume the bird has answered you more than you've actually heard. Turkeys are easy to bump when it's windy.”
6. Hang a Hung Up Gobbler with Help From a Jake Decoy
A gobbler will hang up outside of bow range because he is looking for what he can hear, but can’t see. Or maybe he sees your hen decoy, but expects the hen to come to him. Either way, getting a turkey to come into your calls and then watching him stall 80 yards out is frustrating. Using a jake instead of a hen decoy and setting it up may be your best bet to seal the deal.
“When toms are just strutting, I like to use a single jake decoy set up 15 yards out and offset with my blind,” said CJ Davis. “My calls give the tom the impression that a flirtatious hen is nearby, but he’ll have to deal with my decoy first, which often means he can’t hang back like he’s used to doing, and he charges into bow range.”
7. If You Oversleep, Hunt the 10:00-2:00 Shift
After the first couple weeks of turkey season have run us ragged, we may hit the snooze button on the alarm one too many times… or sleep through it completely thanks to our zombie state. While there is no better way to locate a turkey than hearing him gobble from the roost and fly down, the day is not lost. In fact, the 10:00 am-2:00 pm shift can be just as productive as the dawn hours.
We caught up with Leigh and Travis Creekbaum from The Chase TV. Though we doubt they ever oversleep, they do switch tactics as the morning progresses.
“If the property contains fields, we prefer to go there in the mid-morning or afternoon and even if there are no birds in view, set up on the edge with our Montana Decoys and periodically call,” said Leigh Creekbaum. “Gobblers often have areas in the woods, where there is good visibility, that they will go to strut and show off for the ladies. Once you learn where those areas are on a property, success is imminent.”
Travis Creekbaum goes on to say that late morning hunts can give a hunter great odds to pluck feathers during the latter part of the season:
“Later in spring, as the hens begin to sit on the nest for much of the day, late morning can be extremely rewarding. This typically happens the second half of our season in Alabama,” said Creekbaum. “At such point, if you get a gobbler to answer late in the morning, you have a 90% chance of calling that bird in, and often it happens very quickly. He's lonely and you are in perfect position to take him.”