Run-and-Gun Turkey Hunting with a Bow

While the term run-and-gun turkey hunting may invoke images of aggressive, sometimes even reckless, movements, it’s an effective strategy that’s spelled the demise of many longbeards. When employed properly, it’s clear to see there’s a method to the madness. It works best when you don’t know where the birds are roosting, if the turkey population on the property is sparse or when the flocks break up after the morning feeding frenzy.

Success for an archery hunter depends on the terrain. In open country, bowhunting on the move isn’t the best option. However, in the timber, especially with elevation change, there’s excellent opportunities for run-and-gun turkey hunting with a bow, as you can use the land to keep hidden while you work your way toward a bird. If you find yourself bogged down this season, here’s a few tips to meet him head on with success.

Pack Light

Take only the necessities and leave the sacks of decoys, extra calls and clothing at home. After it’s all said and done, you may cover miles on your search for a longbeard. You’ll want to be as light on your feet as possible.

Since you won’t be using a blind, camouflage is essential. It not only needs to conceal you, but keep you comfortable. Invest in a moisture-wicking base layer and a lightweight, breathable outer layer. The spring green-up certainly helps with cover, but it also means ticks and mosquitos are out in abundance. Treat your clothes with permethrin and use a Thermacell to keep them at bay.

Use a slate or box call to locate gobblers and a mouth call to sweet talk them closer. You often only need one hen decoy to bring in a gobbler. During the early season, use a strutter. As the breeding picks up, pair a hen with a jake.

Run Ridges in the Early Morning

Walk ridges at sunrise and listen for faraway gobbling while they’re on the roost. If the birds are quiet, walk 100 yards, stop, use an owl or crow locator call and then listen. Repeat until you get a gobbler to answer.

Start run and gun turkey hunting on ridges at first light to locate a gobbler on the roost.
Start run and gun turkey hunting on ridges at first light to locate a gobbler on the roost.

Once you’ve honed in on a roosted tom, sneak closer and set your decoys while you wait for him to fly down. Best case scenario, the bird will start working toward you, hear your soft hen calls and will see your decoy. But early morning hunts at the roost can go awry. If you’re hunting with a partner, have him set up on the other side of the roost. If the gobbler flies down away from you, he’ll run into your friend.

Search Timber Mid-Morning Through Afternoon

Patrol the edges of fields and timber after the early morning frenzy when the birds start to settle down. As the hens slip off on their own, the toms will start gobbling again. Use a slate or box call periodically until you get a response. Then, close the distance and set up your decoys.

Check the Roost in the Evening

Gobblers are typically most alert when they’re approaching the roost in the evenings, so approach with care. Once you’re within 150 yards of the roost, produce a few soft yelps. If you get a response, slowly ease closer. Hit the call with a few sharp cuts and then go silent. Chances are, the tom will come to investigate.

Choose your Setup Carefully

Finding enough cover to draw back undetected, as well as locating adequate shooting lanes, can be tough. Hide behind a big tree, stump, rocks or any natural cover while ensuring you have a suitable shooting lane. Set up your decoy(s) five yards past the shooting lane. It’s best to let the decoy pull the bird past your lane. Then, let out some soft purrs. As the turkey approaches the decoy, wait until you are shielded by cover to draw your bow.

Hunting turkeys with a bow requires practice, patience and confidence. You can’t have one without the other. Shoot 3D targets whenever you get the chance. Don’t rush toward a tom too quickly and pick your shots carefully. And let your arrow fly without any doubts in your mind that a well-placed shot is heading into the kill zone.