The wild turkey is by no means a clumsy, overweight, waddling copy of its pen-reared domestic cousin. Instead we find a bird that can run swiftly and quietly, is extremely wary, and has eyesight superior to that of any other big game animal. Those who have hunted these great game birds will agree that they are not easily fooled. Calling, which is the most productive method, requires a degree of skill. Too many hunters may betray to the turkey that it is not the real thing, and the bird leaves the scene. The wrong tone will do the same thing. There have been instances when the efforts of the hunter with his calls brought the turkey within several hundred feet of the blind – only to have the turkey spook when that last call ended with a slight, almost inaudible rasp!
Other hunters have experienced those breathless moments when the turkey, although visible, was still out of range, only to spook the bird with some slight movement which many other animals including most whitetails would never have detected. The turkey did!
Wild turkeys travel in flocks, some of which may number as high as sixty birds or better, which may contain as many as ten toms. There will always be several older gobblers in such flocks, and they are the bosses of the group. The youngsters can easily be spotted by size. A mature, trophy-sized turkey will weigh around 15 pounds or better among gobblers, and 12 pounds or better among hens. Legal birds during the spring season must have a beard. This does not grow from the underside of the chin of the turkey, nor does it hang over the beak which actually is the waddle, but brows on the breast of the turkey slightly above center.
Turkeys can be driven into waiting hunters the same as deer, but this is not permitted in the spring gobbler season. When flocks are broken, the scattered birds can be hunted by walking and flushing the singles. During the spring gobbler season this method will not permit enough time to be sure that the bird is a legal male.
Where to sit
As with all hunting, those who take the time to check animal movement and feeding grounds usually are the more successful. Knowing the location of a flock, their feeding route, and having some idea of their roosting grounds is necessary for the turkey hunter. With this knowledge, the turkey hunter picks some natural blind to conceal him which also places him in or near the path of the moving flock.
As for the turkey call, only manual or mouth-operated types are permitted – electronic calls are illegal. [Note– check with your state and local laws to know exactly what is permitted during which season.] Hunting the wild turkey with the bow is probably one of the greatest challenge any sportsman can attempt. Not only is this game bird exceptionally alert and wary, but the time afforded for making the shot is a matter of seconds. The bowhunter must allow the turkey to come within extremely close range, is handicapped by a shooting tool that requires much physical movement to perform the shot, and must place his arrow in a vital area that is limited to about six inches.
Where to hit
The wing butt is the perfect spot to hit, as this destroys the turkey’s flying gear and also penetrates the heart-lung area, putting a quick end to matters. Should the hit be slightly back of the wing butt, but still at the same height, the arrow will cut the spine of the bird, usually grounding the bird.
Bowhunters should hunt in two-man teams, one working the call while the other partner is nearby for the shot. Prearranged signals will prove helpful. Sitting back-to-back permits watching a greater area. If either spots a bird, a slight nudge of the shoulder against the partner warns of the bird’s approach. A touch of the right shoulder “means coming in beyond on your right.” The reverse would indicate that the bird was on the left. Touching both shoulders would mean directly behind the opposite bowhunter. Whispers or any talking must be avoided, for the turkey not only can see well, but can also hear equally well.
Position in blinds must afford a degree of comfort, for the wait can be a long one. Openings should allow shooting without assuming an upright position if possible. The thicker the timber around your blind, the better the chances that a turkey will work into close range. This means tight shots through small openings, but will guarantee maximum ranges of under 50 feet as a rule.
Four-bladed hunting heads should be used. Bow weights do not have to be in the heavyweight class. Whether turkeys can distinguish colors is a debatable issue. The best insurance is to concentrate on little if any movement instead of the color of one’s outer garments. The many seasons that end without filling that turkey tag, when a hunting bow is your choice, are all forgotten on that eventful day when you bag that first gobbler with a well-placed arrow.
*Article reprinted from initial publish in Archery Magazine, November 1972 by the NFAA.