Why do most bowhunters leave their archery equipment at home during the spring? I have heard numerous bowhunters during the fall say, "Using a gun is cheating". That same individual packs a shotgun into the turkey woods the very next spring. Self proclaimed "Bow Only Hunters" tote shotguns to the turkey woods because its easier. Period. I'd like to think seasoned bowhunters caught bragging about their archery skills would't be scared to go after a silly little bird with one too!
Bowhunters thrive on going the extra mile. After all, we are all in the woods for the experience. That's why we took up archery in the first place. So why take a shortcut with turkeys? It wasn't easy with deer at first. You shouldn't expect it to be any different with a bird with vision as good as a deer's smell; not to mention the turkey numbers in Louisiana are nowhere near the deer numbers. So for some, kill opportunities are few and far between. We tell new bowhunters that you have to be willing to completely give up your gun to get a buck with a bow. The same goes for their smaller feathered friends. So here's a few tips to set yourself up for success this spring while jumping in head first.
Like I mentioned earlier turkeys #1 strength is their eyesight. Not only do you have to be camo head to toe but it helps to remove all you super fashionable neon accessories from your bow. You've got some movement to make before you can kill a bird within archery distance and these wary birds can see in color; sharp, vivid, ultra HD color. So don't help them by bringing your fluorescent pink bow to the woods. I also recommend gloves and a full face mask, or facepaint if you're a makeup kind of guy. (sarcastic font) The next step in camouflage mastery is hiding your movement. Some bowhunters opt to use a full groundblind, or partitions to hide behind. These are great options if you're also packing camera gear to the woods. I prefer to stay mobile on a turkey hunt so I pack light and use natural cover to my advantage. I throw pine needles, leaves, and sticks in my lap, hide behind freshly greened bushes or low hanging limbs. Mossy Oak Obsession a favorite of mine in the spring as well to help destroy the ever so visible human outline. It has plenty of bright greens and a good dark base to keep you in the shadows. Coming to full draw while a bird with Superman vision is 20 yards from you is no easy task. Taking extra time to ensure you are well out of sight is the most important step you can take. Don't take shortcuts when it comes to camo and concealment or you'll end up watching that Tom trot off with his ladies unscathed by your arrow.
DECOYS AND CALLS
Many deer hunters have used decoys and calls only to have minimal reactions or in the worst case have spooked their target bucks; in Louisiana anyways. Totally different story in the Midwest! Either way most of us keep the calling curbed for very specific situation. For turkey hunting, your decoys and calls are a must! You don't stand a spikes chance in a Tensas lottery hunt of tagging out without being confident in your decoy setup and calling ability. Talkin' the Talk Custom calls makes the only calls I use for both deer and turkey. There are 3 main calls you need to know to get a turkey located and into bow range: an owl hoot, a crow caw, and a hen yelp. The owl hoot will get them to give up their location early in the morning. It's the first sound I make out of the truck. It's important to do this one first because you can be soft with it. If you have no idea where the birds you're after are roosted be subtle with your first hoot. They may be right over you! After the sun comes up a little or if I hear a gobble in the distance I switch to the louder crow "caw". This one will keep them gobbling while you're getting in place to cut them off, but be careful not to get too close when setting up. Keep your distance and bring them to you. Don't go to the bottom of the roost tree and wait. Sure that may work sometime, on a really dumb on unpressed bird, but our birds will take off from their roost and you'll never see them again.
As for my choice in decoy sets I usually go with 2 hens and a Jake. It has worked for me in the past multiple times so I'm sticking with it. I prefer to make the hens the focal point then have the Jake or strutting tom hidden and unnoticeable until the final approach of the live birds. This works to draw the Toms in thinking they've got it in the bag, then, "Oh Snap, Who's that guy?!" It usually gets them stirred up and ready to fight. The more focused they are on the decoys the less likely they'll see you draw! Once you are completely set up, THEN and ONLY then do you switch to a simple yelp. I prefer pot calls. They come in a variety of surface types resulting in numerous tones and volume levels. A slate, for a novice turkey hunter, most will find is easiest to "master". You can be much more subtle with it and you wont find find it tickling your mouth like a diaphragm call will do a beginning caller. Easily enough just pull the striker towards you in a few short tugs, " yelp, yelp, yelp " is what you should hear. There are many other important turkey vocalizations to be mastered in speaking the language but this will get you by for now. The worst thing you can do is start with a turkey call too soon and end up with birds spotting you or in your set before you are completely ready. Be patient.
It's very easy to over call for turkeys. Listen close to the gobbles. Learn to recognize what it sounds like in the tree, and on the ground. Learn to notice the minute directional and echoing differences when they're on the move. If they get lighter and it seems like they're going the opposite direction it's ok to ramp up the intensity or even pick up and move. If the gobbles are progressively getting louder and closer together a yelp or a cut here and there will be more than sufficient. They're probably already coming right towards you! Once your birds have arrived into your spread don't panic. Wait for a clear shot, move slowly and enjoy the show. Watching a turkey attack your decoy or come to full strut, tail fanned out and puffed up is one of the most beautiful displays nature has to offer. They don't leave good blood trails though so you've got to make a lethal shot the first time. Get familiar with the vital kill zones before you head into the woods. A good way to do this is by remembering , "Hit em high watch em die. Hit em low there they go!" Notice the kill zone when the Tom is in full strut appears to be lower; shoot even with the bottom of the wattle. Shooting high at this bird will only result in cut feathers and a broken heart.
The safest shots are either, take his head off, or shoot him square in the chest between the beard and wattle. (The red fleshy, flappy thing on his neck) Both of the shots will result in an instant flop and that's what you want. If it's a broadside shot I recommend the shoot and run method. As soon as you shoot, GET HIM! They are fast runners and a wounded turkey can get away in a hurry. Last but not least broadhead selection is key. In case you didn't notice the vitals are tiny on this mighty bird. You want as big of a cut as possible to penetrate those feathers and sever the vital organs in part or in whole. There are many turkey specific heads on the market, especially when you're aiming for the head!
I hope this article will give you some confidence and maybe a sense of direction on where to start if you've considered turkey hunting this spring, especially with your bow. Some of our WMA's are loaded with them, and I bet a few early morning visits to your deer lease will result in hearing a gobble or two. Good luck, and don't be afraid of failure. Take the lessons you learn and make your next shot a success. On a side note our neighbors to the West and North have an abundance of birds. Texas and Missouri are great places to get your feet wet!
Justin Lanclos- LABH Founder