Tips for Tippin’ Toms with a Bow
Every once in a while you get a bird that comes to the call like he’s led on a string. But overall, turkey hunting is no easy task, especially for us bowhunters. For an archer, it doesn’t get much more challenging than putting a precise shot on a bird that is probably moving and has a kill zone the size of your fist. Sitting or kneeling and then drawing a bow is a different story than having your shotgun propped up on your knee. I like to hunt turkeys with both a bow and shotgun, but, when it comes to bowhunting, there are a couple tools that can make the challenge much easier than the same tried-shotgun basics.
The type of set-up you’re planning will have an influence over how difficult it will be to get away with the motion of drawing your bow. Are you using a blind and decoys, will you have a buddy call the bird past you, or maybe you’re relying on natural cover and your hunter’s savvy?
A blind can be a huge asset. This way you’re concealed when you make the drawing motion. Overall, if I consider both archery and shotgun harvested birds, I’ve harvested more gobblers without using a blind. But, when it comes to "just archery," I feel a blind increases your odds for success significantly.
There are many companies that manufacture portable blinds that are light to carry and easy to set-up. When hunting whitetails from a ground blind, you’d better have the blind "brushed-in" and well camouflaged, or have it set out weeks in advance of the hunt. For turkeys on the other hand, it seems you can set up in the middle of a bald field and they will walk right up to it. If you don’t wish to carry around a portable "pop-up"-style blind, you can also use natural materials to construct a blind or make an "L"-shaped structure with a piece of camo cloth or netting.
Calling will likely be different for a bowhunter as well. You may use the same call arsenal as any other hunter to start the tom on his way to you, but once he gets close you’d better have both your hands on your bow and be ready to draw. For just this reason it’s a good idea to master a diaphragm or some type of mouth call.
The other tool I wouldn’t enter the turkey woods without are decoys. Where sometimes I’ll go without a blind, I never go without decoys. Decoys can accomplish a few tasks for you. They attract the bird(s) closer, draw the attention off of the hunter and can even be used as a yardage marker if needed.
I almost always carry two hens and some type of a male turkey decoy – jake or gobbler. That male decoy, I feel, is the key to bringing real gobblers in close. Now-a-days there are numerous full-bodied, full-strut decoys that really work well. Some of the good ones you have to look twice at yourself to tell if it’s a decoy.
There are several decoy techniques that will work. Before I started regularly using a blind, I used to try to lure the gobblers past me with the decoys, drawing my bow when they got behind a tree or when their fan obstructed their view. This can still be a great technique if you don’t want to lug around a blind and you want to stay mobile. It works especially well if you’re hunting with a friend–one tries to call the bird(s) past the other. This way the attention is directed towards the caller and where the decoys are. Obviously you need to know the direction the birds will be approaching and you’ll want to have some cover nearby so there will be some chance to draw your bow while their eyes are obstructed.
Another is a way an old bowhunter from Tennessee taught me many years ago. A strutting decoy is the main focus of this set-up. Place your hen decoys how you wish, but when you set up the male decoy, put it out about ten steps away, but make sure that decoy is facing you. Use a stick on either side of the decoy to make sure it doesn’t pivot and stays facing you. If you give them time, most often the gobbler will wind up in a face-to-face, full-strut confrontation with your male decoy. This will typically leave you faced with a "full strut fan" protecting your movement from their keen eyesight giving you an opportunity to draw your bow.
With a blind, set-up is fairly easy; however, there are a few tips to make it easier. If you know where the birds are coming from, don’t place your decoys in between you and where they are. Place your decoys off to the side of your blind at a 45-90° angle. If you place the decoys directly in between, the birds will be looking straight at you when they approach. Obviously, there’s the chance, even though you’re in a blind, they may catch movement or something about the blind they don’t like. Also, their tendency is to stop short and wait for your fake birds to join them. If you place your decoys off to your side, you still draw them close enough for a shot if they don’t come all the way into the decoys.
Regardless of the archery tactic used, where do you shoot the bird? Many tell you "right up the rear" is a good shot. In all honesty, if you’re not worried about ruining the beard or fan, it is a good shot choice. However, I prefer to wait until the tom starts to turn at an angle. Now there are two choices - body or head. If they’re close enough, a head shot is the way to go. If you think about it, their head is only slightly smaller than their vitals. If you happen to miss, there’s no wounded bird. And, if you hit, nothing puts them down faster than a broadhead to their head. Some of the specialized hunting heads for turkey are sporting cutting diameters of up to four inches! I’ve seen these decapitate a turkey… literally.
For me, the whole "essence" of turkey hunting is calling the gobblers into a set-up. Obviously, if that’s all it was, I would never take a gun or bow into the woods with me. So harvesting a bird is a goal, but not necessary for a positive outing. If you’ve never tried bowhunting for turkey or maybe you’ve not had any luck yet, a blind and decoys are two tools that will help you.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-inChief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.