Outdoor Articles

Bowhunting Gone Turkey

by Pursue The Outdoors on April 26th, 2006 in Turkey Hunting

So you’ve never hunted turkeys with a bow? It’s okay. In fact, it’s really not that hard. Of course, it’s not easy either, which is exactly why so many sportsmen are giving up their shotguns for bows and arrows during spring turkey hunting seasons.

Bowhunting for turkeys IS out of the ordinary for some people, especially those who’ve spent more time patterning 3 1 / 2 inch turkey loads that travel 1,300 feet per second.

For those who’ve arrowed a turkey with a bow, or even tried, they’ll do it again because of the thrill and exhilaration. It’s a challenge that separates one spring turkey hunter from the rest. It’s the difference between choosing chopsticks or a fork to eat Chinese food.

“Hunters who have killed several turkeys with a gun might be looking for a new challenge, and bowhunting is it,” said Jason Gilbertson, editor for the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Turkey Call magazine. “While it’s not the most popular way to kill a turkey, it is one of the most rewarding. More people are going after their grand, royal and world slams with a bow because it is such a major accomplishment. That speaks volumes for the popularity of turkey hunting with a bow.”


This popularity is evident considering the number of wild turkey records submitted to the NWTF’s headquarters in Edgefield, S.C. More than 500 birds taken with a bow have been submitted to the NWTF’s wild turkey records since 1987. In 2005, 82 birds have been registered.

Get On the String

If you are up for an ultimate bowhunting challenge, test your mind, reflexes and patience by considering the wild turkey. An avid bowhunter for turkeys, Gilbertson offers the following five tips before heading afield.

  • Bowing Up — Make sure your bow is set up for hunting turkeys, not elk, not whitetails, not even wild pigs, but turkeys. Research the best kinds of broadheads. Many hunters use expandable tips because of the cutting surface, but fixed blade heads work just as well. Above all, shoot your broadheads before you hunt. There is little room for error when shooting at a small-bodied turkey. Bow holders help hunters free their hands for calling. It is much easier to run a hand-held slate call while your bow is propped in the shooting position, instead of working a call, setting it down as the gobbler approaches, then picking your bow up to draw. Reduce your movements when bowhunting for turkeys. If your arrow fletching is red, white or blue, change them. These patriotic shades do not bode well during the spring as most hunters are looking for gobbling heads, often with these same colors. For safety’s sake, choose colors from the spectrum that do not resemble an excited tom wandering through the forest.
  • Home on the Range — If you generally let your bow hang idle after the last day of deer season, your new home needs to be at the practice range before you head after a wild turkey. Simulate a true hunting experience by shooting while wearing a facemask, vest and other gear. Prepare to shoot from a blind and find obstacles like trees that challenge you to find shooting lanes. While every archer likes to stand 15 to 20 yards out and pop arrow after arrow inside a quarter, this candy-coated shot is a rarity in the turkey woods.
  • Holding Out — Consider lowering your draw weight. A wild turkey’s body is incomparable to that of an elk, whitetail or other big game. Shooting directly through a turkey is not always ideal. Anchoring or immobilizing the bird should be the main objective. After the shot, turkeys will either run or fly, which is why it is important to eliminate those options. A well-placed arrow in either the wing butt or the top of the leg (equivalent to a human’s hip) will be enough to immobilize and kill a turkey.

    Remember that drawing on a wild turkey will be the most difficult moment of the hunt. Unless you are hunting from a blind, a wild turkey will have no problem picking up your movement. A lower draw weight will decrease your arrow’s feet per second, but a longer, more steady hold might make all the difference in your shot placement.

  • Search and Recover — Turkeys will not bleed like other animals when shot with a bow and arrow, except if they are cut on the skin or head and neck. Thick layers of feathers keep blood droplets close to their skin — they don’t bleed like a deer — instead of falling to the ground or brushing against grass or weeds, making tracking more difficult. After you shoot a turkey with your bow, watch where it goes. If it flies, find a landmark where it enters the woods or other terrain. If you’re hunting with a friend, immediately show him or her the landmark so you both are working off the same point. Approach a wounded or fatally hit turkey like you would any other quarry, with caution. Do not press forward right away. Give the bird some time to calm down, or expire if you think the hit drew vitals. There’s no reason to push the bird into running or flying toward new cover.
  • Shoot to Kill — One of the most common questions among hunters who try for turkeys with their bow is, “Where do I shoot the bird?” There are three recommended shots that lead to high percentage kills.

“It is wise for hunters to study the anatomy of a wild turkey before they intend on shooting at one with a bow and arrow,” said Dr. James Earl Kennamer, NWTF senior vice-president for conservation programs. “It’s important to immobilize the bird. That is a bowhunter’s first priority.

Many 3D archery target manufacturers make targets suitable for both field points and broadheads (expandable, fixed-blade, etc.) Research different targets before the season opener and be sure whichever hunting head you choose, flies true to its mark.

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