Beyond the blind
For a challenging but rewarding wild turkey hunt this spring season, head into the woods with your bow
A nice gobbler was slowly making his way toward me into bow range when a flock of jakes, fired up like a gang of angry thugs, came running down the fenceline and chased him off at 40 yards. The jakes then proceeded to express their high level of testosterone on my strutting tom decoy. Half of me wanted to arrow one out of spite, but the wiser half decided not to—I was on my second (and last) tag, and it was still pretty early in the spring turkey season.
After watching the jakes fight and gobble their heads off for an hour, I got out of my blind and started to walk back to the truck. Far off in the distance, a gobble echoed throughout the still hardwoods. That must be the tom from this morning, I thought to myself. I had tried ditching the blind to go after turkeys with my compound the previous season, but their extraordinary eyesight was my kryptonite when it came time to draw back. Still, I decided to try again.
Heading in the direction I heard the gobble, I cautiously snuck across a field to a ridge bottom, where I let out a couple of drawn-out yelps on my pot call. I got a gobble in response right away, so I set up in front of a large maple tree and began trying to persuade the tom into coming my way. After exchanging a few clucks and purrs, I could see him cresting the knoll about 50 yards away, the sun gleaming off his brilliantly coloured wings and tail feathers.
The tom was closing in quickly, and with my bow resting in a vertical position between my legs, I needed an opportunity to raise it and draw back without spooking him. As my adrenaline raced, the gobbler stepped behind a large boulder at 25 yards. This is my chance, I thought, and drew back my bow, anchoring it in position as I’d practised so many times before. As the tom appeared on the other side of the boulder, I released the arrow. Turkey down.
That was 10 years ago, and it’s forever changed the way I hunt turkeys. Bowhunting without a blind is certainly not the easiest way to claim your bounty, but if you’re up for the challenge, it’s an exciting way to spend your time in the spring turkey woods. Here are a few tips and tricks to get in on the action.
When it comes to location, private property is always best. Not only do you get the benefit of hunting birds that are far less pressured than on public land, it’s also a lot safer. Many turkey hunters are glued to fields come spring, but I’ve always found the easiest birds to kill are in the woods—and this is especially true with a bow.
When a turkey is in a field, it’s always watching for possible dangers while visually connecting with other birds. That’s why decoys can be so advantageous when hunting fields. They can also be frustrating when the birds hang up just outside of bow range, trying to draw your decoy to them instead. Hunting in the bush, on the other hand, is a totally different game.
If a tom is on his own, he’s far more likely to hang out in the bush rather than a field. And not only are lone toms far easier to call in—there’s no competition from a real hen for his attention—you only have one set of eyes to worry about once you get him into range. That’s a huge advantage when trying to draw your bow without being detected.
The bush also serves to severely inhibit the turkey’s number one sense—its eyesight. Unlike hunting in a wide open field, the forest offers trees, rocks, brush and stumps to not only help break up your silhouette, but to also provide cover as you draw your bow.
Gear & prep
Although the gear and prep work don’t vary much from any other style of turkey hunting, there are a few key items that will help you on your quest for a blind-free gobbler. Wearing a camouflage face mask has always been a staple for me when hunting turkeys with a gun, but I always go with face paint when bowhunting. That’s because the tiniest bit of drag from the cloth of the mask on your bowstring as you release the arrow can be enough to throw the arrow slightly off course. With chance for error already high, and when your target is the size of a tennis ball, the slightest deviation can mean the difference between a quick, ethical kill and tracking a wounded bird.
When it comes to selecting the appropriate bow, arrow and broadheads, meanwhile, it’s a matter of personal preference. Whether you like to shoot fixed-blade, mechanical or guillotine-style broadheads, the two biggest pieces of advice I can give you are to tune down your bow to an easy-to-hold draw weight and practise, practise, practise.
Since wild turkeys aren’t big game like moose, elk or bear, there’s no reason to shoot a fully torqued, mega-pound bow. Save your shoulder, and reduce your draw weight to as low as possible. You’ll have to re-sight your bow, but it will be well worth it—not only will you get less tired while practising, you’ll also be able to hold at full draw that extra bit longer. This can be a huge advantage as you wait for a bird to step out from behind the cover after you’ve drawn.
As always, practice makes perfect, and you not only owe it to yourself, but also to the birds you chase to be as accurate and persistent as possible. Get comfortable with shooting your bow in positions you would normally encounter in the field. Pick a minimum distance you plan on shooting and stick to it. I usually take a distance I’m comfortable shooting at in a controlled scenario, then cut it in half for actual hunting situations. When I’m well practised, I can shoot out to 50 yards accurately, so in that case, my max in the field is 25 yards.
Do some research and consult diagrams online to get familiar with a turkey’s vital areas—the head, neck, heart, lungs and liver—and the shot placement needed depending on the positioning of the bird. For face-on shots, aiming where the beard of the bird meets the body will make contact with the vitals. For broadside shots when the bird is in full strut, aim just above the knuckle of the wing; if he’s not in strut, aim right at the knuckle of the wing. And for shots from behind, aim right where the tail feathers meet the body.
When I’m planning to hunt wooded properties, I start out by going for a long walk at sunset the night before. I’ll try to cover as much ground as possible, stopping every 75 yards to let out a call on my box call in an attempt to get a reply. If I don’t locate a bird, I’ll start again at dawn where I left off, and keep walking and calling until I find one. But if I do strike up a gobble in the evening, I’ll immediately look for a good spot to set up in the morning.
When looking for a spot to set up, I first make sure there are no major obstructions, such as big creeks, fences or rock cliffs, between the bird and my position. Then I look for a large tree, approximately shoulder width in diameter, in an area that isn’t too thick with brush.
Come morning, I first take the quiver off my bow and lay it on the ground beside me. That way, the bright colours of the fletchings won’t draw any unwanted attention from a wary bird. I then use my rangefinder to determine the distances to certain major objects, such as prominent boulders or stumps, that I can later reference to gauge how close an approaching tom is getting.
When hunting with a gun, I normally sit with my back against the tree. With a bow, however, I’ve learned to place myself slightly behind the tree instead. I then use a pot call until a bird comes into sight, switching to my diaphragm for the finishing touches. Once I know the bird is making his way toward me, I quit calling. Generally, the tom will keep coming, searching for the hen. If you keep calling, however, he may hang up outside of bow range, expecting the hen to come to him.
When the tom gets within bow range, the tree will supply you with the necessary cover to draw your bow. Just be sure to stay calm and not rush the shot, remembering to breathe as the king of spring takes his final steps out into the open. And that’s when you let your arrow fly.
Crazy about turkey hunting and want to help give back to the resource? Consider joining the Canadian Wild Turkey Federation (CWTF). With the tagline “The new face of conservation in Canada,” the group launched in 2014 after the U.S.-based National Wild Turkey Federation closed its operations here. Today, the two groups work together to promote wild turkey restoration and conservation, the turkey-hunting tradition, and the recruitment and retention of hunters. “There are a lot of kids who want to get into hunting or older people getting back into hunting, and we want to be there to support them,” says the CWTF’s long-standing president, Terry Smith, noting that the federation has also been striving to expand its national presence. Currently, the CWTF has chapters in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, with plans for a presence in Alberta and B.C., as well.
Learn more about the Canadian Wild Turkey Federation at www.cwtf.ca.