Let’s Talk Turkey: What You Should Know Before Bowhunting These Challenging Birds
April and May bring warmer weather, chirping birds, green grass and, of course, gobbling turkeys. Most states offer a spring turkey-hunting season that provides ample opportunities to get into the woods during beautiful weather to bowhunt turkeys.
Before getting started, check your state and local regulations regarding season dates, approved bowhunting equipment, and license and tag requirements.
Why turkey hunt?
Turkeys offer some of the most action-packed bowhunting opportunities you’ll ever know. If turkeys are nearby, you’ll hear a tom gobbling to attract springtime mates. This heart-pounding call will make your bowhunt memorable by itself. Meanwhile, spring’s pleasant weather, blooming flowers, budding leaves and chirping birds will keep you enthralled as you wait in your blind for that gobbling tom.
What do you need to know?
Whether you’re a seasoned bowhunter or are just getting started bowhunting, turkey season will quickly become your favorite spring pastime. Hunters can shoot only adult males, called “toms,” and juvenile males, called “jakes,” during spring hunting seasons.
The wild turkey’s breeding season runs through April and May, and causes males to strut and gobble repeatedly to attract females, called “hens.” A gobbling tom in full strut is arguably one of nature’s most beautiful sights. A strutting gobbler drops its wings so the tips drag the ground, and puffs out its breast while locking its tail feathers into a full upright position to form a magnificent fan.
Because male turkeys are vocal and aggressive during the breeding season, they’ll often respond to calling. Turkey calls come in many models, including diaphragm calls, which are mouth-blown calls that require much practice but are deadly because they can be used hands-free.
Another popular model is friction calls, which include slate calls and box calls. Friction calls are user-friendly. You make the sound yourself using a wooden peg, called a “striker,” to stroke the call’s slate or similar surface. With a box call, you slide its lid against the top of the box to make turkey sounds. In most cases, calls mimic a hen yelp, which is the sound female turkeys make while searching for a tom. However, some seasoned turkey hunters use a gobble call to provoke an aggressive response from toms. That call can lure in a gobbler that won’t respond to hen yelps.
When calling to turkeys, you’re urging them to search for the source of the sound. Decoys can sometimes help bring gobblers into bow range. Decoys are available in several options. The most common are hen decoys, which are what gobbling toms desire. In addition, jake and tom decoys can coax in aggressive gobblers that want to drive competitors from their turf. Experiment with different decoy setups to find one that matches the turkey’s mood. Passive toms tend to be attracted to a lone hen decoy, while aggressive toms often rush in to a hen and jake/tom combination.
Turkeys have keen eyesight, and detect the slightest movements. Pop-up blinds are useful for bowhunting turkeys. Bows require lots of motion when pulling them to full draw and settling on your target. A blind’s added concealment can make a big difference.
Turkeys have a relatively small vital zone, roughly the size of your fist, so it’s important to get the tom within a safe shooting range – about 30 yards, depending on the bowhunter – before shooting. Whenever possible, use a blind to conceal your moves, and a decoy to hold the tom’s attention while it approaches. Most pop-up blinds are portable, and easily set up and taken down. Those features let bowhunters move to different locations with little effort.
To start your turkey hunting adventure, check your state wildlife agency’s website for laws and season dates. Then visit your local archery shop to get the gear you need to take on this challenging bird.