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April 21, 2023
If you’re looking forward to having a great time with bowhunting turkeys in the upcoming season, now is the time to start preparing for your next adventure in the turkey woods.
Bowhunting turkeys are unlike using archery equipment for big game in many different ways, and this discussion will focus on chasing gobblers in the spring — the most popular time to hunt these big birds.
Of course, just like hunting deer or other big game, your equipment choices for turkeys will sometimes make or break your chances for success. Read on to learn about essential hunting equipment for bowhunting turkeys and how to use your gear to your greatest advantage.
Bowhunting turkeys are generally done by finding areas birds use regularly and then setting up and waiting before calling them into bow range. The calling takes a lot of practice and skill, so it’s best to do your homework in this department.
Researching online or watching YouTube videos is a great place to learn what sounds to make and when to make them. Here is an excellent video on the HECS Youtube channel on this topic. Be sure to subscribe to the page to stay up to date!
If you have a good turkey caller in your area, see if they can help you. The good news is that the basic sounds and concepts are easy for most people to master. You don’t need to know every fancy call to be successful. Just an essential hen yelp and clucks will be enough to start.
If you’re new to bowhunting, consider signing up for bowhunter education and safety classes. Or go online and watch videos on how to call and set up when hunting turkeys. Nothing will replace experience in the field, but at least you will have some basic knowledge to work with. This article will focus on the necessary gear to aid your success rather than techniques. We can do an entire article on strategy and tactics later.
Ready to get started? Here are the seven “must-have” tips to help you be more effective when hunting wild turkeys with a bow.
Using your regular deer hunting setup, you can use arrows and a bow for hunting gobblers effectively. However, you may need to make a few adjustments to your arrow and, more precisely, your broadheads.
Turkey feathers are surprisingly tricky to penetrate, so average deer poundage is fine. Turkeys can be taken with bows with draw weights as light as 30 pounds with the right broadheads, but even 60- to 70-pound pulls are not too much. With a light bow’s draw weight (40 pounds and under), you may want to stick with a solid fixed blade head to ensure you get enough penetration through the thick feathers.
The key to taking turkeys cleanly with a bow is to break significant bones with your broadhead and, best case, also take out vital organs in the process. Breaking the legs or wings usually equates to a fast recovery, so if you shoot good draw weights (40 pounds and up), I like to use a large three-blade mechanical head for maximum damage and adequate but not over-the-top penetration.
Having your arrow stay in a bird instead of a pass-through shot is always better. Hence, a giant mechanical head’s large cutting diameter and limited penetration properties work well on turkeys. After your arrow setup is decided upon, the only thing on your mind should be achieving good shot placement on every bird.
Remember, you are trying to break significant bones while hitting vital organs. That is why no matter the bird’s angle if you line up with the line of his legs and shoot center body height, you will usually anchor the bird very quickly if not on the spot.
From left to right: Quartering away, behind, broadside birdImage Source
It can be tough to find a turkey if it takes to the air after he is hit, so effectively using body shots and hitting this tiny kill zone is critical. Because of this tiny kill zone, another factor to note when turkey hunting is that most of your bow shots will be close-range shots 20 yards or less. For most bowhunters, only a few shots should or will be fired beyond 30 yards.
Also, remember that if you’re watching a strutting turkey, he will look enormous; however, the vitals are still extremely small, so be sure to line up with the legs and aim center mass for height. Hitting even a few inches off of this can result in just hitting feathers on a strutting bird.
Another essential archery hunting tool is the rangefinder. Since turkeys are a tiny target, knowing the range exactly is critical. There are many great options in rangefinders, but it is a critical tool for bowhunting turkeys
For as long as turkeys have been hunted, hunters have been raving about the wild turkeys’ vision. Turkeys have long been known for their impeccable eyesight, keen color vision, and 180-degree peripheral vision that helps them scan the woods for danger.
But recent discoveries in bird vision have revealed something most turkey hunters never realized. It is now known conclusively that birds can see electrical fields visually. Most of the early studies had been on how migratory birds see the earth’s electromagnetic field to circumnavigate the globe.
However, we now know that the highly low-frequency EM field given off by all living beings through essential bodily functions and muscle movement is also visible to birds like turkeys. You see, both the fields of the earth and our own EM emissions are very similar, so once we realized birds were using these fields for navigation, it was no surprise that they also use them for self-preservation.
We now know that the wild turkey’s legendary eyesight relies significantly on the electrical fields that we know they can see; when a turkey sees an object emitting the electrical signature of a significant living being, he instinctively pays more attention to that potential threat. When we move, the electrical energy it takes to move the muscles create spikes, and these spikes are like a light flashing to a turkey, and he immediately knows that the movement was from a living being. His instincts kick in, and he reacts immediately to evade the potential threat.
That is why turkeys see living movement so very well. A turkey doesn’t react to the nonliving movement (like grass and tree limbs moving in a breeze) but reacts immediately to your living movement because it has this concurrent electrical energy that the turkey sees visually.
All this information is critical to your choice of hunting clothing. While it’s recommended that hunters still use visual camouflage to blend into their surroundings visually, it is also imperative that they also choose clothing that blocks naturally occurring bioelectric signatures well. This will allow the bowhunter to not only remain undetected by the bird longer but also allow them to draw on the bird even if the hunter is in plain sight and the bird can see him. This helps ensure an excellent ethical shot at the undisturbed turkey.
This is a massive advantage for bowhunters, and the introduction of garments that block your naturally occurring electrical energy has changed the game for bowhunters pursuing these incredible birds.
Before this discovery, most turkey bowhunters relied on blinds or waiting until a solid object obscured the bird’s head to draw the bow. Now, however, with the right technology, they can move to the birds and have the tools to draw the bow to make the kill whenever the shot presents itself.
Right now, the only choice for camo hunting clothing that conceals you on both the visual and the electrical level is called HECS StealthScreen.
HECS makes a simple but versatile line of hunting garments that can be worn as stand-alone pieces or work well with your existing hunting camo. HECS technology has a patented conductive grid that works like a Faraday cage for your body. The grid captures the energy your body emits, holds it in capacitance, and then transmits it to the ground whenever the hunter touches a grounded object.
What this means for the turkey bowhunter is that as long as they have all their body parts covered by HECS technology (even if it is worn under other hunting clothing), they can get away with a substantial amount more movement than they ever could before. Critical movements such as turning your head, calling, and drawing your bow are now entirely possible, even when the turkey is looking in your direction.
HECS does not make you invisible to turkeys but will allow you to get away with the critical movements required when hunting turkeys with archery gear. HECS is perhaps this list’s most important “must-have” gear in the turkey hunting world today!
Find out more at www.hecshunting.com.
Another great key to turkey hunting success is realistic turkey decoys. These realistic decoys are essential because when a turkey hears what he perceives as other turkeys ( but is your calling), he expects to see a turkey when he gets into the area. If he gets there and doesn’t see another turkey, he will rarely get inside that magic 20-yard mark we need for effective bowhunting.
The first thing to know about turkey decoys is they must be realistic and the correct size. Companies such as Dave Smith Decoys, Avian X, Hidgon, and others make great decoys. The key is getting the best-looking decoy and a sound system for carrying them.
Higdon makes the best caring system for multiple decoys with their “X-slot” turkey decoy backpack system:
X-Slot Universal Turkey Bag – Hidgon Outdoors
You need three different decoys to be ready for all the different phases turkeys go through as the breeding season progresses. These include a standing hen, a full strut gobbler, and a mating jake.
The most crucial decoy you need is at least one good standing hen decoy (2 or even three is even better). This will be the bird that the gobbler is looking for when he comes in, so this one is essential in every setup and can even be used all alone effectively. If you can only afford one decoy, make it a good-looking standing hen.
The full strut gobbler is also highly practical. This tells an incoming gobbler that there is a receptive hen and another gobbler is already with her. For a mature bird, when the breeding reason is at its peak, the sight of the entire strut decoy can be infuriating, and many times, the gobbler will charge in and attack the decoy vigorously. This is very exciting and, of course, offers excellent shot opportunities.
The “half sturt” or “mating” jake decoy is also highly practical, and this decoy works best if the hen decoy is set up directly on the ground (no leg stake) and under the mating jake decoy. This tells an incoming tom that a young bird is breeding a hen. This, too, will often result in an aggressive attack on the decoy.
As crucial as the decoy is, remember that its primary purpose (other than getting the bird to react to them) is to get the turkey in the optimum shooting position. Most of the time, a gobbler will come to face the male decoys, so you always want to position the male decoys facing straight at you. That way, the decoy doesn’t block your shot of the bird.
Be sure to put the decoys close to your position. I like about 10 yards out, depending on the terrain. That way, you get those effective close shots.
An experienced hunter takes his turkey calls seriously. You can lure turkeys in by mimicking their sounds during the breeding season. When bow hunting, calling birds into effective range is critical. Without calling, the chances of a bird wandering by your position and seeing your decoys are slim.
But maybe the best thing about calling is that you can interact with the gobbler itself. Calling any game into bow range is a rush, but gobblers can also be very vocal as well, and it’s fun to get them to answer you and to learn what sounds get a particular bird worked up.
Fortunately, there are many great options for turkey calls. Any of these can work well, and there are thousands of birds killed each season with every one of them. (Check out our video seminar with the legendary Bill Epeards on how to use turkey calls.)
The following types of calls are the most commonly used:
Caption: Different types of mouth calls
All you have to do is force air over the latex reed while the diaphragm call sits on the roof of your mouth. For the bowhunter, the advantage of being hands-free is considerable. You can hold your bow with your release hooked to the string and call simultaneously. This is helpful if a bird hangs up just out of range or is moving and you need him to stop.
Besides the above, turkey bowhunters use crow sounds and owl cries as locator calls. These loud abrupt noises can often get a gobbler to “shock gobble” and give away his location or roosting spot (if done before daylight). This can help you decide where to set up and call.
Portable or “pop-up” ground blinds were once considered almost necessary for successful turkey bowhunting. However, with The advent of the new EM bocking hunting clothing, it is no longer seen as an essential tool for bowhunting; however, they still have their place.
Turkeys are not as alarmed as other animals by sudden changes in their environment, so you can pop up a blind and sit in it immediately without worrying that the turkeys will notice the new blob in the pasture and become alarmed. Ground blinds are great tools for hunting wide-open areas with little to no other cover.
Plus, with a blind, you can easily hunt these areas without enough back cover to effectively hunt in EM-blocking camo.
For an enhanced hunting experience in the open areas, you can also sit outside with blind people and use blind people as the back cover. When using EM-blocking clothing like HECS, you will still be able to call and draw the bow, but you will also have a completely unimpeded view and no shooting obstacles to deal with as you would have from inside blind.
A ground blind is undoubtedly more comfortable as they block wind, rain, and sun, and you can move a bit more freely in a blind without worrying about tipping off a distant turkey. Blinds are also excellent when taking youth hunters or others who want to enjoy the experience more comfortably.
But remember, since ground blinds all have an open area so you can see and shoot out of it, you must also wear good EM-blocking camo so the turkey won’t pick you out as you draw the bow. Blinds will conceal a lot of visual detection. However, the electrical energy will go out through the open window, and even the blind fabric is visible to a turkey, and they will usually react unfavorably very quickly.
One item that is pretty much essential for most bowhunters is an excellent portable chair. It is also essential that your chair can rotate quickly and silently when the bird approaches. A good, easily packable chair makes you comfortable for an extended seat and puts you in a good shooting position.
If you are not using a blind, you will want to set your chair up to have as much solid back cover as possible. Here’s a walkthrough video with tips on how to set up a turkey blind to its best effect.
G100 Shooting Chair – Millenium Outdoors
I always carry a small set of garden pruning shears. This allows me to “cut myself in” to the underbrush to have a solid background that will help hide my human silhouette. While turkeys see electrical fields well, they also notice shapes and silhouettes well, so the back cover is essential. I like trees like cedar and juniper best for the back cover, and I just cut a few limbs and set my chair up as close to the tree trunk as possible.
If you only have more enormous trees without the thick limbs, such as is typical with evergreen trees, choose an area with as much solid background cover as possible. I have done well sitting directly in front of large oaks and pines. The important thing is to set your chair so that when the turkey looks your way, your silhouette isn’t sticking out unnaturally.
Again, HECS technology doesn’t make you invisible, so you must blend in, and a good background will help. An excellent rotating chair will help you stay well concealed and relatively motionless and still allow for an easy, accurate bow shot when the time arrives.
Depending on what you have decided to do with your harvested bird — taxidermy or cooking the meat — you must perform a few basic steps immediately after the hunt. This means you need to have the right accessories to handle your bird.
Let’s say you are planning to memorialize your successful hunt with taxidermy. While you will ultimately be taking your prize to a professional taxidermist, ensure you have stored the turkey properly to lower its body temperature — a large plastic garbage bag or a big game quarter bag and a good-sized cooler with ice you need to have handy in this case. You can also get a turkey bag, a convenient item for bowhunting turkeys.
Peregrine Field Gear Long Beard Turkey Hammock – Wild Hare Shooting Gear
Any fluids must be soaked using paper towels, and feathers that fell out of the bird should be neatly stored in a large plastic bag to preserve them. Then carefully place your bird in a garbage bag or game bag so you don’t bend or break any feathers. If you can’t get the bird to a taxidermist within a day or two, you can also freeze the bird. Frozen birds can last years before the taxidermist sees them.
On the other hand, if you plan on using the turkey for meat, the first step would be field dressing (removing all the bird’s organs while keeping the feathers on to ensure the body cools faster and the meat does not spoil).
You’ll need a sharp knife for the incisions, and once the entrails have been removed, you should put the bird on ice as soon as possible to let the meat cool. Many hunters skin their turkeys on the ground and then transport them to the ice. This can be a great way to ensure you get the most out of the tasty meat wild turkeys provide, depending on your state’s game laws (some states require a carcass to be intact or have proof of sex attached).
Bowhunting for turkeys is a great challenge but, at the same time, can be extremely rewarding. Many hunters enjoy getting out in nature after a long winter, and turkeys are the first season in the spring for many hunters.
At one time, taking turkeys with a bow was considered almost impossible due to their incredible eyesight, but now, thanks to discoveries about bird vision as well as new technologies to better conceal the hunter from those legendary eyes, successfully bowhunting these big birds is not only possible but is done all over the country every spring.
Having the right bow set up, decoys, and calls are all very important. But perhaps the essential tool for the turkey bowhunter has modern EM-blocking clothing to conceal movement. That means using cutting-edge hunting technology from HECS® to make you and your movement less detectable by these incredible game birds.
Get this equipment and learn how to use it correctly, and you might find yourself calling in strutting gobblers and shooting perfectly placed arrows sooner than you think!
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Mike Slinkard is a life long bow hunter, professional archer, successful entrepreneur, and self described science geek from the rural town of John Day Oregon. Mike has spent his life in close proximity to all types of animals. His grandfather was a well known cattle and horse rancher who first instilled Mike’s keen interest in animals and why they react the way they do in different situations. Mike’s insatiable curiosity in this realm led him to team with other professionals to make the HECS discovery in 2009. Mike has hunted all over the world and has taken over 30 species with archery gear including 48 elk to date. Mike currently hosts “Hunting with HECS TV” on the Pursuit Channel. He has also written many bow hunting and archery articles as well as being a guest on many different hunting podcasts.