Guide to Bowhunting Turkeys

AJ Gall

“Turkeys are made to be shot in the head with a shotgun!” A hunting buddy once told me when I asked why he never turkey hunted with a bow.  “That’s what deer season is for,” he said.  I laughed and gave him hard time. A few years later, he’s now chasing birds with a stick and string bow during turkey season . . . something must have tripped his trigger. Bowhunting wild turkeys is an exciting way to challenge yourself this spring.  However, there’s a lot to know before you go ahead and trade in that 12 gauge for a bow and arrow.

The Setup

The biggest difference between hunting turkeys with a bow compared to a gun is the amount of movement required before the shot.  It’s not the distance of the shot, but rather the movement required to take the shot.  Thus, a blind is essential.  With a shotgun you simply have to flick the safety and pull the trigger.  With a bow, you have to find some way to conceal your drawing motion from a turkey that’s strutting just yards away.  A popup blind of some sort is typically the most practical solution.  Sometimes a large obstacle like a big oak, evergreen, or downed tree can be used to conceal your draw, but you’ll have to know exactly when to draw on the approaching gobbler.

Ground blind brushed in for turkey huntingA well placed blind is essential for turkey hunting success with a bow.

One thing you can basically throw out the window if you plan on carrying a bow is your ability to actively pursue a gobbler.  It’s more of a sit and wait game.  Scouting beforehand is essential for a successful turkey hunt.  Know where to place the blind and when you need to be in it.

Decoy Placement

It’s not so much what decoys to use that’s important, but more so where to place them.  It’s never fun trying to move around and get into position for a shot on a bird that came up on your strong side, especially if you’ve got another person in the blind with you.  With a gun you can shoot roughly 120-degrees pretty comfortably with just a slight twist of the upper body.  This is certainly not the case when you’ve got a bow in hand.  If you’re right-handed, make sure you favor the decoys more towards your left shoulder, or at least position your chair that way – vice versa if you’re a lefty.

Perhaps, the most important aspect in play when bowhunting turkeys is the distance the decoys are from the blind.  Don’t be afraid to set them up close . . . real close.  5-10 yards out may seem too close, but that’s my preferred range when I’ve got a bow in hand.  The last thing I want to do is have my decoys 20 yards out and have a gobbler get skittish at the 35-yard mark.  If you put them in close you’ll likely get a shot off before the gobbler figures out they aren’t real.

Shot Placement

I’ll say one thing – turkey anatomy can be very tricky to understand, especially on a tom that’s in full strut.  Rather than trying to describe in a paragraph where you should be aiming on a turkey, watch the video below.  This is a great instructional tool that every turkey hunter should watch.

What Broadhead?

Fixed? Expandable? Decapitators? They all do the trick, but some are better in certain situations. Fixed blades are my broadhead of choice when it comes to arrowing turkeys for a couple of reasons.  First, they slice through feathers without getting plugged up, leaving zero chance of an incorrect deployment.  Secondly, you can shoot through the mesh windows on your blind.  Lastly, it’s the tried and true choice of broadhead.

Expandable broadheads will work on turkeys, but they are mainly designed for big game.  Feathers are different than fur and sometimes the feathers can influence how an expandable broadhead will open.  One of the main objectives and benefits of expandable broadheads is the oversized cutting diameter.  This may lead to better blood trails on big game, but turkeys don’t have much blood to begin with.  Couple that with dense layer of feathers and it’s safe to say if you don’t see them flop, it’ll be a tough recovery – that goes with any broadhead though.  For the most part they do fly truer than fixed blades out of the package, and that’s critical as you could see in the video with the small vitals of a turkey.

Decapitators are a specialty type of broadhead made specifically for taking the head clean off a turkey.  They add a unique challenge to bow hunting, in that you can only take a head shot.  If you hit, they’re extremely effective as you can imagine.  Typically, they have a cutting diameter in excess of 3 inches.  These are designed for close range head shots only.

Turkey Hunting BroadheadHere’s an example of broadhead specifically designed to take the head off a turkey.

Favorable State Regulations

One reason you may want to use a bow to hunt turkeys this spring is to take advantage of your states game regulations.  Several states like Nebraska and Iowa cater to the bow hunter.  For instance, Nebraska holds an archery only turkey hunt before the shotgun hunters get a chance and Iowa has an extended season if you choose to use archery equipment.  Check your local state game regulations to see what applies in your state.

Bow hunting is a fun and exciting way to up the challenge factor of turkey hunting.  Be sure to scout before the season to know exactly where to be set up.  Also, be sure to practice shooting on a lifelike turkey target or printout.  Once you’re confident with your shot, head to the field and show them toms what you’re made of.

Related: 6 Scouting Strategies for Turkey Hunters

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About The Author
From Woods to Table

AJ Gall

AJ Gall's prior hunting and wildlife experiences began long ago and make him the perfect contributing deer hunting guru.  As a habitat consultant under Dr. Grant Woods, AJ has worked on properties in 13 different states, amassing over 25,000 acres of quality deer management. He now uses that knowledge to help clients find their dream hunting properties as a licensed real estate agent in Wisconsin.  

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