Bowhunting For Turkeys

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Archery hunting is booming. More and more hunters are picking up the bow and arrow for their trips afield. While most get started with the intention of expanding their whitetail hunting schedule, many hunters are leaving their shotguns at home during turkey season. Paul Korn owns and operates Tombstone Creek Outfitters in Northern Missouri. TCO is an archery exclusive outfitter service guiding about forty turkey hunters per year. Paul has seen it all when it comes to turkey hunting. He says the biggest difference between archery hunting and shotgun hunting is mobility. “It’s very hard to go running and gunning with archery equipment… Because of the movement associated with the bow & arrow and how good any bird, especially a turkey’s eye sight is you really need to be concealed within a blind.”

Since moving is difficult, Paul emphasizes scouting. “I like to put a lot of time into scouting and finding out where the birds want to be. Then I set up and wait for them.” When most turkey hunters scout, they look for roosting sites to set up on. Paul prefers daytime haunts for archery hunting. “A lot of people like to hunt turkeys on the fly down… That’s great if it works. You get up early in the morning, you set your blind up, you call them down, they come in, you have a shoot ‘em up, and then you go home. You’re probably having breakfast before most other people are getting out of bed…. I would rather be where they want to go when I‘m archery hunting. A lot of times, where they roost… that’s the only thing they do there. Once they fly down from there and they’re gone, they’re not coming back there until the evening. So if you don’t catch the fly down, you’re kind of stuck there.”

His strategy usually leaves him away from the morning gobbling action. He calls every 15 to 20 minutes until he sees turkeys headed his way. “I let the birds know I’m there. That’s the number one thing you have to do. If they’re henned up, it’s very difficult to pull them off. Just like an elk. It’s very hard to pull a bull elk off of a cow… But you can yelp at the hens and try to pull them in. If a hen comes then the tom is probably going to come.” Korn says most hunters call too much when gobblers are close. “Once the bird sees the decoy and is coming in, I stop calling. Let him try to come in.”

When it comes to decoys, the closer is better for Korn. “I like to have it close, usually within ten yards. If you’re on public land you might want to go a little further for safety. But you want your decoy to be relatively close so if the turkey hangs up ten yards away from the decoy, now you‘re talking a twenty yard shot.”

Paul says a turkey is, pound for pound, one of the toughest animals to kill. He advocates putting the arrow through the leg bone. Getting through that bone is tough business. Paul recommends youngsters hunt turkeys with shotguns until they’re strong enough to pull back over 45 pounds. But it depends on the skill level of the archer. “You should be able to get a turkey within twenty yards. If you can hit a baseball at twenty yards, you’re probably going to be OK. If you are holding volleyball sized groups at twenty yards use a shotgun.” Tight patterns are important for successful archery hunts. “A turkey has a very small circulatory system. You want to hit the back, or the wings, or the leg. That is a relatively small spot. You can find that by following the legs up. The top of the legs is where all the good stuff is.

Just like in deer hunting, Korn likes to wait until the bird is broadside before releasing the arrow. “There’s a possibility of hitting a lot of things. You can hit the wing bone, the backbone, the leg bone, or the vitals. When they are broadside all you’re doing is following the legs up. If you hit them where the legs connect there is good blood flow there. The vitals are right up in that area too.”

Of course, broadside shots are not always available. He offers this advice for turkeys who are not cooperative. “If they’re facing you in full strut, shoot them in the waddles. You shoot them right at the base of the neck basically. If they’re not in full strut, try to cut their beard off. If they’re walking away and you can see the backbone, that’s a great shot. If you hit them anywhere in the center of the body from the back they will break down. They’re not going anywhere.”

Deer hunters usually aim for the front third of the animal. Korn says that‘s the wrong approach for archery turkey hunters. “Half the turkey is breast. If you hit the turkey too far forward and hit the breast, you can blow a two inch hole in the breast of a turkey and you will never catch up with them. You gotta hit them back. You can’t hit them in the breast.”

However, tracking a wounded turkey is quite similar to tracking a wounded deer. “If he runs off and you don’t see him go down. Just like a deer, I’ll give it at least three hours. Let it lay under a tree and let it get stiff. Let it lay. A turkey, almost always, will run away and wherever it was injured, as soon as it gets out of sight of where it got hit will stop right there.” When you do start pursuing the turkey, Korn suggests having one person go in and essentially stalk the turkey. That way if it does get up you should be close enough for a follow up shot. Korn says people are often too loud when tracking birds and spook them before getting close enough for a second shot.

The Magnus Bullhead and Gobbler Guillotine broad heads are popular among turkey hunters because both broad heads are intended for headshots. “When you shoot them they just drop and you know you got ‘em. The tough thing is they are tough to transport. They‘re big, bulky, and don‘t fly that great. You‘re margin for error is a little smaller.” Still Korn really likes them for hunting smaller properties. If you only have 20 acres and you wound a bird, you may not be able to recover it because it will most likely leave the property. With these broad heads, you either get a clean miss or a dead-right-there hit.

On most hunts Paul uses a Rocket MiniBlaster. He likes mechanical broad heads because they create a wide wound channel. “I like the retractable heads for turkeys because they fly true. You want to cut a big hole and it’s OK if the arrow stays in the bird… They are more apt to get caught on things and they seem to not go as far.”

To hear the entire conversation with Tombstone Creek Outfitting’s Paul Korn, press play at the top of the page.