A lot of spring turkey hunters – even experienced bowhunters – lack the confidence to attempt to harvest a turkey with archery gear. This lack of confidence comes from the challenges of the game itself, the first of which is getting a mature Tom into archery range. While a shotgun hunter may want a bird inside 40 yards, most archery hunters want or need their target to be significantly closer. The second primary challenge comes from the actual mechanics of the shot. While a shotgun hunter can typically aim, click off the safety and pull the trigger without any significant movement, a bowhunter must make major moves to draw his or her bow. Is this even possible? How does one avoid being seen at such close range by some of the most powerful eyes in the animal kingdom?
Well, plenty of wild turkeys are successfully harvested by bowhunters each spring all over North America, and in many cases, it’s decoys that make it possible. Decoys help hunters overcome the two main challenges of tagging a Tom with archery equipment by first luring gobblers closer to the hunter, and then by serving as a distraction that allows the archery to draw their bow unnoticed.
Tips on Decoy Selection
There are a number of basic turkey decoy types available. It’s up to the turkey hunter to determine which decoy or decoys to use based on actual turkey behavior happening when and where they’re hunting. That said, a single hen decoy is a popular choice, because it can attract Toms into range in almost any circumstances.
There are several different hen decoy types, and each conveys its own message to gobblers. The upright hen mimics a common and natural hen turkey position and is one of the most visible. Hen turkeys are wary, so this decoy depicts a hen turkey in her natural state. More importantly, perhaps, it also has the advantage of being highly visible at a distance. A feeder decoy represents a hen casually feeding in the grass or leaves. Its relaxed, low-key posture sends the signal to gobblers that everything is good and normal within the turkey world. A breeding hen decoy tells Old Tom, “I’m ready to breed and you’d better get over here before someone else does.” The breeding hen decoy can also be used in conjunction with a jake decoy – an immature male bird – placed immediately behind or even on top of the hen to cause a territorial instinct and enrage any tom that sees it. A final decoy option is the full strut tom, which represents dominance and can often entice mature gobblers to come in and challenge the strutter for the hen that must surely be nearby.
Place your decoys well inside of your effective range. If a tom hangs up just past your decoy, he may still be within bow range. When it comes to placing them, look at the situation at hand and make the scene look realistic. Think about a gobbler’s likely approach path and show him the full picture. Give him the best view of all the decoys and make sure you are at least slightly off to one side. That way, if he’s staring at one of the decoys, he’s less likely to be looking in your direction. This is more important than how far apart the individual decoys are.
Your decoy placement can also help with more effective ranging and, ultimately, an accurate killing shot. When a tom is approaching fast and in close quarters, you may not have the opportunity to range him before shooting. When setting up my decoys, I use my Vortex Impact 1000 rangefinder and place them at an even yardage from my blind or from where I sit. For example, I may put the upright hen and a jake decoy at exactly ten yards. I follow this setup by moving to twenty yards and placing a feeding hen decoy. I may also place a rock or some other natural marker at 30 yards, which is personally the longest shot I want to take on a turkey with my bow. Now, I not only have three decoys that are attracting turkeys to my location, but I also have three yardage markers.
The Great Distraction
Once a hunter’s decoy or decoys have been placed and they have aided in getting a gobbler within bow range, the final act begins. As previously mentioned, drawing a bow requires a lot of movement. A turkey has some of the best eyesight of all huntable wildlife, making it challenging to move without being seen. Decoys excel at keeping those eyes distracted and off of the hunter for long enough for a shot to be made. Multiple decoys can be helpful because there’s more for him to look at. Take your time and don’t rush the draw. Ideally, draw when he’s in full strut and facing away. That’s always your safest move.
Bowhunters can create additional advantages when trying to harvest a spring turkey. A quiet, smooth-drawing bow with a smaller axle-to-axle measurement such as the Bear Archery Redemption EKO with a 31-inch measurement or the Bear Archery Legit that measures 30 inches can be helpful. A shorter smoother draw means a hunter can cover the distance from point A to point B with less movement and less noise. Less draw weight can also help in a turkey-only bowhunting setup. Smaller bows can also be more easily used in a ground blind, which is another great tool for archery turkey hunters, as they help conceal movement. When a blind is used with decoys, the chances of getting spotted while drawing the bow decreases, but the decoys remain the primary source of distraction and in my opinion still give the archer the most significant advantage.
If you’ve tried and failed or never attempted hunting turkeys with your bow in the first place, don’t be afraid to try. You’ve got the skills. Chances are you just need to give yourself the additional advantages afforded by properly used decoys. They can help you get more birds into range, then keep that incredible eyesight occupied while you drawback and anchor a killing shot.
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