Turkey Bow Hunting and Stalking With a Decoy
Turkey hunting is one of those rare activities that just gets in your blood after you’ve tried it. The thrill of calling a longbeard into range and fooling a wild turkey’s amazing eyesight is sure to get your heart racing. But it can also be really hard to do sometimes. The conditions aren’t always great and the turkeys don’t always cooperate the way you envision. So why would anyone even consider making it more difficult by hunting turkeys with a bow? Frankly, there are many reasons people like turkey bow hunting. But for an additional challenge, some prefer to also stalk turkeys with a bow. Now that’s a truly impressive feat. When we say stalking turkeys, we don’t mean just walking aimlessly through the woods looking for them. We actually mean spotting them from afar and using a decoy to disguise your approach until you’re within striking range. The decoy will usually fool them into thinking you are another turkey, which can allow you to get close enough for an ethical shot.
Why Try Stalking Turkeys with a Bow?
First, you might be drawn to the pure challenge involved. It’s hard enough to draw back on a mature tom while turkey bow hunting without getting busted, but the physical and mental challenge of stalking a turkey make it even more difficult. If you can pull it off, though, you should definitely congratulate yourself. Maybe you just prefer bow hunting turkeys over using a shotgun anyway, and stalking is the next pursuit for you to try with your hunting weapon of choice.
Some people get really bored sitting in a blind and relying on ground blind positioning, calls, and decoys to lure a gobbler into range. Admittedly, it’s not always the most thrilling. But it can be especially frustrating when a nice tom hangs up out of range and you feel there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes tricky turkeys require you to switch up your tactics and pursue them with turkey bow hunting instead of waiting for them to come to you across an open field.
Or maybe you’re just looking for a change of pace to keep turkey hunting a little more exciting. No matter what your reasons for choosing to try turkey bow hunting, one thing’s for sure: you’d better be prepared before you try doing it your first time.
Ground Rules for Stalking Turkeys
Before we jump into the preparation steps you can take to do this yourself this spring, we need to cover a couple basic ground rules. You should only ever attempt stalking turkeys with a decoy when you’re on private land. Why? Other hunters on public land might be closer than you know and think you are a real turkey yourself. There’s nothing that could ruin your turkey bow hunting trip faster than getting shot by someone else. Even if you were to wear blaze orange, it’s just not worth the risk; don’t do it.
Second, stalking a turkey with a bow is hard work. It requires you to crawl on your knees or even on your stomach for very long distances (usually at least 50 to 100 yards). While doing that, you need to maintain an upright turkey fan decoy, carefully carry your bow with you, and be somewhat quiet all at the same time. Needless to say, you should be in good physical health and be able to compose yourself enough for an ethical shot once you’re within 30 yards. If you finally make it across the field and your heart is racing and your lungs are gasping, it will all probably be in vain as the turkey walks away. One way to know you’re ready is to set up a 3D turkey target in a field and practice stalking up to it with a decoy before you shoot. This simulates the hunt and will tell you if your body can handle it.
That brings up the final point: you need to know how to shoot a turkey with a bow. Make sure to practice your turkey hunting shot placement well ahead of the spring opener, ideally on a 3D target. While head and neck shots are preferred for shotguns and you can take them on close bow shots from a ground blind, they’re not ideal after you’ve crawled a hundred yards. In that case, you’d probably be a little unsteady and would have to make a quick shot before the turkey realizes you’re actually a hunter and not a rival bird. Therefore, the body shot is the best option because it offers a slightly larger margin of error, provided your turkey shot placement is right on target.
Turkey Hunting Equipment
Turkey bow hunting is pretty approachable for most people because it doesn’t take much hunting equipment to get started. Since you will rely on a turkey decoy to cover your outline and movement, you don’t need a ground blind. But you will absolutely need a good turkey fan decoy. It should have a broad fan to give you the most cover, and it should ideally stand up by itself without you having to constantly hold it. On especially windy days, this style of turkey bow hunting may not work well just because it has a tendency to blow over when you let go of it. You’ll still need good camouflage clothing to hide behind it, preferably clothes that are somewhat water-resistant since you’ll have to crawl across the ground surface and the vegetation is often wet with dew on spring mornings. You’ll also need a high quality hunting bow and bow hunting accessories that are durable enough to withstand a belly crawl across a field. Prime® bows and G5® rests and broadheads will set you up for success.
Some people argue about the best turkey broadhead, but the durability of G5 Montec broadheads rank them pretty high on the effective turkey hunting broadhead list. You’ll be able to shoot fixed broadheads over and over, and they stand up to hitting the ground fairly well.
The Turkey Stalking Setup
On a typical stalk while turkey bow hunting, you will first locate the bird you want to chase from afar. You might spot them on the other end of a hay field or through some mature timber, but either way, you’ll need to confirm with binoculars first. If it’s the right gobbler for you, you should take a moment to plan out your approach. Try to cover as much ground as you can between you and the turkey before you have to use the decoy. Use heavy timber, brushy draws, or hedgerows to sneak in as close as you dare without them seeing or hearing you. Luckily, turkeys don’t really use the wind to check for predators, so you can let that slide for the most part. But to make up for that weakness, turkey eyesight and hearing are both ridiculously good at finding danger. If you were to try to sneak up on them without a decoy, you’d almost always be busted before you get close enough for a shot. That’s where the decoy comes into play. You’ll need to use one with a spread-out turkey tail fan, which will offer most of your concealment as you stalk. There are decoys on the market that stand up by themselves easily, so you can simply move it forward a little at a time, prop it up by itself, and then inch your body forward.
Take a break every once in a while as you’re turkey bow hunting to monitor your progress by peeking with your optics around the decoy. You want to make sure you’re going the right direction and that the birds aren’t trying to circle you. If the turkey calls, use a diaphragm mouth call to call back, which will keep your hands free to maneuver your bow and decoy. Use raspy tom yelps, or if you are good at it, try gobbling back with your mouth call. As you get closer, make sure your bow is in good condition and that your arrow is still nocked. This is where the G5® full containment rests are worth their weight in gold. You don’t have to worry about your arrows rattling around on the rest when you use them.
Try to get within 20 to 30 yards of the gobbler before you reveal yourself. When the time comes, creep up into a kneeling position and draw your bow from behind the decoy if possible. Then peek up over the top of your decoy’s tail fan to take a shot. As you might guess, turkeys typically won’t take long to figure out they’re in danger. But if you called to them and convinced them you are a gobbler throughout the stalk, you might be able to use those few moments of confusion to pull off an ethical kill shot. Try to pick out a single feather in the center of their body for an aiming point. If you aim small, you should miss small. After you shoot, get ready for a repeat shot if needed, but try to not take your eyes off the turkey, just in case it is able to run off. If it simply piles up where you shot it, congratulations on making a successful stalk while turkey bow hunting.
Killing a Turkey with a Bow
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, taking a turkey with bow hunting equipment can be hard work all on its own. But when you add stalking them with a decoy to the mix, it can really be a challenge. But that’s part of the fun for most people; it pushes your archery and hunting skills to a new level. If you think you’re up for it, your first chance could be this spring. Take advantage of it!