Pursuing gobblers with archery tackle is challenging. Doing so without a blind increases the difficulty exponentially. After completing a bowhunting Grand Slam in 2019, the author shares how he found success in the spring woods without using a pop-up hide.
The pursuit and art of hunting turkeys presents countless mental and physical hurdles.
But I’ve found the hunts I appreciate most stem from increased challenges, such as bowhunting turkeys without a blind. It provides an assessment of a hunter’s prowess and a testament to the respect the wild turkey deserves. Plus, having a mature gobbler display at a close distance intrigues my spirit. Here are some tips for this challenging endeavor.
FINDING THE RIGHT COVER
Without proper cover, you’ll only educate a gobbler when he steps into range, no matter how convincing your soft yelps sound. That makes him more difficult to fool later in the season, if you even get the chance. Turkeys have seven types of photoreceptors in their retinas. Humans only have four types of photoreceptors. A gobbler survives by seeing what most people miss. Bowhunters must attempt to undermine a turkey’s vision.
I’ve found several steps that can aid in ideal concealment without a blind. First, before I move toward a respectable setup, I step back and consider what the bird will see on approach. Understanding what a gobbler sees might be contrary to what you think when you set up and start a conversation. I’ve always made better decisions when I know what a bird sees. From his perspective, I base my setup play-calling on several factors, including ample backdrop cover, foreground brush and sunlight penetration at the setup. A balance of the three is ideal.
Not all setups will have sufficient cover, but I’ve learned to always carry a set of small brush cutters. When I could barely shoulder a youth model 20 gauge, my father cut brush religiously each time we set up. At the time, I thought it was overkill and just another meticulous habit of my old man. However, I was wrong — big time. Years later, I mirror my dad’s play-it-safe mentality every time I head out. I have come to value my clippers as an equal to a true-flying broadhead. Cutting additional foreground brush lets me develop a hide that dissolves my outline and bow into the surrounding area. It can make a colossal difference. Even when brush is scarce at high elevations amongst open juniper and ponderosa pine hillsides, using bits of brush in front of your setup decreases the chance of hearing putts and seeing the backside of a tom in retreat.
Some turkey hunting situations limit time. As a young man, I was caught looking at birds as they quickly retreated to find new real estate too many times to admit. That was because I did not act quickly enough. Despite that, I became more confident in trusting the process of my concealment tactics. Since going birdless the first few seasons, these maneuvers have let me walk out 20 pounds heavier many times.
DISGUISING THE DRAW
Just as important as concealment, drawing your bow without getting busted can make or break a hunt. Doing that without a blind is tricky. This crucial step was the biggest challenge I faced before punching my first archery tag. It took a painful amount of birds calling my bluff before I finally devised a lethal methodology.
As mentioned, turkeys have the eyesight advantage. So to draw your bow, you must level the playing field by occupying a gobbler’s attention or drawing before the bird can see your movement.
In most situations, I found that a decoy increases your chances. Using an intimidation decoy — a strutter or jake — and hen when gobblers are still trying to establish dominance in early spring is my favorite scenario. With this decoy setup, depending on how aggressive the gobbler is, the bird will often approach looking for that vocal hen with a lurking demeanor and then immediately change to a macho attitude toward the decoy. That’s about the only way the gobbler might somewhat slow his movement.
All things considered, the principles of decoys for bowhunting turkeys closely parallel most shotgun situations, except for how close the spread should be. Ideally, I like my intimidation decoy at 25 to 30 yards. That’s far enough away so a bird isn’t in your lap, yet close enough for a good shot. I’ve taken gobblers while using decoys and without. However, I always try to use decoys, mainly because of the remarkable display that will likely follow and the higher chance of arrowing a bird.
I have discovered through frustrating trial and error that it’s difficult to sit motionless on your knees or in a crouched position, especially for long periods. So, I now use a small chair. Hunting with a chair lets you sit for long periods and boosts your chances. I use a camouflaged hunting chair from which I can shoot. My ideal choice features several critical elements.
I like a chair that does not add much weight. Weight might not be a huge deciding factor when hunting the bottomlands in the Southeast, but it gains importance if you’re hunting deep public lands or vast country in the Midwest. My rig weighs 6.4 pounds.
In addition, I’ve found that a chair about 28 to 32 inches tall is ideal. That allows ample height for a clear line of sight, yet is short enough to be concealable.
More important, a three-legged design allows for the freest range of motion when it’s time to draw. Turkeys seldom read the script and often approach from unexpected directions. A tri-stool design gives you almost 110 degrees of motion regardless of your dominant shooting hand. The larger span lets you swing your aim, which helps tremendously when trying to arrow a gobbler that never stops moving. I prefer the Double Bull chair from Primos. It offers a compact design that you can easily fold and unfold quickly. Plus, it checks the comfort boxes.
No style of turkey hunting is easy. It was never meant to be. Regardless of your preferred method, I respect it. Each spring will be no different for me, as I will continue to chase gobblers with a bow in hand and my chair in tow.