6 Proven Crossbow Turkey Tips

Bust more longbeards this spring with these half-dozen tried-and-true turkey tips.

6 Proven Crossbow Turkey Tips

Photo: Brad Fenson

The big longbeard strutted like an Irish dancer, full of confidence and vigor. The old boy worked toward me, and I watched him through my scope, trying to decipher the distance to the target. With other turkeys mingling in and out of the equation, it was difficult to nail down the timing and shot opportunity.

I’ve hunted turkeys with archery equipment in a lot of places, and I simply remain fussy about shot placement. If a manufacturer could construct a target made from turkey feathers, it would undoubtedly stop anything. The base of every feather has a blood quill, where the growth originates. The hollow, straw-like quills, steal energy from a broadhead and bolt faster than a catcher’s glove.

It can be hard to fathom how a bolt and broadhead can zip through a deer, including shoulder blades, for a complete pass through. Then, you can use that same combo on a turkey at close range and have your bolt come to a screeching halt.

Don’t be fooled by thinking a fast-shooting crossbow will automatically mean more penetration. A bolt placed in the wrong area of a bird, or at a poor angle, can spell disaster. Be fussy and focused about arrow placement before you even consider placing your finger on the trigger.

1. Pick Your Shot

From experience, there are a couple shots that anchor turkeys where they stand, making retrieval much easier, not to mention they will save some wear and tear on your nerves. If you’ve ever cooked a turkey at Thanksgiving, you understand the anatomy of a gobbler. The breasts are low and up front, with little blood flow. The vitals are high in the back, directly below the spine. I always try to picture my bolt entry and broadhead exit on any shot.

My preferred shot is having a turkey face me; I aim just above the beard. Passing through the smaller breast feathers, the broadhead penetrates well and exits through the spine. It is a shot that can be repeated on a bird facing away, except the spine is severed first.

The wing shot is often touted as the best way to a turkey’s heart. The largest feathers, quills and bones line up in the wing area. The shot can be a killer, but it can also be an energy robber. If you’ve ever lost a bird, you’ll know exactly how well a turkey can use its armor.

Whether you prefer fixed or mechanical broadheads when crossbow hunting, the author suggests using a heavier broadhead to cut through and penetrate the hollow bones and thick feathers of turkeys.
Whether you prefer fixed or mechanical broadheads when crossbow hunting, the author suggests using a heavier broadhead to cut through and penetrate the hollow bones and thick feathers of turkeys.

2. Consider Broadhead Design, Size and Weight

Mechanical broadheads can lose energy faster than fixed blades on our fine-feathered friends, so consider a head that will work the best for your spring quarry. Mechanicals face continually stalled deployment, as layer after layer of feathers is cut. I arrowed a decent-sized gobbler, and at the point of impact, there were at least 20 feathers on the ground. When I retrieved the bird, there were another 15-20 feathers severed by the broadhead, but were tangled in the pillow-like material around it. You couldn’t even see the broadhead there were so many feathers stuck to it.

When you find a mechanical that works, you’ll know it. The new SEVR mechanical by Easton makes short order of turkeys, with consistent opening and penetration. I’ve shot four big birds with the head and had clean pass throughs every time. In most cases, my bolts were 20 to 30 yards beyond the spot where the bird was shot. Using the new TenPoint Stealth NXT helped with speed and accuracy.

Feathers also tend to get stuck in the blades and are dragged into the wound, again slowing the bolt and penetration. Add hollow bones to the equation, and you’ll start understanding the perfect archery target made from feathers and bones. Hollow bones flex, move and break, and multiple layers hinder penetration.

Consider using heavier broadheads for better penetration. A 125-grain head offers more cutting power, and most turkey shots are under 30 yards, meaning you don’t have to worry about trajectory.

A smaller cutting diameter head can also help bust through a bird quicker. There are wide-broadhead options, to work like a guillotine for head/neck shots, but they are not always compatible with a crossbow and the clearance needed at the end of the rail.

Shooting a high-speed crossbow doesn’t out-compete the feather and hollow bone factor of a big bird. You won’t simply plow a bolt through a bird because you are using a horizontal bow. Shot placement is key to quick success. Having a bird flopping in the decoys, instead of running into cover with a bolt sticking out of it, is a much better option and feeling.

3. Use Heavy and Tough Crossbow Bolts

A heavy and tough crossbow bolt such as an Easton Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) offers increased weight and has an aluminum surface for less friction and increased viscosity when passing through a bird. Choosing the right bolt can play a significant outcome in how quickly your hunt ends after you pull the trigger.

Consider using brass inserts in your bolts to increase the transfer of energy from your crossbow to your arrow. In the end, you’ll get better penetration with the increased weight.

For turkeys, the author prefers heavy and tough bolts such as the Easton Crossbow FMJ.
For turkeys, the author prefers heavy and tough bolts such as the Easton Crossbow FMJ.

4. Practice On a Turkey Target

Using a 3-D turkey target such as the new Delta McKenzie Strutter will help identify those take-the-spine-out killing shots. The spine is less than an inch in diameter, but a shot through the vitals, with the intent of also hitting the backbone, will help avoid disappointment.

Turkeys are extremely exciting to hunt, and the rush of adrenaline can often cause a hunter to make poor decisions. Don’t take a fleeting shot or one at a poor angle. Work your magic, call and decoy a bird close, and close the deal with a perfectly placed bolt .

5. Add Lighted Nocks

A lighted nock can be your best friend if you do shoot a turkey that runs away with your bolt. Patience is your next best friend, and you may have to wait for sunset to start your search, but looking for a bright nock amongst the tangle of debris a turkey can hide in can be a bird time saver. It is best to try assorted colors before hunting to see what shows up best. Go outside after dark and place your bolts in the woods with the nocks lit up. You will quickly see what your eye is drawn to first, and which one emits the most noticeable light.

The author used a well-placed crossbow bolt to harvest this spring longbeard.
The author used a well-placed crossbow bolt to harvest this spring longbeard.

6. Shoot Twice If Necessary

If a turkey lays down but keeps its head up, don’t think you’ll simply walk up to it and finish it off. If they see a human walking or any danger, they will find a second wind and dash for cover. It takes only seconds to recock your crossbow, slide another bolt down the rail and make sure your bird doesn’t get away.

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