I love to hunt wild turkeys. I can’t tell you if it’s the thunderous gobble that draws me to the turkey woods, their strutting spring splendor, the challenge they pose with stick and string, or a combination of the three. Regardless, once turkey season arrives my search for wild longbeards runs far and wide. Although success has come fast at times, more times than not I’ve had to rely on a well-placed blind, solid decoy tactics and a heavy dose of patience to ultimately find consistent success. Using a blind isn’t glamorous, but when the hard-earned prize finally struts into range – season after season – you’ll soon come to the same conclusion.
Finding the “X”
Like anything leading to success with archery tackle, scouting is the first critical element. Consistently anchoring a turkey is similar to bowhunting whitetails – you must know the land, how the toms tend to use it and where the best possible locations are to ambush them. Generally, turkeys take the same basic routes from their morning roost to feeding areas and strut zones. Once you have them pinned down through heavy doses of pre-season scouting, you’re in the game when the opener arrives.
As you establish turkey patterns, use both your own general knowledge of the land and sources like Google Earth to determine specific locations that will naturally bring turkeys close. Strut zones, pinch points, field edges, fence gaps, ditch funnels, field corners and preferred feeding areas are all solid locations. Not only will these “X spots” bring toms into range quicker when they are responding well to calls, but these natural travel routes can also be key locations when the toms go silent and hunting gets tough.
In-season scouting can be just as important, especially during the later season. A longbeard’s travel routes often change when hens start nesting. Wanting-to-breed toms become roamers as they search for more breeding opportunities. Hunting pressure can also alter their initial movement pattern. Keeping a close eye on these changing movement trends throughout the season will lead to an opportunity.
Decoys are an essential tool to draw a wary longbeard archery-close, but there’s more to successfully utilizing one than just sticking it in front of your blind. The key to choosing the right decoy setup is understanding the current breeding phase, turkey populations and hunting pressure on the property you hunt.
Although there are multiple decoy-setup possibilities, it’s hard to beat a hen and jake option under many circumstances. Using an insubordinate jake and hen decoy together can bring a tom in on a string. On the flipside, if jakes seem to dominate the ground you’re hunting, this type of setup can have a negative outcome. Jakes generally hang together in groups, and because of their “strength in numbers” attitude, they often gang up to run off older toms, thus making them leery when a jake decoy is in the mix.
Luckily, many states have a special early season for bowhunters, and this can be an exceptional time to use a full-strut decoy with a hen. During this time gobblers are still running together and establishing a pecking order, so a lone strutter with a feeding hen can bring multiple longbeards into range. Later in the season it’s a good idea to keep the strutters and jakes at home. By this time toms are feeling the pressure from both hunters and other toms, so a submissive and feeding hen decoy setup can draw the best results.
Lastly, a breeding setup can also bring a dominant tom into range, especially if the breeding tom decoy appears to be subdominant. The key is setting them facing away or at a 45-degree angle away from where you think the gobbler will be coming.