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Bowhunting Turkeys: Where to Aim for a Clean Kill?

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April 22, 2013
Bowhunting Turkeys: Where to Aim for a Clean Kill? - 7

Until a few weeks ago, I’d never tried to kill a turkey with an arrow. While bows are permitted during the spring turkey season in my home state of New York, there is no dedicated archery season, so I’ve always just hunted them with a shotgun. When you fire one and a half ounces of number-five lead shot through a tightly constricted turkey choke at a bird’s head/neck area at close range, there is little chance of wounding it. The result will more than likely be either a miss or a very dead turkey.
  
And then I was invited to try and kill a couple turkeys with a crossbow in Nebraska the last week of March during that state’s archery turkey season. Needless to say, I was intrigued. After all, I do understand the appeal of the challenge of trying to kill a bird with an arrow, and if a state like Nebraska is going to provide an opportunity to hunt turkeys in March (another thing I’d never done) then why not take them up on it? (By the way, if New York tried to implement a three-week bow-only turkey season prior to the firearms season, I’m fairly certain there would be riots.)
   
After a week in camp where eight of us—all experienced turkey hunters, mind you—filled fewer than half of our 16 tags, I have to say I’m a bit soured on the whole idea. And it wasn’t for a lack of birds. Our outfitter, Doug Stults, had us on enormous flocks of Merriam’s and Rios—I hunted groups of as many 300 birds. When they flew off the roost to feed in large pastures, they resembled herds of miniature buffalo. During the hunt I shared a ground blind with Tad Brown, who designs calls and decoys for M.A.D. and Flambeau, and he said that in 40 years of hunting turkeys he’d never seen anything like it.
   
Thanks to Tad’s expert calling and decoying strategies, no fewer than a dozen mature gobblers came within shooting range over the course of three days, some as close as 10 feet from our blind. However, the two that I ended up putting my tags on did not die anywhere near the blind. Other hunters told stories back at camp about hitting birds solidly with arrows, watching them flop around violently before seeming to expire…only to then watch them get up and run or fly away as the hunter climbed out of the blind to claim his trophy.
  
I’m convinced these creatures simply weren’t built to be killed effectively with an arrow. Do thousands of turkeys meet their maker every year as a result of a broadhead through the boiler room? Absolutely. But in my opinion there is too much margin for error. A turkey’s vital organ area is incredibly small and well hidden behind dense layers of feathers. Also, what’s the best place to aim? I heard varying opinions on shot placement while in Nebraska. One school of thought said that the arrow should be aimed just above the hips. Another said to aim for the wing joint.

For now, I’m going to continue to center the bead at the end of my shotgun’s barrel at the base of turkeys’ necks, but I’d love the hear from the archers out there. What’s your strategy on shot placement? Do you attempt headshots with broadheads? If so, what’s your distance limit? Do you find archery equipment to be just as lethal as a shotgun? Have at it in the comments.

Comments (7)

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from huntfishtrap wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I do bowhunt some for turkeys, not because I prefer the bow over the gun, but because bow season lasts for about 5 weeks here in Iowa, whereas our longest gun season only lasts 2 weeks, and I just like to be out in the woods as much as possible.
I've killed 2 birds with the bow, and those are the only ones I've ever shot at. One was a very clean kill (hit the neck as it was facing me strutting). The other wasn't as good a hit, due to a bad shot on my part, but we were still able to track it down in short order and finish it off.
IMO, the best place to aim is at the top of the hips, that gives you the most margin for error in case you make a poor shot. The biggest issue I see with guys who aren't successful with a bow is poor shot discipline; they either shoot at birds too far away, or at a moving or spooked turkey, all of which are recipes for disaster. Also, you don't say what broadhead you used, but in general the bigger the better for turkeys - I use a 2 3/4" cutting-diameter expandable by Rocket.
So in summary, I do think bow turkey hunting is ethical, as long as you do your homework, and know your limitations.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Online Editors wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

@schmakenzie: We're sorry your comment disappeared due to an internal website error. It was not deleted intentionally. Thank you for pointing this out to us. -Editors

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Sorry you had to delete my post. Outdoor Life, I must apologize. I am sorry I pointed out a couple of mistakes and possible ethical concerns. I forgot we are in the age of giving everyone a trophy. I just thought someone going turkey hunting and not knowing were to aim was a little off base for the hunters, readers and the turkeys. But, you are right this should not be pointed out. The editor is completely in the right and I am in the wrong. We can only hope more bowhunters go bowhunting for turkeys and write about how it's probably not a good idea. Maybe I was a little harsh, sorry if I hurt an ego.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from IND_NRA wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I always get out with the bow the first couple of days for the extra challenge. I aim for the base of the neck or the head. We practice by setting up eggs and shooting at them from varying distances. I can not stress enough practice, practice, practice. If you are having trouble keeping a arrow in the vitals of a dear at twenty yards, you should probably stick with the shotgun on a turkey until you are skilled enough to try your bow. I agree with kansas25 that the thrill and difficult nature of taking a bird with string and stick is worth it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Highly dissapointed in Outdoor Life for deleting my comment. If you are going to write with an opinion, can I not comment with one? Why are the other two negative posts still on here?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Raymond952 wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

John, with all due respect, you need to do a little research regarding bowhunting turkeys before you offer such misguided opinions. Two words of advice for you: Magnus Bullheads. You simply aim for the head or neck, just like you do with your shotgun. Limit your shot distance to 15 yards; less than 10 yards is even better. And by the way, when you wrote "too much margin for error," you meant to say, "too little margin for error." Seems like your online editor needs to step it up, too.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from kansas25 wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I hunt thunder chickens with both my shotgun and my compound bow; I enjoy the shotgun but generally prefer my bow. I enjoy the added difficulty of archery...achieving full draw without drawing attention, calling birds into ideal target positions, and the necessity of a pinpoint shot.

Why hate on making a difficult hunt even more daunting? If you're worried about a running bird, let's all hunt them under mechanical corn feeders in a fenced area with sawed-off shotguns.

A little anecdotal evidence from a recent hunting trip...a strong argument, it does not make.

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from kansas25 wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I hunt thunder chickens with both my shotgun and my compound bow; I enjoy the shotgun but generally prefer my bow. I enjoy the added difficulty of archery...achieving full draw without drawing attention, calling birds into ideal target positions, and the necessity of a pinpoint shot.

Why hate on making a difficult hunt even more daunting? If you're worried about a running bird, let's all hunt them under mechanical corn feeders in a fenced area with sawed-off shotguns.

A little anecdotal evidence from a recent hunting trip...a strong argument, it does not make.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Raymond952 wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

John, with all due respect, you need to do a little research regarding bowhunting turkeys before you offer such misguided opinions. Two words of advice for you: Magnus Bullheads. You simply aim for the head or neck, just like you do with your shotgun. Limit your shot distance to 15 yards; less than 10 yards is even better. And by the way, when you wrote "too much margin for error," you meant to say, "too little margin for error." Seems like your online editor needs to step it up, too.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Sorry you had to delete my post. Outdoor Life, I must apologize. I am sorry I pointed out a couple of mistakes and possible ethical concerns. I forgot we are in the age of giving everyone a trophy. I just thought someone going turkey hunting and not knowing were to aim was a little off base for the hunters, readers and the turkeys. But, you are right this should not be pointed out. The editor is completely in the right and I am in the wrong. We can only hope more bowhunters go bowhunting for turkeys and write about how it's probably not a good idea. Maybe I was a little harsh, sorry if I hurt an ego.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntfishtrap wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I do bowhunt some for turkeys, not because I prefer the bow over the gun, but because bow season lasts for about 5 weeks here in Iowa, whereas our longest gun season only lasts 2 weeks, and I just like to be out in the woods as much as possible.
I've killed 2 birds with the bow, and those are the only ones I've ever shot at. One was a very clean kill (hit the neck as it was facing me strutting). The other wasn't as good a hit, due to a bad shot on my part, but we were still able to track it down in short order and finish it off.
IMO, the best place to aim is at the top of the hips, that gives you the most margin for error in case you make a poor shot. The biggest issue I see with guys who aren't successful with a bow is poor shot discipline; they either shoot at birds too far away, or at a moving or spooked turkey, all of which are recipes for disaster. Also, you don't say what broadhead you used, but in general the bigger the better for turkeys - I use a 2 3/4" cutting-diameter expandable by Rocket.
So in summary, I do think bow turkey hunting is ethical, as long as you do your homework, and know your limitations.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Highly dissapointed in Outdoor Life for deleting my comment. If you are going to write with an opinion, can I not comment with one? Why are the other two negative posts still on here?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from IND_NRA wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I always get out with the bow the first couple of days for the extra challenge. I aim for the base of the neck or the head. We practice by setting up eggs and shooting at them from varying distances. I can not stress enough practice, practice, practice. If you are having trouble keeping a arrow in the vitals of a dear at twenty yards, you should probably stick with the shotgun on a turkey until you are skilled enough to try your bow. I agree with kansas25 that the thrill and difficult nature of taking a bird with string and stick is worth it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Online Editors wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

@schmakenzie: We're sorry your comment disappeared due to an internal website error. It was not deleted intentionally. Thank you for pointing this out to us. -Editors

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

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