Podcast: Ultra-Close Range Turkey Hunting Tactics with Mike Hunsucker

Here’s how the Heartland Bowhunter host gets gobblers in close
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turkey hunting with a bow
Mike Hunsucker with an archery gobbler. Heartland Bowhunter

Just because we can shoot turkeys at longer ranges doesn’t always mean that we should. At its very best, turkey hunting is a close range game. Having a big old tom gobble and drum his way into 15 yards is much more thrilling than shooting a hung-up bird at 50 yards.

But getting gobblers in close is a challenge. You need a great hide and often a great decoy setup. Mike Hunsucker of Heartland Bowhunter has mastered the art of getting turkeys in close and then killing them with a bow. Over approximately two decades of turkey hunting with a bow he’s taken somewhere around 75 or 80 birds. Most of those turkeys have been at whisper-close ranges.

“What really gets me going is when you fully trick the bird and get him to come in and you get to see the full show,” Hunsucker says in the Outdoor Life Podcast. “For me shooting a bird that’s hung up at 40 yards is kind of like… eh… I mean, I might as well only have a 20-yard pin on my bow.”  

So even if you’re not a turkey bowhunter, the things Hunsucker has learned over the years can help you bring longbeards in close. Here’s what you need to know.

Get Your Hide Right

If you want to get turkeys close, the first thing you’ve got to do is hide well from their excellent vision. Simply sitting with your back to a tree on a big open field edge with no cover in front of you is not going to cut it. The easy button is using a pop-up blind

“I always tell people who are new to bowhunting turkeys that a [hub-style] ground blind is your best friend,” Hunsucker says. “It’s dark in there, you’ll be able to draw [your bow without being seeing], you’ll be able to get away with so much more.” 

For new bowhunters and youth hunters, a hub-style ground blind is invaluable. You can set it up exactly where the turkeys want to be, even if that’s the middle of a field, and most of the time they’ll pay no attention to it. However, Hunsucker likes to be more mobile and often hunts out of natural ground blinds. 

“I enjoy being out in the elements,” he says. “Being able to see and being able to hear… and the intensity that comes with knowing that if you screw up, if you move at the wrong time, you’re going to ruin that hunt. I just enjoy that challenge.”

When picking a natural ground blind setup, cedar trees are an ideal option. You can trim a few lower branches and tuck into the shadows. Hunsucker also uses a Fast Strike panel blind which allows him to quickly set up natural cover in front of him. He’ll also attach a piece of ghillie suit over the front of his bow so that he stays concealed while drawing. 

An ideal setup includes cover in front, good backdrop cover that will break up your profile, and also overhead cover. Always sit in the shadows when possible. 

Decoys Tactics

If you want to truly fool a tom at close range, your best bet is to get him focused on a decoy. This will allow you to remain undetected while you draw your bow or move your gun for a shot. 

“You need something to get the focus off of you, at least temporarily,” Hunsucker says.

His go to decoy setup is a Dave Smith Decoys full-strut jake with a couple hens. He uses a real fan with the strutter. Running a strutter creates more visibility at distance and can trigger a dominant tom into fight mode. The fan also has the added advantage of creating a blind spot for a close-in tom. A great time to draw is precisely when the tom moves behind the decoy’s fan.

One quick caveat here: If you’re hunting pressured public lands, I do not recommend using a strutter decoy, for safety purposes. 

Hunsucker typically sets the decoys at 15 to 20 yards. Any closer and you risk getting busted. He faces the strutter decoy away from where he expects the tom to appear. Ideally, Hunsucker will have the strutter facing toward him head-on. This is because a fired-up gobbler will often circle the decoy in order to peck the head. At this point, the tom will be facing away from Hunsucker, giving him a perfect time to draw. 

Hunsucker has also started using a remote motion stake for his strutter decoy. This allows him to spin the decoy depending on how a tom reacts to it. Oftentimes, turning the decoy away from a tom will give the bird more confidence to come in. 

“It’s really fun,” Hunsucker says. “You can see their demeanor change when the fan turns away from them.” 

One final decoying tip: If you hunt a bird with decoys and don’t get him, change your setup the next time you target him. Don’t run the exact same decoys in the same place you hunted him previously. They’re not that dumb, Hunsucker says.

Read a Tom’s Body Language and Adjust Your Calling

Don’t just run the same sequence of calls over and over again. When a tom comes out and sees the decoys, pay close attention to how he reacts. A strutting tom usually indicates more confidence. A tom that drops strut and slinks around the edges of the setup, with his head high looking for trouble indicates a warier bird.  

“I always err on the side of less calling,” Hunsucker says.  

Softer yelps and clucks are often all you’ll need to convince a tom to close the distance. Don’t hammer him with aggressive calling until you’ve run out of options. 

Get Comfortable

You need to sit perfectly still while that tom works his way into the decoys. Once he gets to the strutter and starts fighting him, then you have more wiggle room.

“If they’re committed and in the decoys, it takes a lot to make them leave,” Hunsucker says. “I’ve had situations where a bird comes in and he’s pecking the decoy, and obviously he can see me, but I just know by his aggressive nature that I can get away with drawing and I just do it as smoothly as possible. For the most part his focus is on the decoy and trying to hit it right in the eyeball.” 

But until that longbeard goes into full fight mode, you’ve got to be statue-still. The key to remaining perfectly still is being comfortable. Hunsucker advocates for using a lounger-style turkey chair which gives you good back support and will keep you from squirming, whether that tom takes 20 minutes or two hours to come in. Hunsucker also keeps his bow on a stand and often doesn’t pick it up until he’s about ready to draw. That way he doesn’t get stuck holding his bow in position for an unknown amount of time.

Patience is Key

If you want to get a tom in close, you can’t shoot at him when he’s at 50. This sounds simple, but being patient during a hunt is a real challenge for many of us. It could take hours before a tom fully commits. The only thing you can do is keep waiting, and trust your hide and decoy setup. 

“I’ve had them hang up for hours and then all of a sudden a switch goes off in their head and they come in,” Hunsucker says.

When that gobbler finally does come in, let him work the decoy a little. A hunter’s natural instinct is to draw (or shoot) as soon as a bird comes in the decoys. But it’s often better to wait and let him get fully focused on the strutter decoy. 

“The last thing you want to do is be shooting at a bird that is alert,” Hunsucker says.