Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April Turkey Hunting

Here are some pictures from the last few weeks of turkey hunting. After a rough first few weeks of weather we finally caught a little break. It was still raining part of the day while we hunted but the birds were much more responsive.

Danny has been using the Magnus Bullhead this season, and after a few near misses he finally connected on a jake.
You can see the down jake just beyond the decoys. The Bullheads really work! This jake did not travel two steps from the shot.
The other jakes stuck around after the shot and even came back to the decoys, if Danny had bought two tags he could have had a chance for a double.
Danny used a Rampart longbow and a Magnus Bullhead to take this Nebraska jake.

I personally got a little redemption after I missed a chip shot from a few weeks before. I was hunting with my brother-in-law Kelly. We were not very optimistic for this evening hunt and decided to flip a coin to see who got to be the shooter in the morning, which we figured would be real good. I lost the coin toss for the morning, but it turns out I was the big winner. This tom came in spitting and drumming and gobbling his head off at 6pm. We don't often get toms to commit like this that late in the day. He was making a b-line towards our decoy when I started my draw. He either heard or saw me start to draw, and as he started to move off I hit the exact feather I was aiming at. I shot him with a Hawk recurve, and a Simmons broadhead. He did not travel 75 yards before expiring.

The next morning Kelly was up to shoot. After watching no less than 50 turkeys, and 10 big strutting toms enter the field we were sitting by a group of three jakes came to check us out. Kelly made a perfect 20 yard shot. We had friends from Wisconsin at the other end of the field with many hens around their decoys, and toms fast approaching. After Kelly shot this jake he flew over all the turkeys and essentially cut them off from going to our Wisconsin friends. We felt horrible but still got a good chuckle out of the fact that it ruined their hunt so perfectly.

This was Kelly's first turkey, and second kill with a traditional bow. Kelly used his Chastain Wapiti recurve and a Bear broadhead with the bleeder blades ground flat. The turkey expired very quickly.
I think it is officially the smallest jake on record! But it serves Kelly right after his first big game animal was a big 6X6 bull. You can read about that hunt later on this blog.

Later in the evening Kelly and I returned to our blind, which we had moved slightly after the morning. We took a lot of time brushing in the blind. We have noticed that turkeys are starting to become very skeptical of blinds in the past few years and we did not want to take any chances.

A group of three jakes spotted our decoys (which had some live hens around) from a few hundred yards away. They marched straight towards us at a fast pace. I shot this jake with a Bear takedown and a Simmons broadhead. I hit him square in the back as he was facing away, a shot that I prefer on turkeys.
Turkeys have always been hard to hit for me. Last year Kelly was devastated after missing a few close shots. This year he didn't mess around. We took three shots and killed three birds. It was a very fun trip.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Shot Placement & Broadheads for Turkeys

We have experimented with different heads for turkeys over the years and talked to many hunters about what has worked for them. The purpose of this blog is to share my favorites and observations as to what is best for the traditional bow hunter.

I have been really lucky to not have lost a bird "yet". I have been on many unsuccessful searches for lost birds and have heard many heart breaking stories about hard hit turkeys that were never found. One key to success that I have consistently found is that if the arrow is still in the bird the chances of finding that bird go way up. It is a lot harder for a bird to effectively burrow/hide when he has a protruding arrow slowing his progress. For this reason, my favorite broad head is a large four blade from any maker, with the cutting edges of the bleeder blades ground flat. The large main blade is of course made razor sharp. In this manner the arrow is much less likely to just zip through the bird. The flat ground bleeder blades really slow the progress of the arrow, and most of my birds hit like this have had the arrow half way out either side.

My equal favorite has come to be the Magnus Bullhead. The Gobbler Guillotine I am sure is just as good or better, but without an effective carrying system. And with the need to put the little straws over the blades they are not as convenient in my opinion. I think it is at least as easy, and maybe easier, to hit the head or neck as opposed to the softball sized kill area in the body of the bird. The huge benefits to the Bullhead in my opinion is that the bird is either dead right there, or just fine. My son and nephew have both shot low and body hit Tom turkeys with these Bullheads. In both cases the birds were rolled over and ran off. One was seen strutting within minutes and the other the next day (he was identified by an unusual tail feather). I am quite sure this doesn't do the turkey any good, but it seems preferable to a poor hit with a broad head. The common misses that are high, left, or right obviously are great because they only hurt the pride of the hunter (and maybe the bird). So small misses in three of the four directions definitely do not result in a wound, and the low misses probably do not have long term effects.
(Tommy Clum shooting the Bullhead on a mountain turkey)

Now, for my thoughts on shot placement. For me, it is really, really hard to ensure the "shot placement" that you prefer on an animal the size of a turkey with a longbow or recurve. An inch or three really makes a difference. However, the one consistent factor that makes the most difference is which way the bird is facing. If the bird is facing toward you, or away from you, the fairly flat rib cage (and lung area) of the bird will be most exposed to your shot. If the bird is broad side, the lungs are a thin slice facing the wrong way. Think of a slab that is 4" x 4" x 1" turned thin ways toward you. Then think of this same slab with the flat side toward you. From my observation a turkey hit in the lungs will go down right away. A turkey shot in the breast or other areas will be hard to find.

(This frontal shot turkey did not travel more than ten yards
from the place he was shot)

(Another frontal shot that resulted in immediate death)

(This quartering away shot allowed the arrow to penetrate almost all of
the bird's cavity taking out all of the vital organs and slicing the heart)
(entrance hole)
(exit hole in the breast, with finger pointing to entrance hole)

I hit a turkey broadside, right in the middle of him, and the arrow stuck in the breast bone. Fortunately the arrow did not pass through, and the protruding arrow prevented the bird from getting deep into the brush. We knew where the bird ended up by the terrible noise the other birds made while harassing their poor wounded comrade. We gave the bird 45 minutes then started our search. We went to the area 75 yards away, where all the commotion was coming from, and found the bird stuck under a tree where the arrow prevented him from burrowing further. I was shocked to see that bird get out of there and take off running again. My friend John, my son Tommy, my son in-law Kelly, and I were in hot pursuit and finally were able to get another arrow in that bird. Luck was on our side. First, the broad head stayed in the bird, and second the vocalizations from the other bullying birds gave his location away. We have found birds that left a blood trail I wouldn’t mind seeing from a deer, we have found birds by dead reckoning, and we have found birds by pure dumb luck. Persistence along with luck many times pays off.

Now, I have a short word about shooting timing and tactics. I have noticed that when the bird hears a stray yelp, or sees or hears something he doesn’t like, he will stick his head up alertly. I have used this moment to my advantage a few times. Once I caught a huge Tom just over a hill from me and he was in the middle of a bunch of hens. When I peeked up over the hill with the arrow nocked and tension on the string, I got the shot off during that time when he stuck his head straight up and was thinking “what the heck is that” and obviously just before he started his sprint.

(the turkey I killed by peeking over a hill as
described in the above paragraph)

Another time I was in a blind with Danny and waiting to get a shot at a nearby Tom. I had a Bullhead on the end of my arrow. The bird was walking and jerking his head back and forth. I came to full draw when he stopped, but he started walking again. As I was following him while aiming at full draw, I was twirling a diaphragm in my mouth to make a yelp. When Danny noticed that I was full draw, he came to my rescue and let out a couple of crisp yelps and that Tom stuck his head up to listen. With that bright red head sticking up and catching my full focus, I let fly and that Bullhead smacked him right under the chin. He was 23 yards away and he hit the ground like someone dropped a sack of rocks.

(Where the bird lay, 23 yards from the blind)

If you are ready, you can actually be seen or create that two seconds when the head goes up and the bird is standing still, to get a perfect shot opportunity. Use a yelp in the same manner a hunter grunts at a deer or mews at an elk to get them to stop.

A bow hunter can get a good shot even when a bird is facing him (and I sure like that angle as described above). If drawing the bow catches the attention of the tom, he most often will stick his head up in alarm. This is the time. Take advantage of this great forward on angle (when the bird is facing you), in the short window of opportunity created by your movement and just before the bird hauls tail out of there. Watch any turkeys that accidentally get a glimpse of you. Unless you really blunder into them, they usually stop what they are doing and stick their head up to assess the situation. You will notice that they check things out for about a quick count to three. Just enough time to draw, aim, release, and provide your family a great turkey dinner.

(This picture was snapped in that moment before the shot but after
a quiet yelp caused the turkeys to stop and stick their head up)

So in sum, I like a big 4 blade broadhead with the bleeder blades ground flat, or a Magnus Bullhead. I like shot angles that have the bird facing to or facing away from me as opposed to broadside shots. And I take advantage of the short shooting window that turkeys provide through their natural inclination to stop and stick their head up before bolting. These things have served me and my boys well in our experience (about 15-20 bow kills between the three of us).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hunting Turkeys before the "rut"

My boys and I felt like we were hunting deer before the rut. All the conditions that make spring turkey hunting easier had not started yet. Cold weather, rain, snow, and wind made conditions really tough. The birds stayed in highly sheltered wooded areas where they were harder to find, and they would not come to our calling. In addition, many of the birds seemed to still be in big winter flocks or family groups. We had one tom split off of to our calling, but he stopped fifty yards from Chad and Andy's strutting decoy to do his own strutting for twenty minutes without committing. He then just walked off.

We did find birds very vocal and located them that way. The hens were yakking away and the toms would sound off once in a while. We get our share of birds but I would not necessarily say we are expert turkey hunters. I just don't know how to call in turkeys when conditions are like this. We experimented with different calling sequences to at least try and learn something, but couldn't find the right noise to entice the toms to us. When conditions are easier, we usually get plenty of toms to split off from a flock, or call a more lonely bird near to check us out.

The tactics we did find effective were just basic "hunting" techniques. We would locate a big flock of birds (mostly by listening or using our binos) and move with them, unseen from a distance. When we finally got to the right terrain features, we would really book it to get around and in front of them, then set up in some kind of a funnel or dead end. We would do some calling and though it didn't get any toms running in, it seemed to give the hens and toms some confidence and they would continue our way . This hit and miss tactic did work to get us some shots. Dan must have missed a tom’s neck by width of the skin on a turkey’s teeth (with his Magnus Bullhead) and Tommy had the lowzies. I ended up taking one out of a flock of jakes that unexpectedly ran in from the other direction.

The one thing that I do know is that it was still worth being out there. I got a couple of precious few days out of the shop to hunt with my sons and got to visit by nephew Chad, his wife Katie and play with their two beautiful sons Cole and Brody. I got to spend some time with Andy (big bird) and trade a little teasing with all of them. And by adapting to the conditions given, we still gave ourselves a chance to harvest a bird and learned a little in the meantime. The cold conditions put a small damper on the normal level of enjoyment, and a big damper on the bird behavior, but I have a turkey dinner to show for our efforts.
I killed this turkey with a Hawk recurve made by Mike Beckwith and a Muzzy Phantom 4 blade broadhead. I hit him quarted away right above the thigh and exited through his far breast. My broadhead severed this turkey's heart and resulted in an immediate death. The turkey did not even run two steps.
You can see my thoughts on turkey shot placement in my next blog post.