Traveling home from work each day I pass a flock of turkeys scratching for bugs in a green hay field. With turkey season in full swing I could not take it any longer. I wanted to chase those birds. After a friendly conversation with the landowner I was granted access. It was time to get to business and catch them that afternoon. During turkey season my gear always rides in the truck bed so, it did not take long to pull it on. Tossing on a turkey vest full of gear, I was off for the field edge for a quick hunt.
At my destination there was sign everywhere, including wing feathers scattered about. My initial setup did not look promising so I made another adjustment. It was so late, I would be lucky if I had not spooked the birds. Inside of 30 minutes, the flock filtered out, feeding right in front of me. What a perfect situation to help close the deal on a longbeard after a long day at work. It was only 6:00 o'clock when I was loaded up and heading home.
Everything came together perfectly that evening. Traditionally hunting wild turkeys is a real challenge and chasing these birds with a bow and arrow can be downright crazy. Most hunters find it enough of a challenge putting themselves into position to kill a turkey with gun. Change your weapon of choice to archery gear and now your mobility is cut down, calls are limited, and the last 50 yards of an approaching turkey can be hair raising.
Taking a different approach to hunting birds will get you archery close. That would include using binoculars to spot turkeys. Photo by Brian Miller
To help me get close enough to kill a wild bird with a bow I talked to Rich Nicholas. He is a true outdoorsman and turkey hunting expert. He has taken down more longbeards then I can count. When he is not hunting for himself he is calling, guiding, and scouting others. We are lucky enough to have Nicholas provide some of his deepest secrets towards getting archery close to our sharp-eyed wild turkeys.
Planning your Pursuit
The largest challenge of archery gear is you are stuck in one location. Sneaking and peaking is off the table. With mobility cut down you have to be certain you are in the perfect location. Nicholas will give us a few techniques to ensure this is done successfully. Nicholas explains, "Turkeys do not seem to mind newly erected blinds." They will feed past them like they had been there all along. Laying in wait of your quarry is tough to do unless you have the confidence that your location will produce.
After finding the roosting trees by scouting for the large J-shaped droppings, then he identifies the best available food and water.
Ground blinds are the ideal way to tackle birds with archery equipment. With the amount of movement needed a blind is the only way you can come to full draw undetected. Most blinds are blackened on the interior. Therefore while hunting in a blind, swap out your camo for black clothing to blend with the interior of the blind. This will help you avoid being detected because of movement.
Travel routes are killer locations for a spring ambush. Setting up just anywhere will not work; Nicholas approaches his scouting like an advance chess game. The level of detail and strategy he has taken is brought to a whole new level. I have heard from many hunters to find patterns by looking for the roosting, feeding, and travel routes. Nicholas initially begins with these but then expands his search to narrow down to specific longbeards and timing.
After finding the roosting trees by scouting for the large J-shaped droppings, then he identifies the best available food and water. Searching out those locations for fresh tracks, feathers, and droppings allows him to understand the three core areas. Now it's time to narrow down the actual paths they walk.
One of Nicholas' deepest secret is what he calls "Dusting Paths." This is when he sweeps a section of the travel route clear of debris so he can see the turkey tracks in the dust. He is meticulous at following turkey tracks through the woods. Nicholas takes nothing for chance; he needs to know exactly where and when these birds are walking through the woods. Once the leaves are cleared from the forest floor he returns a day later to read the tracks left in the dust.
Finding these routes can take some time, so work many locations; do not just settle on one route. Once successfully establishing a travel route, he turns up the heat. It's time to find out exactly when the bird is stepping foot on the trail. He does this by checking these travel routes each day. He shrinks his timeframe each time until he knows the exact hour a turkey is traveling. To avoid disrupting the birds he checks these during mid-afternoon and other odd times. Turkey are not like deer, checking routes is fine just avoid scaring them. Unless turkeys are disrupted they have very consistent travel routes. Nicholas focuses so much on travel routes because he primarily hunts a lot of public ground. Most of this is wooded, leaving little for agricultural.
Plan for the Inevitable
Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Hunting on public ground, which Nicholas' often does means dealing with other hunters. As soon as you have the travel routes down something can happen to change a bird's pattern. Nicholas divulges that he watches birds year round. This gets very intense after the snow melts, you cannot start too early. He loves to pattern birds because it is something that gets him in the woods and he can share the experiences with his children. Even though today many hunters are utilizing trail cameras and spotting scopes he does little of this type of scouting.
When it comes to turkey hunting the more you put into the sport the more fun it becomes. Often watching and patterning hens has led him to longbeards. Just last year watching a group of hens from one ridgeline led him to several longbeards one ridge over. This was a bird that he was dangerously close to killing. He patterned this bird down to within 30 minutes of when he was passing over the ridgeline. That is amazing! This is where he takes a different approach to hunting birds which allows him to get archery close. The more glassing and dusting paths you do the more a hunter will discover about their local flock.
These are just a few of the many tricks Nicholas has taught me about turkey hunting. The more you know about the birds in your area the more the dots begin to connect. From understanding where your target birds are roosting to exactly where those longbeards are going to step. He is so meticulous, which doesn't surprise me that he is also a trapper. He is targeting to get his turkey to place its foot in the exact right position. Use some of these tricks of the trade to get archery close on a wild turkey.