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On Humility, Bowhunting Merriam’s & Gear Matters

We are excited to introduce Kevin Wilson to the Pyramyd Air blog writing team. He, and his wife, Heather, share a passion for the outdoors, hunting, fishing, camping, and backpacking. Boasting an obsession for bowhunting big whitetails and hunting wild sheep, he also enjoys wing-shooting and hunting all big game at home and abroad with firearms as well. We look forward to him sharing his adventures with all of us. ~Pyramyd Air

People often say turkeys are smart, and therefore tough to hunt. Indeed, they can humble even the most seasoned hunter, but after 28 years in the turkey woods, I offer Instead that wild turkeys simply have extraordinary eyesight, and that they’re perhaps better described as schizophrenic. Honestly, that’s what makes them so darn fun to hunt!

The author and his wife with a Merriam’s turkey taken with archery tackle.
Bowhunting Merriam’s

Returning home from a five-day archery hunt for Merriam’s, I’m reminded of both the challenge and exhilaration of outsmarting these elusive birds. Running and gunning – in other words calling, hiking, and climbing, my wife and I covered many miles and plenty of elevation in search of a willing Tom. Unseasonable heat and timing subdued the birds over our first three days. Most hens were already tending eggs, and the gobblers were locked up with hens still roaming. On day four though, things turned on. In the pre-dawn darkness, a few subtle purrs, clucks, and yelps triggered a gobbling frenzy! With a new lease on life, we called several toms to within archery range, but as bowhunting – and more specifically turkey hunting – goes the keen eyes and schizophrenic tendencies of these amazing birds foiled set after set.

Choose a suitable turkey hunting tip for your arrows and bolts. The author’s wife used this tip previously manufactured by Fuse Archery.
Turkey Broadhead

With turkey hunting, tenacity usually pays off, and it did. It was only a matter of time before we fired up a mid-mountain gobbler. Following 45 tense minutes of coaxing, he emerged from cover and noticed our decoys, raced in, and began to strut. Fully fanned at 18-yards, he was instantly greeted with a broadhead through the boiler room. One hop and it was lights out. Just like that, all previously humbling interactions faded as distant memories, and my wife proudly hoisted her bird into the air.

If you’re more accustomed to hunting turkeys with a gun, but want to give it a go with a bow, allow me to offer a few quick tips for gearing up and setting up.

Gearing Up

Each spring’s annual turkey hunting marathon reminds me of the nuances associated with locating, getting in close, placing decoys, calling these majestic birds, and of course shot placement.

PSE Archery Stinger ATK Hunter RTS Package
PSE Archery Stinger ATK

Turkeys are a small target. For this reason, accuracy and precision matters. You can’t go wrong with the PSE Archery Stinger ATK Hunter RTS Package. With a 32” axle-to-axle length, draw lengths can be changed between 21.5 inches to 30 inches to fit just about any hunter, and this bow is available in 50, 60, or 70-pound draw weights that can be easily adjusted with draw length. This ready to shoot package includes a TruGlo arrow rest, Hunter Lite quiver, Sierra Lite sight, Mongoose peep, FX4 stabilizer, and a nocking loop.

Excalibur Micro MAG 340 Crossbow
Excalibur Micro MAG 340 Crossbow

Alternatively, if prefer a crossbow, I’m a fan of the Excalibur Micro MAG 340 Crossbow. Compact (31.75”), easy-to-use, and deadly accurate, this dandy shoots up to 340 feet per second (fps), has a 25” width (un-cocked), and weighs only 6 lbs. before accessories – making it a superb choice for the mobile turkey hunter ready carry and cover ground.

As far as calls and decoys go, HS Strut products have always worked well for me. Regardless of your personal choice, realism is key. Consider using a single jake and two or three hens.

Your choice of turkey calls depends on how realistic they sound. When calling turkeys, pitch, cadence, volume, and what sounds to make when – will depend if and how a gobbler responds.
Turkey Call

Strategy & Setting Up

Hunting wild turkeys is a lot like elk hunting. We can cover tons of ground before getting a vocal response, but when we do, it’s game on. Merriam’s generally roost high. In foothills or mountains, that means up on ridges. Like other sub-species, after flying down from their roost tree, they’ll work their way along those ridges or down into valleys during midday hours, then back up high in the evening. They may linger, feed, and breed in fields but more commonly they remain under the protection of forested cover. Prompting them to gobble is half the battle. Diaphragm, slate, and box calls all work, but the key is in the pitch, cadence, volume, and the type of calls you use to evoke a response. Over the years, I’ve discovered an inventory of calls that work well for me including a roster of purrs, clucks, and yelps. Less is often more, as is volume, but sometimes the opposite is true. Again, much like elk hunting, when you finally get a gobbler cranked up, match his energy and you’ll draw him in on a string.

Realistic-looking decoys, like these ones made by HS Strut, matter.
Turkey Decoys

As far set-ups go, I’m big on pushing in close. Not too close mind you, but if cover allows, I like to get within 100 yards of where I think the tom is hanging out. Use caution though. If he’s off the roost and fired up, pushing in too close can get you busted. For archery hunting, choose topography or trees as cover. Big pine trees or scrub brush can be used for concealment. Set decoys at 20 yards and get to calling. Place a jake tight to one hen like he’s ready to mount her. Then space the other hens five or ten feet away. Know that a possessive tom will focus on confronting the jake decoy.

Turkeys have amazing eyesight and they easily pick out even the most subtle movements. Wait until the bird is strutting and faced the opposite direction before drawing your bow. If you’re using a crossbow, sitting exposed with your horizontal bow shouldered and aimed works great, but in all situations, suitable camo clothing helps a lot.

Turkeys are small targets. With all those feathers, understanding anatomy will help you properly focus on lethal shot placement. Full disclosure – like many of us, I’ve been there – pillow casing a tom, leaving nothing more than a pile of feathers on the ground, because I misjudged shot placement.

In the end, know that hunting wild turkeys with a bow is a blast, but it is a challenge. Prepare properly, choose and use equipment that works, and success will follow.

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