By Jenn Danella, Pennsylvania Hunter and Outdoorswoman
On opening day of the 2018 Pennsylvania spring gobbler season, I was able to get my first turkey with a compound bow. As an avid bow hunter, this was something I have always wanted to accomplish. And to this day, it is still one of my favorite hunting memories. I was able to share the special moment with my boyfriend, Hunter Homa, who was sitting with me in the blind filming the entire hunt. He taught me everything I know about the sport and I could not have gotten to where I am today without him.
As the sun rose, we began to hear gobbles from every direction. We knew it was going to be a good hunt. It wasn’t long until we had a couple of hens pay us a visit. They were hanging out across the field on the wood line and I let out a couple yelps to get their attention. Once they caught sight of the decoys, they ran over to pick a fight. They puffed up their feathers and pecked at the decoys as Hunter and I tried to contain our laughter. Slowly following behind them was a nice looking gobbler. The two hens moved off and continued on their way crossing the field. We were able to break the tom off those hens and he stepped right in between the two hen decoys. As he strutted and turned his head away from me showing the backside of his fan, I drew back my bow. I waited until he gave me the perfect broadside body shot, took a deep breath, and released the arrow. I watched as my arrow hit him, he did a full 360° flop, ran a few steps and expired. It was a perfect heart shot! The months spent practicing finally paid off. I could not have asked for a better result.
Bowhunting vs. Shotgun
There are plenty of pros and cons when it comes to turkey hunting with a shotgun or with a bow, as well as different challenges you could face with each. While using a shotgun, you are able to easily switch up spots and stay mobile, a tactic utilized by many turkey hunters. Attempting that with a bow will bring you little success. Due to the small vitals on a turkey, close accurate shots are extremely important while hunting with a bow. Using a shotgun, you might be able to shoot up to 50 yards depending on your shotgun/choke set up. Both methods require a different skill set, but no matter which one you enjoy, tagging a Pennsylvania gobbler is a great experience!
Bowhunting Turkey Tactics and Tools
I have found the most effective way to hunt turkeys with a bow is from a ground blind. The process of drawing back your bow requires a lot of motion, which you can more easily do while hidden inside a blind. Turkeys do not seem to spook from the presence of a ground blind as long as you wear black clothing and cover your face with a facemask or face paint. I prefer to place the decoys about 15 yards away from the blind for a better chance at a close shot. I have found the best way to practice your shots is sitting on the same seat you are going to use in your ground blind while in your backyard. That way when hunting season arrives and a gobbler finally comes into range, you will have found complete confidence in your shot. Another tool I started using last year for turkey hunting is a trail camera. By using a trail camera you can figure out a gobbler’s pattern – what time he visits certain fields, or the area he typically likes to roost. Then you can use this information to set up a ground blind along his travel route for an ambush. This is a great way to kill a large tom if you are inexperienced in calling or hunt in an area where birds are really pressured. You can just wait for the birds to walk by and not rely on calling them in. If you are going to be hunting a property where you cannot visit often to scout, trail cameras are essential tool.
Another item I have found useful is wearing a watch. Although it seems trivial, it plays an important part in my calling sequences. In the woods, it always seems like a half hour went by but in actuality, it only turned out to be a mere five minutes. I ran into this problem last year where I thought I was waiting enough time in between calling to only realize I was calling every couple of minutes. Now when I wear my watch, I easily avoid spooking birds by overcalling.
Last but not least, I have noticed that the more realistic decoys you buy, the more distracted the birds tend to be when they are around you. I have had hens attack our decoys and toms try to breed them while I was only 15 yards away watching it unfold! Usually, this gives you more time to get your bow drawn back and execute a better shot since the gobbler is oblivious to what is going on around him. I am not saying you should go out and break the bank on decoys, but don’t be surprised if you have a little more success with better decoys.
When it comes to preserving the memory of my turkey hunt, I really like the wooden tail and beard mounting plaques you can purchase at pretty much any sporting goods store. They look great on the wall, they are easy to do yourself, and take up little space. Not to mention, they are a fraction of the cost of a full turkey mount. For my first turkey with a bow, I decided to get a little creative with the classic wooden mount because I wanted to cherish this one a little more. I attached the wings in addition to the fan and beard, and was so happy with how it turned out! I also like to take good quality photos of the bird so I can appreciate the memories made that day forever and show my grandchildren one day. Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Now to my favorite part: preparing and enjoying a delicious wild game meal with friends and family. My favorite recipe is a twist on the classic wild turkey nugget. The first and most important step is soaking the turkey cuts overnight in buttermilk in the refrigerator. When ready to prepare them, I dip them in mustard, and then cover them with flour. Deep fry and enjoy!
Jenn Danella is an avid turkey hunter from Washington County, Pennsylvania.