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Any Turkey Taken With An Arrow Is A Big-Game Prize, But Not All Turkeys Are Created Equal

Eight turkeys in a mile-long pasture don't make much of an impression; and from where I sat they might as well have been crows--or blackbirds, for that matter. Like flies on the green of a pool table, their distant forms meant almost nothing, had it not been that two of the group were long-beards, strutting their stuff between bouts of feeding. I sat in my tiny, portable blind and hoped--that was about all I could do.

Yesterday this pasture had been busy with turkeys, but I had been set up on the wrong side. I had corrected my error this morning in the pre-dawn hours, only to find that most of the birds had shifted their movements to the other side of the mountain. So now, as in most turkey hunting, I was firmly committed. All I could do was hunt it out.

Well, it wasn't a bad morning. I had the rushing Umpqua River close behind, and 40 shades of green surrounding me on the Big K Ranch--springtime in Oregon. A shower came up, clouds ghosting the mountain slopes, and the distant flock made a single-file trek toward the sheltering canopy of a lone oak tree. It wasn't much, but the turkeys were now 100 yards closer.

I didn't want to use my calls. Laying on the yelps hadn't worked at all in this country. It seemed what the birds wanted more than anything was to do their own thing, at their own pace. In previous days, a few purrs and low putts had proved to have far more effect than any serious noise-making. Additionally, the birds were too far away for any such call. My lone hen decoy sat sentinel 15 yards in front of my small blind.

As minutes turned to hours, I set a deadline of 9:30 a.m. If something didn't happen by then, I figured I'd go meet my friend, Oregon hunter J. D. Gore. With less than 30 minutes left in my deadline, I watched as the five hens fed away from the oak and toward my position. I called once, just a few yelps from my slate. Within minutes they were closing the gap--500 yards, 400 yards, 200! The gobblers, for some reason only gobblers know, weren't following. One of them broke off and headed north. Then, the others followed their friend until they were out of sight. The hens fed to within 50 yards, but there was no sign of the big boys. Man, turkey hunting can be frustrating!

On the other band, as turkey hunters know, it can all change in a heartbeat.

After 20 minutes of feeding around me, the hens started to move south! I was about ready to break cover and call it a morning when I noticed a big bird coming back toward me from far downriver. I had gotten used to the way these turkeys seemed to skirt trouble, so I had little faith that my purrs would have much effect on the big bird. Nonetheless, I dragged the striker on the slate ever so slightly in a J-pattern. The gobbler didn't seem to notice, and then he did! He changed direction in the most offhanded way, but I didn't care. He was walking straight toward my decoy.

I kept the ultra-soft calls going, while I positioned my body and my bow for a shot through the small port of the blind. At about 30 yards the gobbler settled into a strut. At 20 yards I drew, centered my pin on the oncoming bird's chest and released an arrow that pinwheeled him. The big bird spun, took two long strides and dropped to the ground, wings extended. He never moved again--no death flutter, nothing.

Field Judging

That turkey was a mature Rio Grande, weighing just under 20 pounds, with a inch beard and 1 1/4-inch spurs, a good gobbler by any standard. But really, any turkey you shoot with a bow is a trophy.

I've been lucky. My first turkeys came while hunting with guides who insisted I shoot a gobbler, though jake's--the year-old, juvenile-delinquent males of the species--looked just as good to me back then. The trouble is, once you've faced a bronzed, gleaming, big-bearded, bad-boy gobbler who has given you the evil eye from less than 30 yards, a psychic change takes place. Those 20-plus-pound birds have a way of getting under your skin.

Few hunters would resist the instinct to shoot any gobbler that comes into bow range, so talking about field judging may seem a bit silly. On the other hand, there have been many times when I've watched two gobblers come in together. It might seem obvious to shoot the bird with the biggest body. However, that may not be the bird that scores the best.

Gobblers are judged by three categories: overall weight, length of beard and lengths of spurs. Simple enough, but there is another consideration. Birds with one beard are considered typical for scoring purposes. Birds with multiple beards are considered nontypical. Because beard length is multiplied by a factor of two, birds with multiple beards score significantly higher than typical birds with single beards--thus the separate categories.

What To Hunt

North America holds five subspecies of turkeys, though you probably don't have to worry about the Gould's, a bird that found only in extreme southern Arizona into northern Mexico. Turkey subspecies vary only slightly in size. Most tom turkeys vary in weight from 17 to 28 pounds, but the National Wild Turkey Federation reports the heaviest bird in its records as an eastern gobbler taken in Kentucky that weighed 34 1/4 pounds.

The four common subspecies include the eastern, the largest, most abundant and heavily hunted and found throughout the eastern United States, but scattered in pockets throughout the country. It has a copper-bronze feather sheen and a tail with a brown tip. The Merriam's, found in much of the West, especially the Rocky Mountain region, has a purple to black and bronze sheen with a buff or white tail tip. The Rio Grande, found from south Texas up through Nebraska and eastern South Dakota and now abundant in places like Oregon and Hawaii through stocking, has a light copper body sheen with a yellowish-tipped tail. The Osceola, or Florida turkey, has a small population and limited range, and it is similar in coloration to an eastern bird but with darker wings.

Best To Hunt

The best trophy turkey is the one that lives in the area you happen to be hunting. Eastern wild turkeys are probably the wiliest of the bunch, perhaps because they face the greatest hunting pressure, but expose yourself to any of these birds and they'll eat your lunch. Turkeys are real nervous and make few mistakes, especially when it comes to facing an archer. Hunters out west have found the good numbers of Rio's and Merriam's that face only minimal hunting pressure make ideal bowhunting quarry.

It's not easy, but you can get your bow drawn on a trophy turkey. To succeed, you'll need to use a highly portable blind or extreme camo clothing in the new 3-D leafy-wear patterns, or Rancho Safari's Shaggy suit. You'll be amazed at the results. Proper use of a decoy can greatly enhance your chances. A hen decoy, sometimes combined with the use of a jake decoy, may bring a gobbler running, or at least take his focus off you. In addition, you must learn to call. Diaphragms, slate calls and striker boxes all have their place in the turkey blind; and the more you understand the subtleties of calling, the better turkey hunter you'll be.

Finally, practice, practice, practice your shooting. Taking a trophy turkey with a bow requires spot-on shots with big broad-heads that do lots of cutting. You need to anchor a turkey on the spot, and a shot through the heart is the best way to do that. I like to aim slightly low in the vitals, just below the wing butt. If you must miss a turkey, a low miss may not be the worst. Big gobblers require a running jump to take off, making a solid hip shot one of the best ways to ensure your bird never gets off the ground, or away.

In the end, luck may be your best friend when bowhunting for turkeys, because these are whimsical birds, going this way one minute, that way the next. A gobbler that seems hooked on you may turn his back and move away if a nearby hen catches his fancy, but that's turkey hunting. Good luck, and shoot the big one!


Getting a turkey in the record bock is something any bowhunting enthusiast can be proud of. The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWFT) keeps records for the big birds, by subspecies, and any member may submit a recording form for a harvested wild bird. To join the NWFT and receive a recording form, call: (803) 637-3106.

To score a turkey, start by getting an accurate weight for the bird. Next, measure the left spur and multiply by 10. Then, measure the right spur and multiply by 10. Take the length of the beard and multiply by two (for multiple beards, add the total length of all beards and multiply by two). Finally, add the four totals to achieve the total score.

According to Karen Cavender, special coordinator for the NWFT, the highest-scoring typical (one beard) wild turkey is an eastern bird that scored 94 points. The highest-scoring nontypical sported eight beards and scored 194 points!
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Title Annotation:turkeys
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Previous Article:TO HUNT SHEEP.
Next Article:Ready To Draw.

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