Spot and Stalk Spring Turkey Hunting - With a Bow!
I’m fascinated with wild turkeys and have been dreaming about harvesting one with the bow for years, but I have craved a different style of hunt then the traditional sitting in a blind with a decoy, calling and trying to draw birds in.
I wanted to experience "spring thunder" up close and personal. So this year when Manitoba's spring turkey hunting season rolled around, my buddy Jay and I focused on a spot and stalk archery hunt.
The Challenges of Spot and Stalk Turkey Hunting
Spot and stalk spring turkey hunting has a couple of inherent challenges. One needs to understand where the birds are moving and why. This is critical in that to have a chance at an ethical shot with the bow, you need to identify ambush points where there is plentiful cover, clear shooting lanes and ideally a well concealed exit where if you find yourself having to move quickly to another ambush point, you can back out quickly, quietly and without getting busted. Another challenge is finding an opportunity to draw your bow without being seen. Practicing a long hold at full draw is extremely important as the movement of coming to a full draw under the watchful gaze of a suspicious tom is enough to send him running for cover.
Locating and Patterning Turkeys
On the first evening of our spring turkey hunting weekend we grabbed a barred owl call and a crow call, both of which are extremely effective on eliciting a “shock gobble” from a turkey. The barred owl call was a bust. No matter what I tried I was met with silence. Jay had better luck with the crow call. After a short burst the flock responded loudly with a volley of gobbles.
We were lucky in that our friend and landowner of the property we planned to hunt is an avid turkey hunter and the flock we were hunting had been on his land in some form since the early 1980’s, when they were first introduced to that particular part of the province. Warren was able to give us a rundown of where the birds roosted in the evenings and a general idea of how they move on his land. This is a great lesson in talking with landowners about turkey sightings and bird movements when asking permission to hunt. The Intel provided to us by the landowner saved us enumerable hours wandering around thousands of acres of land looking for birds. While we still had our work cut out for us, we were able to start to formulate a plan and begin to pattern the birds.
The following morning with binoculars in hand, we began to watch the birds, learning their movements and how they used the land. The turkeys we were hunting seemed to follow a similar pattern every day. At dawn they’d fly down from their roost and head South into a nearby field which we named the "turkey pasture", that provided prime turkey feeding as well as several standing copses of trees mid – field. The field itself was bordered by Bur Oak and Poplar trees. This gave the birds easy access to food and fantastic cover in which to cool off during the heat of the day and protection from predators. By midday the birds worked their way towards the far Eastern edge of the field, before heading North to the adjacent pasture and working their way West towards their roost at twilight.
The Spot and Stalk
Having identified a few different ambush points, which would put us in shooting range of the birds, we began our stalk. The first location was named “the rock-pile”, a chest high pile of boulders which gave us good cover as it backed up into heavy bush, however we would be somewhat exposed when trying to glass the birds. Sure enough, as soon as the birds made their way into the field we noticed something was off immediately. The birds seemed jumpy and hyper aware that something was amiss. While smaller groups of hens were feeding their way towards us, jakes and toms would be at full alert, soon the entire flock and stragglers veered West and worked their way towards the other side of the field, across the drainage ditch and into a neighboring pasture.
Unsure what had spooked the birds, we examined our initial ambush point concluding that the flock had spotted us while glassing them and were having none of it. This would be a great time to mention that turkeys, while not the smartest animal in the food chain, are suspicious and have unbelievably sharp eyesight. Good camo and even better concealment is absolutely key.
Fine Tuning Our Strategy
The following dawn came on clear and cool with little wind to cover the sounds of birds flying down from their roost. We set out into the turkey pasture using rock piles, hay bales, and trees for cover to close the massive gap between us and the birds. We managed to stay out of sight and not spook the birds this time, deciding that a group of hay bales midway through the pasture and about 100 yards from the birds would be a perfect spot for an ambush. Eventually the birds worked their way within shooting distance – about 30 yards. I needed to be patient and let the hens work their way past us and give the toms time to get around the final bale before I would be able to draw, aim and shoot without getting busted.
After what felt like an eternity of adrenaline pounding, paranoid thoughts of getting caught at full draw, two toms finally passed but there was a problem. The toms were so close together I wasn’t sure I had an ethical shot so I decided to hold on until they separated. A full minute passed as the toms worked their way past us and moved far enough apart that I had a clean shot. I ranged my tom one final time and decided that it was time to shoot.
I’m a competent archer, especially with a compound bow and a 60 yard shot, while never a chip shot is a comfortable shot for me. My tom was moving away from me completely unaware of my presence when at about 55 yards, I settled my pin, went through my shooting mantra (“draw, breath, elbow, aim”) before squeezing the release and letting the arrow fly. Success! While my arrow hit a few inches lower than I would have liked, the mechanical broad-head worked flawlessly. My spot and stalk spring turkey, a mature tom, was now in hand.
I learned a lot about hunting turkeys that weekend, and next spring I’ll be back in Manitoba's turkey woods once again ready for that spring thunder to roll. A spring turkey hunt is a fantastic experience for all ages, while also providing some excellent table fare. As with any qualifying species, I also plan on registering my spring turkey with the Master Hunter Program. It’s an amazing opportunity to celebrate the heritage and experience of hunting in Manitoba without focusing on size or any sort of scoring basis.
For more information on hunting wild turkeys in Manitoba, visit our Game Bird page.