The Turkey Hunting Connection

March 18, 2014 - Mathews Inc

Want to become a better deer hunter? Master the challenge of bow-hunting spring gobblers.

By Babe Winkleman

The crack of a broadhead hitting a drumstick is wonderful, because a gobbler without gams can’t run or fly. I recently heard that magnificent sound in South Dakota. So did 10 other folks in camp, including Joel Maxfield of Mathews. For years, Maxfield has been a fixture at my annual sponsor-appreciation turkey hunt in Gregory County, S.D., just west of the Missouri River and north of Nebraska. The event features a who’s-who of archery industry professionals, and Maxfield makes the hunt every year.

It’s easy to understand why. The thrill of calling a drumming, spitting, strutting gobbler into bow range is amazing. Turkeys fill the void bow-hunters experience between deer seasons, and the camaraderie at spring turkey camp is no less magical than that of November deer camp. Of course, delicious turkey meat is an added bonus.

Lessons in the Turkey Woods

At camp this past spring, the pre-hunt conversation focused on how turkey hunting can make you a better deer hunter. Woodsmanship is a major factor. Although turkeys can’t really smell, their eyes and ears are phenomenal, and when they get spooked, they’re gone. Savvy turkey hunters must use supreme stealth when moving, including walking silently, reading sign to identify ambush areas, and using cover and terrain to avoid being skylined. These talents are also critical when bow-hunting for whitetails or other big game. If you can put the sneak on a wary longbeard, you’ll be better prepared for spot-and-stalk deer hunts.

Turkey hunting also increases your observational skills. After setting up, it’s imperative to sit statue-still and be on constant watch. Turkey hunters learn to scan the landscape using only their eyes, because even a slow turn of your head can alert a sharp-eyed gobbler. Concentrate when studying the terrain, and train yourself to not look for turkeys. Rather, look for parts of turkeys, just as you watch for a buck’s white throat patch or the flick of a deer’s tail. The best hunters can spot game before animals see them.

Turkey hunting also teaches you to look with your ears. Train your ears to pinpoint scratching or soft calling from an unseen bird.

Equipment Considerations

If you lure a gobbler within bow range, you must still close the deal, which means drawing your bow without getting busted. A smooth draw is critical, but that can only happen if the bow is set at your ideal draw weight.

Too many bow-hunters have their bows set at their peak draw weight. Drawing your top weight requires lots of excessive movement, especially during cold weather, when your muscles are chilled and you’re wearing more clothing. I can pull 83 pounds if I put some snot into it, but my Mathews Creed is a modest 70-pounder, so I can draw it in one smooth move. Believe me, 70 pounds from a Mathews generates the speed and kinetic energy to send any creature on the planet to the butcher shop.

If you’re unsure about your ideal draw weight, see a Mathews retailer for help. Mathews only sells through pro shops with seasoned archery experts who know their stuff. I rely on my retailer to work with me on paper tuning and peep installation. When I leave with my bow, I have 100 percent confidence in the equipment and setup. I take that confidence into the field, whether for turkeys, bull elk or big whitetails.

It’s wise to routinely draw your bow in slow-motion during pre-season practice. In addition to strengthening your shooting muscles, this prepares you if you must use a super-slow draw on a skittish animal. If you can’t draw your bow in slow motion, decrease the poundage, or keep strengthening your muscles until you can.

Back to Hunting

Let’s say you’ve picked a good spot, sneaked in silently, called a bird close and come to full draw on a gobbler. The turkey is quartering away at a slow walk, getting farther with every step. Do you know the distance?

Your distance judgment on a turkey must be more precise than with a whitetail, because a gobbler’s vitals are the size of a baseball instead of a dinner plate. And if you don’t bust bone or put that broadhead into the vitals, the bird will be gone. It’s a shame to let a wounded turkey get away.

Get good at judging distance. Use a range-finder, and even put rocks, sticks or stakes at known distances so you can pick the right pin at the moment of truth. Do this for turkeys and all other fixed position bow-hunting. Some bow-hunters put color-coded flags at 20, 30 and 40 yards to match the color sequence of their sight pins. It’s a great idea, and because it eliminates the need for a rangefinder, it can mean the difference between a kill and a lost opportunity.


On that beautiful spring day in South Dakota, my Mathews Creed came to full draw on my Merriam’s gobbler, and I knew the bird was dead before I shot. I had total confidence in my equipment, yardage and marksmanship. The sound of crushed bone told me I was right, and the hunt brought me one step closer to becoming a better bow-hunter.

If you’ve never bow-hunted for turkeys, start. It will be one of the most fun and rewarding adventures you’ve had. If you’ve tried it, keep going.

Remember, the next time you’re in the spring woods, pay attention to the ways turkey hunting can enhance your archery deer hunting skills. Come September, you’ll be glad you did.

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