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Bowhunting Spring Turkey

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July 11, 2016

by: Krissy Knox, Bowtech Ambassador

Spring Turkey season has always been a stinging reminder of why we call it hunting and not killing.  In fact, it is a fair assessment to say that these bearded birds are my archery nemesis.   My gobbler career began about 10 years after the bowhunting obsession took hold, as I learned more and longed for a spring season that I could hunt in short spurts of spare time near home.  Why did I wait so long to give it a try?!?!  Turkey season was the perfect match!  My love for archery elk hunting and calling is unrivaled, but spring turkey is as close as it gets in comparison to tugging on the heartstrings of a bull in full rut.  I’m telling you, it’s like hunting elk in April……just substituting bugles for gobbles.

Now you might ask, if I love turkey hunting so much, how can they be my nemesis?  Well… if you have pursued these feathered prey with a stick and string, you probably went into it with the same attitude I did.  Having looked at the diagrams of turkey vitals, “appropriate” shot placement, and given the opportunity to loose an arrow, I thought it should be pretty basic to tag a tom. I almost laugh out loud even writing that now!!!

I pride myself on being an ethical hunter; I’m very choosy about shot placement and not pushing the boundaries of my shooting skills or confidence.  But I must admit I’ve taken a couple of top pin broadside body shots on birds that I felt were textbook perfect (and they might have been), but given the thick brush and lack of blood trail longevity during Oregon’s rainy springs, I wasn’t able to recover them.  While this is occasionally part of being a hunter, I refused to accept it happening every time my quiver gave away an arrow.   But anyone that knows me also knows I refuse to quit!  There had to be another way to achieve spring turkey archery success.  And so there was, and is…..

Pic 3 of 4 - Krissy Knox 2016 Spring Turkey
Krissy Knox, Bowtech Ambassador

After hours of research, and proving it in the field, there are now only two shots I will take on a turkey, and even one of them I will only use in an ideal set-up.  My second choice is the full-fan rearview shot.  During the spring when toms are strutting for a good portion of their day (especially when checking out your decoys!), they sometimes offer a solid view from behind.  If the bird is faced straight away, arrow placement just below where the tail feathers converge is a direct line through the vitals with no bone or wing to interfere.  I have taken this shot, and will take it again given the perfect opportunity to employ it.  However, my absolute favorite place to settle my pin is the head/neck.  Some hunters don’t like the idea of such a small target, but really, it’s not much smaller than the vital kill zone of the body.  And a miss means a perfectly healthy bird remains instead of a wounded runaway.  In addition, aiming mid-neck allows for a margin of error when judging distance.  If I’m being honest, when taking head and neck shots, I tag the dirt almost as much as I put a bird in the crockpot, but it’s an immediate kill with no anxiety when I do connect.  There are a lot of archers that have great success with body shots from several angles, and my intent is not to change their ways.  But if you have similar stories to my first couple of seasons, I want you to know there is hope and a way to gain confidence hunting turkeys.  Worst case, you’ll dull a couple of broadhead blades…  Best case, you punch a tag on what is, in my opinion, Oregon’s toughest wild game.

The 2016 Spring Turkey season began with every hunter on social media posting about toms going nuts coming into calls.  I absolutely could not wait to get into my blind!!!  Just observing these crazy cool birds is enough to get me up on the right side of the bed hours before the rest of the world stirs.  But the anticipation of calling a mature tom into bow range makes my hands jittery!

I wasn’t even supposed to hunt until Sunday morning…..but a quick stop to set up my blind in between Saturday T-ball games and grocery shopping seemed the right thing to do.  I immediately heard gobbles in the not-so-far-off distance.  If I hurried, got my decoys set, threw on some face paint, oh, AND prayed for a miracle from God, this could happen in the 30 minutes I had to spare.  I chuckled to myself as I climbed into the blind, already pushing the envelope on making it home before my kiddo’s string cheese and chocolate milk soured in the pickup.  Hey, you do what you gotta do, right?

Intently watching the meadow beyond my decoys, just moments following a brief calling sequence, a group of toms snuck in from my left.  They were only 30 yards away!   Where did they come from???  Cautiously inching toward my nocked arrow, and barely breathing, it took what felt like hours to secure my bow and hook onto the D-Loop.  But here I was, anticipating coming to full draw on the leader of the pack, a potential and elusive (at least to me) 10-incher.  He thankfully read the script I had written for him in my dreams for the past month, when he began strutting around my jake and hen decoys.  Settling my top pin mid-neck, I slowly exhaled, said a prayer, and waited for the brief moment his head would stop bobbing.   And then, just like that, my dream had become today’s reality as the broadhead met its mark.  My biggest-ever tom surrendered to my Bowtech Eva Shockey Signature Series bow with a final wing-flap.  I think even my heart was holding its breath!  Did this really just happen?!?  Did I finally harvest my first 10-inch beard?  Then in the next instant, I witnessed first-hand what I’d only heard about in stories.   This obviously once-dominant male was being attacked by his so-called comrades.  Making a few nondescript noises in hopes of spooking them off without fully educating them about the blind, the bearded bullies retreated.  Like a predator protecting its food, I found myself squeezing through the tiny window I had just shot through, to save my quarry from the threat of further mutiny (because, really, who has time to unzip the door?).

spur-smaller
10.25-inch beard and 1-1/8-inch spurs

He was beautiful, he was big, and he was mine!  Thank you, Lord!!  This tom was indeed my largest bird to date; with a 10.25-inch beard and 1-1/8-inch spurs, I was elated!!  And while it is a gratifying and accomplished feeling to have success on a solo hunt, I felt a twinge of sadness at not having my brother, Ryan Hay, by my side.  That shaky, excited, smiling voice that gets just as emotional as I do after a harvest, was on the line 15 seconds after I pressed send on a telling photo of bloody fletching.  Next time, Ry, we go as a team….and next time, you fling the arrow and squeeze through the window first.  And thank you to my love, Stacy Locks, for helping me to speed-dress this bird like I’ve never seen before!  You are the calm, cool and level head that I will never be after a harvest.  I surely hope you all had a great season and added fun stories to your memory bank.  Here’s to picking up more chocolate milk on the way home.  Hunt Happy!!