The big long-beard strutted like an Irish dancer, full of confidence and vigor. I had to take a deep breath to prevent my heart from racing. The old boy worked towards me, and I watched him through the scope on my TenPoint crossbow, trying to decipher the distance to the target. It was challenging to nail down the timing and shot opportunity with other turkeys milling about in an excited fervor.
I’ve hunted turkey with archery equipment in many places and know I’m fussy about shot placement. If a target manufacturer could construct a butt made from turkey feathers, it would undoubtedly stop the fastest flying arrow. The base of every feather has a blood quill, where the growth initiates. The hollow, straw-like quills steal energy from a broadhead and arrow faster than a catcher’s glove stopping a fastball in a World Series.
It can be hard to fathom how an arrow and broadhead can zip through a deer, including shoulder blades, for a complete pass through. On the other hand, a turkey at close range can stop and arrow in a millisecond before making full penetration.
Don’t be fooled by thinking a fast-shooting crossbow will automatically mean more penetration. An arrow placed in the wrong area of a bird, or at a poor angle, can spell disaster. Be fussy and focused about arrow placement before you even consider placing your finger on the trigger.
Pick Your Shot
From experience, there are a couple of shots that anchor turkeys where they stand, making retrieval much easier, not to mention less wear and tear on your nerves. If you’ve ever cooked a turkey at Thanksgiving, you understand the anatomy of a gobbler. The breasts are low and upfront, with little blood flow. The vitals are high in the back, directly below the spine. I always try to picture my arrow entry and broadhead exit on any shot. My preferred shot is having a turkey face me and shoot just above the beard. The arrow passing through the smaller breast feathers allows the broadhead to penetrate well and exits through the spine. It is a shot that can be repeated on a bird facing away, except the spine is severed first.
The wing shot is often touted as the best way to a turkey’s heart. The largest feathers, quills, and bones line up in the wing area. The shot can be a killer, but it can also be an energy robber. If you’ve ever lost a bird, you’ll know exactly how well a turkey can use its armor.
Some mechanical broadheads can lose energy faster than fixed blades on our fine-feathered friends, so consider a head that will work the best for your spring quarry. Some mechanical designs face stalled deployment, as layer after layer of feathers needs to be penetrated. I arrowed a nice gobbler, and at the point of impact, there were over 20 feathers on the ground. When I retrieved the bird and the arrow, there were feathers through the broadhead’s blades. You couldn’t even see the broadhead as so many feathers stuck to it.
Feathers also tend to get stuck in the blades and are dragged into the wound, slowing the arrow and penetration. Add hollow bones to the equation, and you will start understanding the perfect archery target made from feathers and bones. Hollow bones flex, move, and break, and multiple layers mean penetration is poor.
When you find a mechanical head that works, you’ll know it. My confidence broadhead is the SEVR, which makes short order of turkeys, with consistent deployment and penetration. I’ve shot four big birds with the 100-grain broadhead and had clean pass-throughs every time. In most cases, my arrow was 20 to 30 yards beyond the spot where the bird had been standing when shot. Using the TenPoint Stealth NXT or the Vapor RS470 ensured speed and accuracy.
Consider using heavier broadheads for better penetration. SEVR recently introduced the Robusto, a 150-grain head offering a two-inch cutting diameter. When most turkeys are shot at under 30 yards, the heavy FOC is ideal, even when you consider trajectory.
Shooting a high-speed crossbow doesn’t out-compete the feather and hollow bone factor of a big bird. You won’t merely plow an arrow through a bird because you are using a horizontal bow. Shot placement is key to quick success. Having a bird flopping in the decoys, instead of running into cover with an arrow sticking out of it, is a much better option.
The Easton Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) arrow offers the increased weight and has an aluminum surface for less friction and increased viscosity when passing through a bird. Choosing the right arrow can play a significant role in how quickly your hunt ends after you pull the trigger.
Consider using brass inserts in your arrows to increase energy transfer from your crossbow to your arrow. In the end, the increased weight upfront will provide better penetration.
Using a 3-D turkey target will help identify the killing shots where you can take the spine out. The spine is less than an inch in diameter. However, a shot through the vitals, with the intent of hitting the backbone, will help avoid disappointment.
Turkeys are extremely exciting to hunt, and an adrenaline rush can often cause a hunter to make poor decisions. Don’t take a quick shot or one at a poor angle. Work your magic, call and decoy a bird close, and close the deal with a perfectly placed arrow.
A lighted nock can be your best friend if you shoot a turkey that runs away with your arrow. Patience is your next best friend, and you may have to wait for sunset to start your search, but looking for a bright nock amongst the tangle of debris a turkey can hide in can be a bird saver. It is best to try the assorted colors before hunting to see what shows up best. Go outside after dark and place your arrows in the woods with the nocks lit up. You will quickly see what your eye is drawn to first and which emits the most noticeable light.
If a bird lays down but keeps its head up, don’t delay in cocking the crossbow and sending another arrow it and finish it off. If a wounded turkey sees a human walking, they will find a second wind and dash for cover. It only takes seconds to recock your bow, slide another arrow down the rail, and make sure your bird does not get away.
Managing the Flock
Consider a crossbow for turkey hunting on small tracts of property. Without the ‘boom’ of burning gunpowder, a flock of turkeys will stick around even if a comrade has fallen. Sit still after harvesting a bird and allow the others in the flock to dissipate on their own. Chances are good the birds will be back in the same spot the next day and not two counties over.