Sunday, November 6, 2011

Archery For Wild Turkeys Is Among Hunting's Most Challenging Pursuits

Pittsburgh Post Gazette
John Hayes
John Hayes
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Seeing is believing -- especially for turkeys. With telescopic eyesight throughout its 180 degree field of vision, a wild turkey can distinguish among small details at a greater range than humans and all other game animals.

Not much gets past a savvy tom -- he can see you blink at 100 yards. To shoot him with archery gear, you have to call him in closer than if you were using a firearm. With your quarry near enough to see the hairs on your hand, you draw a bow or repositioning a crossbow. Some consider archery hunting for turkeys to be among the most difficult challenges in the field.

"I pretty much bow hunt everything, and about the only thing I can think of that's more challenging is archery hunting for pronghorn antelope," said Jared McJunkin, a Kansas-based biologist and conservation field supervisor for the National Wild Turkey Federation. "A turkey is always looking for predators. It has incredible vision. It turns its head a lot. It has color [distinguishing] ability -- we know that from looking at the feather adornment and things used in sexual selection -- so you have to be covered or [camouflaged]. And to get a responsible, ethical shot, you have to reposition, draw and shoot within about 20 yards of the target, sometimes within 10 yards."

To be successful, fall turkey archers need to be as savvy as the turkeys, and smart use of blinds and decoys is an important part of the equation.

"Without a blind, hidden partially behind a tree or a log, you can't draw until he's not looking, and he's always looking," said Tom Neumann, co-owner of Penn's Woods Products, a Delmont (Westmoreland County) company that has developed and marketed turkey calls since the 1960s. "In a blind, you can get away with drawing the bow almost any time."

Placement of the blind is essential (refer to Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest for regulations regarding turkey blinds and use of fluorescent orange). In the past five years easy availability of affordable pack-in blinds has "revolutionized" turkey hunting, said McJunkin, making it easier for a hunter to conceal movement. Set up is fast, easy and quiet.

"If you've broken up the turkeys, you need to set up close to the break site," said Neumann. "If the break happens to be near a clearing, I'll set up at the edge of the clearing."
Decoy selection can be as important as blind placement.

"A turkey likes to have confirmation of what he's coming into," he said. "We use [hen] decoys all the time, especially in the fall with archery equipment. That decoy reassures the turkey and brings him in closer for the shot."

"Use realistic decoys," said McJunkin. "If you have the right decoy you can draw on a turkey at 10 yards, because he's so focused on that decoy."

A skilled archer can place an arrow under difficult conditions. But archery hunting for turkeys is less about shot placement than about evasion of the animal's highly developed senses. Sometimes the twang of the bow string arrives before the arrow.

"You definitely want a quiet bow," said McJunkin. "You want that in any kind of hunting, but particularly in turkey hunting because they have very good hearing. The release of the arrow is very quick, but I've missed many times when the birds jumped. With a gun shot they often run, but with archery hunting you very often get a second shot. As long as they don't see you move they don't know what the sound is."

Talking turkey is a challenge in spring and fall, but archers face the additional hurdle of having both hands occupied during the call. Friction and tube calls are impractical while drawing a bow. A diaphragm call is preferred.

Turkeys have been documented making more than 30 different vocalizations, all saying something different in turkey-ese. Saying the right thing at the right time is vital.

"In particular," said Neumann, "you want to imitate the sound of a young, lost turkey using the 'kee kee run.'"

The "kee kee" is the lost call of young turkeys. In a variation of the call, a yelp is added at the end to make the "kee kee run."

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