There are fundamental differences between turkey hunting with a bow and a shotgun, including effective range, shot placement and set up.
Your effective shooting distance (how far you can be from a turkey and likely kill it with a single shot) will vary with the level of your shooting skills and the type of equipment you’re using.
A good rule of thumb for shotgun shooters is 40 yards. Anything further than that and there’s a good chance you might not hit the head and neck with enough pellets to kill the bird.
Any closer than 20 yards and your pellet pattern may not have time to open up enough for maximum effectiveness.
Bow hunters, on the other hand, will often wait until a bird has come to within 20 yard before taking a shot.
Shotgun hunters should take turkeys with a head and neck shot for a quick, clean kill. Shot shooters have a better chance at a lethal head shot than do bowhunters because shotgun pellets spread into a relatively wide pattern, and it takes just a handful of pellets hitting the right places to kill a bird.
Beyond 40 yards, shotgun pellets to the body won’t penetrate the heavy turkey feathers. Inside of 20 yards and a shot to the body will ruin too much meat with pellet damage.
However, the head is a pretty small target for an arrow that strikes just a single point. In addition, turkeys are a nervous sort and will often jolt their head when they hear the sound of a bowstring being released.
Therefore, bowhunters should forget the head and aim for the body in order to hit vital internal organs.
Bowhunters must raise their bow, reach full draw and release an arrow, which is hard to do without a turkey noticing. Turkeys have excellent vision, far better than ours, and once they see movement they’ll bolt. Therefore, most bowhunters like to hunt from a ground blind that will hide all the moving parts of an archery shot.
In contrast, shotgun hunter can set up in front of tree, large enough to conceal their outline, have their gun at the ready, and have a good chance of getting off a shot before a turkey notices.
The modern compound bow is the most popular choice for turkey hunting, but traditional recurve and longbows also have their fans. Hunting with crossbows is illegal in Oregon.
If you already have a bow you use for deer or elk hunting, it will work fine for turkey
Many turkey hunters, though, like to reduce the draw weight of their deer/elk hunting bow to 45 pounds or less for turkey. Unlike deer and elk hunting, where you’re usually standing or kneeling when you take a shot, you’re likely to be sitting when shooting a turkey. In this case, a lighter draw weight may be easier to handle.
A recurve bow, often called a traditional bow, does not require much strength from the shooter. They are simple to shoot and have few working parts – bow limbs, string, arrow rest and riser.
A longbow is the most challenging kind of bow to shoot. These long bows can be almost as tall as the hunter, making them difficult to shoot from a blind. They lack arrow rests and sights, making accuracy tough to master. And they don’t have the arrow speed of a compound or recurve bow.
Modern compound bows come in a variety of sizes and configurations, so it’s important to find one that fits you properly. The best place to find a properly fitted bow, is at an archery pro shop or specialty sporting goods store. The experts at these stores will help you select the best bow for you based on the following factors:
The top accessory for any turkey bowhunter should be a rangefinder. Turkeys have such a small kill zone, that knowing the exact distance to your target can be critical.
A camouflage glove or paint for your bow hand and fingers can be easy to overlook. But successful turkey hunters go to a lot of trouble to conceal themselves from a keen-eyed turkey – don’t let a bare bow hand give you away.
There are many options when it comes to choosing arrows and broadheads for turkey hunting.
If you already hunt big game, you can use the same arrow shafts for hunting turkey.
If you’re new to bowhunting and buying arrows for the first time, select an arrow shaft made of a lightweight, fast-moving material like carbon fiber. An arrow that weighs about 6 to 8 grains per per pound of draw weight (on a compound bow) is a good guideline. This will maximize kinetic energy, accuracy and penetration.
There are three styles of broadheads popular with turkey hunters:
However, the long blades of a guillotine broadheads can get caught up in twigs, branches and fingers. And by aiming for the turkey’s head, you’re picking the smallest available target. These wide-cutting broadheads will not penetrate the body of a turkey.
Whatever broadhead you choose, be sure and practice with it once in a while. Designate a practice broadhead so you’ll know exactly how it flies and expands the point of impact. The best broadhead for hunting will be the one you can shoot most accurately.
Bowhunter education is not required to hunt during archery-only seasons in Oregon. However completing Oregon’s Bowhunter Education Program can make you a more versatile and successful bowhunter.
In addition, several neighboring states do require bowhunter education. Bowhunters who are certified through Oregon’s Bowhunter Education Program will be qualified to hunt in all other states and Canadian Provinces.
Students in the Oregon Bowhunter Education Program get an introduction to bowhunting, and learn more about wildlife conservation, safe and responsible bowhunting, the parts of a bow and arrow, how to prepare for a hunt, hunting techniques, shot placement, game recovery and outdoor preparedness.
There are two options for completing this course:
Learn more about Oregon’s Bowhunter Education Program, including how to register for the course.
If you want to learn more about bowhunting safety, archery pro shops and specialty sporting goods stores sometimes offer classes on the subject. Check out an archery pro shop near you.
Sport shows may also offer seminars on bowhunting safety, as well as other skills to help you become a more successful bowhunter.