Bowhunting for Turkeys: Move in on a Boss Tom’s Harem

Ultrarealistic decoys and new tactics are helping bowhunters bag more toms than ever. Here’s how to get in on the action.

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Passive Ambush From a Blind

Decoys needed: strutter, or aggressive jake plus standing hen or breeding jake

Actual breeding commences quickly as winter flocks break up. Older, dominant birds gather harems of hens and find someplace quiet to do their business. These are the henned-up toms that are notoriously difficult to hunt. Often, they’ll only gobble on the roost to assemble the harem, and once on the ground, they’ll ignore other strutting gobblers if they don’t see them as an ­immediate threat.

When the threat is immediate, however, a boss tom will administer a serious butt kicking. Get your gobbler or jake decoy within 75 yards of him, and he has little choice but to defend what’s his. The trick is to find that 75-yard zone. Fortunately, a dominant bird with a harem of hens is usually predictable. The hens will spend hours bugging in green fields, and they’ll drag the gobbler everywhere they go. Food plots, picked beanfields, and pastures are all likely areas to see the birds initially, but they’re not always the best place to set up for the shot—­especially if the fields are large.

Case in point: I saw a big tom strutting with half a dozen hens in a 15-acre field late one evening last season. They roosted on a hardwood hillside nearby. Slam dunk, I thought. I staked out my blind and decoys on the field edge and wasted the next two mornings. The flock came to the field all right, but they could see my spread from a distance, and so they skirted 100 yards around it before disappearing into the timber. Both mornings, I watched them mill about inside the timber for a half hour before finally drifting out of sight.

I slipped into the woods the second morning and found drag marks from the gobbler’s wings on an ATV trail. So I moved my blind to that trail. When the gobbler stepped out the next afternoon, my strutter was 50 yards from him. He couldn’t take it. I killed him at eight steps.

It makes sense to use a pop-up blind for an ambush like this. You may be waiting awhile, and without that blind, the gobbler is sure to sneak in and catch you moving while you’re reaching for your water bottle or swatting a mosquito.

Either a strutter or a jake decoy can work in this situation. Pair it with a hen to trip the jealousy trigger, and again, put a few feet between them. Keep your calling to a minimum—in fact, the only reason to call much at all is to converse with the hens in the flock. If they respond to your yelps, imitate them note for note. Other­wise, hush up and let the ­decoys—and your scouting—do the work.

Photograph by Hazel Creek Inc.