Bowhunting For Gobblers

Trevor McEntyre is one of Georgia’s most successful turkey-hunting archers. Here is how he goes about taking a gobbler with a broadhead.

Brad Bailey | March 2, 2003

Trevor McEntyre, of Plainville, is a bowhunter. As of February, 2003, he has taken 14 of the 27 big-game animals of North America with his bow, including grizzly bear, musk ox, both black and brown bear, bighorn sheep, antelope, Dall sheep — and an elk that scored 300 Pope & Young points. He has also traveled to Africa and Mexico on bowhunting forays.

But in the spring, when he isn’t out of state on one of his “Have Bow, Will Travel” hunting excursions, Trevor is in the Floyd County woods where he has become one of the top turkey-hunting archers in Georgia.

Since he was 8 years old, Trevor, now 38 as of February, 2003, has been shooting a bow. He picked up the sport from his father, who was bowhunting for deer long before Georgia ever had a special archery season for deer.

Trevor shoots a bow well. He won his first National Field Archery Association (NFAA) National Championship, in the cub class, when he was nine. In 1986 he won his second NFAA National Championship in the professional freestyle class. He has won 10 or 11 state championships and seven or eight Southeastern championships with his bow.

To feed his addiction to bowhunting Trevor owns and operates the Archery Pro Shops Inc. stores in Plainville and Rome.

By the early 90s, Trevor had killed a number of turkeys with a shotgun, and he was intrigued with the idea of hunting turkeys with his bow.

Trevor McEntyre, of Plainville, has killed 18 turkeys with his bow prior to the 2003 season. The biggest obstacle to overcome in taking a gobbler with a bow, he says, is concealing the movement required to draw your bow with a turkey at close range.

“I guess I was tired of shooting them with a shotgun,” he said. “Everyone said how hard it was to shoot one with a bow, but I thought I could do that.”

It took him eight trips to the woods, but in his first year he killed a jake with his bow, and he has been successful taking turkeys with his bow ever since. To date, he has killed 18 turkeys with a bow, including taking 3-gobbler limits by bow twice.

As a beginning turkey bowhunter, Trevor said some of the best advice he found was from Jerry Peterson, the owner of Woods Wise Calls.

“He recommended setting up in a blind with your back to the bird and a “V” cut in the blind to shoot through. I don’t use the blind, but I put my back to the bird, and try to get a decoy out there, and hopefully call the bird past me.”

Decoys are a key piece of gear for a bowhunting turkey hunter, says Trevor.

“I use Feather Flex decoys, but any of the others will work fine. The main thing is to get the turkey’s eyes off of you.

“If I have a bird gobbling, I will move toward him until I am within 75 or 100 yards, and I will put two hens and a jake decoy out in a clear spot. Then I count steps until I am about 20 yards in front of the decoys, and I set up facing the decoys with the bird to my back.

“Most of the time, the turkey is going to go to the decoys, and the decoys give the bird something to focus on.”

Much of bowhunting for turkeys is exactly like gun hunting. Trevor hunts completely camouflaged. He uses a variety of calls — box calls, slates and diaphragms — to pull a gobbler in.

Trevor sets up with his back to a gobbling bird and attempts to call the bird past him toward his decoys. If everything works right, he can draw his bow unseen on a strutting bird facing away from him that has its head hidden by its fan.

“I have always enjoyed the calling more than the killing,” he says. One variation, however, is that once the bird is in close — especially if it has passed Trevor’s location — he stops calling altogether.

“You want the bird to be facing away from you. If you call once he has gone past, you will turn him, and if the bird is facing you, you lose the advantage of movement.”

The “movement” factor is the biggest difference between hunting with a gun and hunting with a bow, said Trevor.

“When you hear a bird coming when you are gun hunting you know which way he is coming, and you are facing that bird. You’ve got the shotgun on him the whole time.

“With a bow, it’s like hearing someone coming up behind you and having to resist the temptation to turn around and look. I sit with my back to the bird, listening to hear him walking and gobbling and coming, and I have to wait to let the bird get past me before I have a chance to shoot. It’s pretty exciting.”

He has had gobblers strut past his tree as close as eight feet away.

“Then while the turkey’s attention is on the decoy, and maybe they go into strut, or go behind a tree, you can draw on them.”

You can expect to get picked off by the gobbler a lot more often bowhunting than gun hunting — and it will almost always be drawing your bow that decides the outcome of the hunt. Happiness for a bowhunting turkey hunter is getting to full draw without being detected.

“There’s like 10 seconds when the bird is there and you have an opportunity to get to full draw or the bird will be gone,” said Trevor. “If I can get to full draw without spooking the bird, he’s dead.”

The sights on Trevor’s Martin bow are the same as for deer hunting, a single fiber-optic pin zeroed at 25 yards. He aims high or low from there depending on the distance of the shot. He shoots  Easton 2413 arrows for turkeys, and he pulls about 65 pounds draw weight.

The broadhead he shoots is a Vortex 125 expandable. The broadhead has a 2 3/4-inch cutting surface that is effective on turkeys.

Trevor hunts turkeys with a Vortex 125 expandable broadhead that has a 2 3/4-inch cutting surface. If the blade goes anywhere through a turkey’s chest cavity, the bird is dead, he says.

“If you hit a bird anywhere within the 6-inch (body cavity) kill zone, it is a dead bird. I have never lost a bird with my bow,” he said. “If they are walking away, I aim for the dead-center of the back. As long as I center the chest cavity with that 2 3/4-inch broadhead, I have the vitals. If the bird is in strut, facing away, I aim for a spot about two inches above the vent. If the bird is broadside, I am aiming for the chest cavity, and you can use the wing butt as a point of reference. If a bird turns toward me, I aim at the base of the beard — and hope I hit a little to one side.

“Usually the arrow doesn’t go all the way through the bird,” he said. “All of a turkey’s nerves run through its back. If you hit it anywhere toward the top, the bird will go down and flop just like you had hit it with a shotgun. If you hit it a little high, it may run or fly. I hit one bird in Iowa that flew 20 yards before it folded up in midair.”

Usually the turkey is at the decoys, and the average range is about 20 yards.

While some bowhunters hunt turkeys from behind blinds, Trevor does not.

“I don’t like to be tied down by a blind because I like to be able to move. The fun part about turkey hunting is being able to take off after them. If you have a blind, you’ve got to take it down rather than just jumping up and running.”

When he sets up, Trevor sits flat on the ground.

“I sit on my rear, and I don’t use a stool,” he said. “If you start raising yourself above the ground you are decreasing your odds in a hurry.”

Trevor is right handed, and he sits with his back to a tree and his legs together off to his right. He sets up with his decoys slightly to his left hoping to shoot off his left shoulder. If he has time, he will break down any brush close enough to interfere with the bow and arrow.

Then he waits, and it is often nearly heart-stopping excitement to be facing away from an unseen, gobbling turkey that is getting closer and closer.

“Sometimes I get a shot, and sometimes I just get to watch,” he said. “If the bird comes around the tree on my left side, I get to watch him strut and do his thing while I look for a place to draw. If he comes by on my right side, I am pretty much out of business. I just watch and hope the bird will turn.”

If he does not get a shot, Trevor will sit silently without calling until the bird leaves, and then he will move and try to set up again.

The biggest tom Trevor has killed with his bow was a Floyd County gobbler that he had worked two days earlier — and he watched the big bird destroy one of his decoys.

“I heard the bird gobble on the roost, and I set up my decoy at the edge of a pasture. But by the time I found a place to sit, I was about 34 yards from the decoy. I just hoped that the bird would come out between me and the decoy, but it didn’t. It came up from the other side, and I just didn’t want to shoot that bird at 34 yards. I just watched him while he beat up my jake decoy. He tore it all to pieces. You get to see a lot of things bowhunting that you don’t usually get to see. Usually, when you are gun hunting, when you pull the trigger, the bird is still on his way in.”

Two days after the demise of his decoy, Trevor caught the gobbler roosted in the same tree. This time he called it past him and made the shot.

The gobbler had two beards, one 12-inches long and the other six inches; its spurs measured 1 3/8 inches; and it weighed 22 1/2 pounds.

All of Trevor’s bowkilled turkeys have been taken in the morning, but that is more a reflection of the time available to hunt before getting to his shop. He spends 30 to 35 mornings each season in the turkey woods.

While there are more and more hunters taking to the woods with broadheads in the spring hunting gobblers, it can be a frustrating exercise.

“Some of the more experienced bowhunters who have shot a lot of deer with their bow are looking for something new, and they start turkey hunting,” said Trevor. “Usually it takes about a year or two for their patience to wear out, and they go back to hunting with a shotgun.

“I know three or four bowhunters who are real die-hard turkey hunters,” he said. “But there are getting to be more and more who will kill their first bird with a shotgun, and then they start hunting with a bow.”

Last year, Trevor killed two turkeys with his bow, one in Iowa and one on his hunting property in Floyd County.

“I killed the Floyd County bird about the third week in April,” he said. “I had called several birds in earlier in the season but had no kills. I had roosted a group of birds the night before. When I set up, a jake came in strutting and gobbling like a big bird. He went straight past me heading for the decoy. I shot him through his fan and cut off three tail feathers. If you aim about two inches above the vent, that is usually perfect.

“I am not that picky bowhunting for turkeys. If a jake gives me a hunt like I want, he is a dead bird with a bow. Taking a jake or a gobbler is a very successful hunt with a bow.”

The difficulty of hunting with a bow adds to the reward of a successful hunt, he says.

“When you are bowhunting, it is a lot more difficult to get a bird in range. With a shotgun, you may have to move the barrel 12 inches. But with a bow, you have to move the bow and the arrow a lot more than 12 inches. Any turkey is a trophy, but with a bow, it is a lot more of an accomplishment.”

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