Patrick Meitin has degrees in journalism and range and wildlife management. He’s been an outdoor writer, specializing in bowhunting, for more than 20 years. An expert with both traditional and modern archery equipment, Meitin lives in northern Idaho with his wife, Gwyn, and their two Labrador retrievers.
Some bowhunters choose traditional archery to emulate icons like Fred Bear, while others might just be looking for something simpler. Some in the archery industry see this as a threat somehow. I guess the assumption is an onslaught of single-string shooters will result in fewer purchases of expensive gizmos. Traditional archery is pretty basic.
I regularly find it necessary to point out that traditional bow use doesn't discount compound use. Traditional archery is just another facet of archery enjoyment. Many shoot recurves or longbows for small game, bowfishing or stump shooting, and then take up compounds when serious big-game seasons arrive. There's nothing wrong with that. You're not required to declare an allegiance – though some Pollyanna traditionalists might have it that way.
Traditional archery is experiencing a renaissance. For instance, Bear Archery has brought back many of the old classics and introduced new models, making them better, prettier and sometimes more affordable. The Hoyt take-down recurves have continued to sell briskly. Martin Archery, in the traditional dodge some 50-plus years, is taking more traditional orders than ever. Traditional archery is hip once again.
If you've been considering a traditional bow, you're in luck. I'm here to save you some beginning frustrations. First and formost, the biggest difference between traditional and compound bows, of course, is the former's lack of let-off. Even if you easily draw 70-pound compounds, rest assured any traditional bow pulling more than 50 to 55 pounds (depending on draw length) proves a huge mistake. The weight stated is at 28 inches of draw length. Each inch added/subtracted to that draw length adds/subtracts 3 to 4 pounds of draw weight; so a 50-pound recurve pulled to 30 inches becomes a 56/58-pound bow. While at full draw, and mentally pulling together the shot, you must hold every single pound until release. For most traditional beginners a 45- to 50-pound bow is a good starting point – and not a bad end point, as this is plenty bow to kill whitetails, hogs and turkeys.
Too, match overall bow length to draw length. In general terms, if your draw length is between 26 and 27 inches a 56- to 58-inch recurve allows maximum energy loading in the shorter limbs. If pulling from 28 to 29 inches, a 60-inch bow is ideal; from 30 inches and beyond a 62- to 64-inch recurve provides added smoothness and eliminates painful finger pinch for maximum accuracy.
Finally, the other big difference between traditional and compound bows is with compounds you tune bow to arrow. In traditional archery, you mostly tune arrow to bow. With wooden or aluminum arrows, this is easy – consult a spine chart. With carbon, it's a bit trickier, generally starting with the lowest deflections (.500- or .400-inch) – paired with 125- to 145-grain points – and paper tuning until you find a shaft that not only flies true, but centers where your hand/eye wants the arrow to impact.
Shooting traditional bows requires more practice and dedication. But that's all part of the fun, as you'll never truly master such bows, keeping you coming back for more and making success that much more rewarding.
Bowhunting turkeys, as I've discussed previously, depends on having the right gear. This is especially true when it comes to choosing broadheads. Choosing the best broadheads for turkeys is all about punching a big hole, to a lesser extent knocking the bird for a loop. Oddly enough, in regard to turkeys you want broadheads that are, well, inefficient (for lack of a better term). Inefficient in this context means heads that shed arrow energy on impact. They fill the prescription of less penetration and more imparted shock.
In turkey hunting, leaving arrows in birds is a big plus, as it hinders flight or sprints through heavy cover. Some of this comes automatically; turkeys are relatively small and "give" on impact, absorbing arrow energy normally used to drive arrows deeper. Too, heavy wing quills prove fairly effective armor, and broadhead are blades forced to cut substantial fiber to access vitals. Still, you want broadhead designs with aggressive cutting diameters and/or attack angles. Cutting diameter is self explanatory; attack angle refers to cutting-edge attitude when fully deployed. Efficient broadheads slice; inefficient designs chop.
Here are some broadheads I've personally killed turkeys with and notes on performance:
-New Archery Products Spitfire Gobbler Getter: I've probably shot more turkeys with this head than any other, losing, maybe, two birds out of dozens. This is essentially a Spitfire holding a blunted tip designed to smash bone, but also acting to slow penetration. It includes a 1 1/2-inch cutting diameter, which I consider minimal with compound bows.
-Trophy Ridge Rocket Aeroheads Hammerhead: This is a mechanical with a 2-inch cutting diameter and aggressive attack angle. It's deadly effective on turkeys. I've witnessed only two birds escape hits from Hammerheads; both were direct wing-butt hits that curled blades to prevent cutting action.
-Vortex/Mar-Den Mini-Max 3: The gobblers I've shot with these heads dropped in seconds with arrow always left in the bird. They're 7/8-inch closed, assuring instant deployment, opening to 2 inches. More importantly, the "L" shaped blades include a super-aggressive 90-degree attack angle when opened, imparting shock and impeding penetration dramatically.
-Rage: Any of the Rage broadheads prove reliable turkey medicine due to pure cutting diameter, normally in the 2-inch range, though pass-through normally results. The brand-new "Turkey" versions should remedy this situation.
-G5 Outdoors Striker Magnum: The 125-grain head includes an aggressive 1 1/2-inch fixed-blade diameter -- also welcomed in states where mechanicals are not legal. I've shot many recurve turkeys with them, 50 percent leaving the arrow in the bird.
-Eastman Outdoors First-Cut Magnum: Another 125-grain head, it included a 1 1/8-inch fixed, cut-on-contact main plus cross-cutting 1 3/8-inch mechanical blade. It was my favorite recurve turkey head but it has (foolishly) been discontinued -- though it frequently still appears on eBay.
-Grim Reaper: It comes in 125 grains, and includes a cutting tip and less aggressive 1 3/8-inch cutting diameter, perfect for traditional bows with lower delivered energy. The birds I've hit with it were all recovered easily.
-Thundervalley Archery Snuffer: For the heavy-tackle traditional boys, it's difficult to beat a Snuffer. It's big and nasty with three blades, 1 1/4- to 1 15/32-inch cutting diameters and weights from 125 to 185 grains.
Bowhunting Shot Placement on Turkeys
Arrow placement and shot angles are hot-button topics among many bowhunters -- at least when big game is under discussion. Admit in print to taking anything but a perfectly broadside or slightly quartering shot on deer and heated letters to the editor will invaribly follow. Turkeys are different -- vitals are easily accessed by arrows from any conceivable angle. The trick is knowing where to aim to make a shot successful.
Broadside: The object, just as with big game, is to skewer the heart/lungs. But turkeys are covered in a confusion of feathers, especially when strutting, making exact aiming points more confusing. Aim too far forward and you'll get nothing but breast meat; too far back and you're either in the guts or feather-duster fluff. In all, gut-shooting turkeys is preferable -- you'll likely recover such a bird. Breast-shot gobblers most often escape, only to become infected weeks later -- though survival is feasible.
On strutting birds aim at a point horizontal to the base of the tucked head/neck, vertically between where the forward edge of barred wing feathers intersects the highest point of the back. On birds at rest, make a cross-hair with elevation sitting on the same line as the beard base and windage about an inch behind the front of the leading edge of the folded wing. This will result in a classic heart/lung hit -- high hits severing the spine.
Aiming a bit farther back is also acceptible, a direct hit resulting in a terminal liver hit, hitting a bit low punching through thighs, which carry large arteries and will normally anchor a bird on the spot because destroyed legs and the inability to run or jump to become airbourne. This provides greater margin for error.
Frontal: This is easy (provided you're inside a pop-up blind and won't be caught drawing your bow). Aim between the base of the neck and root of the beard on both strutting and relaxed birds. Hit slightly high and you'll hit neck/head. Hit slightly low and you'll slice the bottom of the lung area.
Caution must be exercised on birds slightly angled but mostly facing you. Use the same horizontal line for elevation, but adjust windage by the margin the beard is angled away from center to assure a center-punch through the vitals.
Facing Away: This is likewise a deadly option, one exposing the entire spinal column to destruction, as well as vitals beyond. On birds at rest hold directly between the wing butts, the uppermost wedge of black body feathers created by lighter wing feather to each side. On strutting birds, aim directly at the rectum bull's-eye. Using the light wing-feather wedge and rectum as centerlines, remember to adjust windage (as you did on facing birds while using beard as center) as angles deviate from 90 degrees.
Head and Neck Shots: Head/neck shots are obviously deadly, but they make challenging targets. If your bird is extremely close, holding still and you feel confident, go for it. You'll either kill him or miss clean, making it a safe option. Wide-reaching "head loppers" from Arrowdynamic Solutions (Guillotine) and Magnus (BullHead) make connecting easier, but close shots are still a must.
F.O.C. and Bowhunting
So what's the big deal about F.O.C.?
Before I answer that question, let's establish a definition: F.O.C. (Front of Center) refers to the percentage of arrow weight situated forward of center balance point. Determine this by finding and marking arrow balance point (point installed), using a tape measure to locate and mark mathematical center (nock throat to cut-off point), dividing the length between these points by overall length (nock throat to cut-off point) and converting to a percentage (move decimal point two spaces right).
This is about balance. An arrow without enough forward weight proves unstable, the nock end trying to overtake the front in flight. Think of F.O.C. as leverage on the remainder of the arrow; leverage that produces straighter flight, keeps arrows on course after encountering a light twig or side wind and "pulls" the arrow through game for deeper penetration. In an interesting lesson in physics, as you release a bowstring, energy, provided by our muscles and transferred to the arrow by the bow, quickly travels up the arrow shaft after separating from the string. By the time the nock clears the riser, 100 percent of that energy is carried by the point. So, in general terms, the heavier the point in relation to the arrow (resulting in higher F.O.C.), the more efficiently arrows carry transferred energy.
F.O.C. as it relates to bowhunting is always a matter of compromises. At one extreme you might create 25 percent F.O.C. by installing a 300-grain broadhead -- an arrow that would fly like a dart and penetrate like crazy -- but trajectory suffers terribly, 20-to-60-yard pin gaps barely fitting inside the aperture of an average sight. At the other extreme, screwing a 75-grain broadhead into a heavy arrow to create only 7 percent F.O.C. results in a much faster arrow, but also makes it touchier to tune and group in even a light breeze.
In general, experts recommend 8 to 9 percent F.O.C. for field points, and 10 to 12 for fixed-blade broadheads. These, of course, are minimums. Bumping things up a few percentage points is no sin. In fact, while bowhunting bigger game, such as elk, I typically seek percentages up to 15 percent, giving me a penetration edge (I assemble arrows with 20 percent F.O.C. for traditional bowhunting). What this might look like is simply swapping standard 100-grain heads for 125-grain models of the same make. It can be that easy. Other options include employing heavier brass inserts instead of lighter aluminum. Bumping forward weight can also be accomplished by removing weight from the rear of the arrow; using lighter natural feathers instead of heavier vanes, shorter broadhead vanes instead of standard 4-inch plastic, or forgoing pretty vinyl wraps (10 to 12 grains) or lighted nocks (normally double the weight of plain nocks), all without adding front weight and slowing arrows.
Increasing F.O.C. might very well sacrifice a bit of raw speed, but what you gain is a more stable arrow, easier tuning, more forgiveness and deeper penetration on game (also a quieter bow). Besides, today's compound bows are becoming so fast that you have plenty of speed to burn, while still maintaining trajectories deemed "smoking hot" only five years ago.
Spring is much anticipated in the Meitin household. By March I'm fairly jonesing to shoot a bow, but it's still too soggy to set up a 3-D range and an indoor league is the epitome of boredom for me. Instead, I've learned -- or relearned -- how much fun stump shooting can be when all I want to do is shoot without fanfare or complicated preparations. All you need is a farm or piece of woods to take a walk through with a bow and single stump-shooting arrow. While you're out, check out the turkey situation, maybe you'll even come across a shed antler. And don't forget to shoot at anything that catches the eye -- a lone pinecone sitting atop pine straw is especially inviting; a rotting stump poking through a dwindling snow bank; a root against a bank of soft soil.
What I especially like about stump shooting is it allows me to regain my edge without performance-anxiety stress that often comes through even casual target shooting. Sending that pinecone spinning is certainly satisfying, but hitting close is also good enough. I say, "dead deer," or turkey or bear or hog (whatever's on my mind based on anticipated adventures) and confidence is instilled. Simple stump shooting also hones eyeball range-judging skills, a high or low hit providing instant feedback, though I often tote my laser rangefinder for solid confirmation.
I've learned a change in points is absolutely necessary. I want to spend my time shooting, not looking for lost arrows. The Zwickey Judo Point (and simular designs from Muzzy) is a favorite, as its blunt tip keeps arrows from burying too deeply in wood, and its grabbing spring arms prevent ricochets and arrows snaking beneath debris. Rubber blunts are also good, absorbing a lot of shock in hardwoods or rocky terrain that can damage arrows. Steel blunts such as Precision Designed Products Game Nabber or Ace Hex Blunts are also awesome, indestructible and designed to minimize skipping and burrowing arrows.
I normally build stump-shooting arrows from odds and ends made of broken dozens that seem to accumulate after a couple of seasons. I make them up special because I also want them to be as bright as possible, including eye-grabbing flourescent wraps and fletchings. Even when fletching a brand-new dozen I normally reserve one or two shafts to receive special stump-shooting treatment. While I might fletch hunting arrows, especially those for turkey, with drab tones, at least one is made as gaudy as possible, making it easier to locate after a stump shot while also big-game hunting come fall. Again, I want to spend my time shooting (or hunting), not searching for arrows in underbrush or grass.
Stump shooting is also fun when shared with friends. Playing "Follow the Leader" is highly entertaining -- taking turns picking shots, and how the shot must be performed (from the knees, sitting, leaning around a tree and so forth) all others in the group following suit. This can add an element of competition; the ultimate fun is coaxing a friend to break an arrow on a tough shot. We've even instituted rules where the "winner" of each round gets to continue as leader until someone betters them; another form of healthy competition encouraging one's best effort.
Stump shooting couldn't be simpler. It's about nothing more than having fun, which is what archery is supposed to be about.