Cumberland Times-News

April 5, 2014

Bow bird tips

Veteran bowhunter shares hard-earned tactics for taking spring gobblers

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— Patience is the No. 1 attribute a person needs when using a bow and arrow to harvest a spring gobbler, although a good set of nerves is important as well, according to Nick Casto.

Casto should know. During 10 years of bowhunting for the big birds, he has bagged eight spring longbeards in West Virginia.

Casto doesn’t belittle the ability to call or shoot straight, but said if a hunter can’t sit and wait for hour after hour on morning after morning, gobbler hunting this way won’t be enjoyable.

“On the majority of my gobblers, the opportunity to shoot has come between 9 and 10 o’clock,” Casto said Thursday during an interview while posing for photographs in front of his favorite turkey blind.

The blind on 17-Yard Ridge lies almost exactly on the county line separating Morgan and Hampshire. The family property of about 700 acres near Largent, W.Va., flops into both of those counties. The gobblers, of course, have no idea whether to pledge allegiance to Berkeley Springs or Romney.

All the gobblers know is that something is telling them to search for hens.

“We have a lot of permanent ground blinds on the property for deer hunting, but the one at 17-Yard Ridge was put there because it is a good area for turkeys,” Casto said.

Each season Casto sits in the blind at 17-Yard Ridge, he tweaks his technique for bowhunting gobblers.

Two hen decoys and one jake decoy are placed very close to the blind. Casto puts the jakebird five yards from the window.

“A longbeard will walk past the hens and get beak to beak with the jake decoy,” he said.

At that point, Casto has very likely drawn his Mathews Z7 Extreme bow, preparing to send a Rocket Hammerhead broadhead at the gobbler.

“The first time that happened, the first time a gobbler got within five yards and was putting the evil eye on the decoy, I was too frightened to move. I was concerned I’d spook the gobbler and not get a shot,” Casto said, adding that he had not yet learned that he could get away with a lot of movement in the blind.

Casto did not kill that first gobbler.

“I had been reading that a bow shot at a gobbler should be taken when the bird is fanned out and facing away, you know, the old Texas heart shot,” he said. “That didn’t happen with that bird and I eventually decided to shoot anyway, but the fletching hit the side of the window. I never did find that arrow.

“The key is wearing all black, quiet clothing and making sure the inside of the walls are black as well,” he said. Casto keeps windows on two sides of the blind closed, leaving open what he expects to be the shooting lane and one other side.

After putting on a black face mask, Casto uses black face paint to obscure the small portion of his countenance that remains visible.

“I take body shots, either broadside or quartering away,” he said. If a broadside shot is available, the hunter aims a few inches back from the front of the wing. Some gobblers go nowhere after being struck. Others have flown or run as far as 100 yards, but all have been recovered.

“I don’t like shots when the gobbler is in full strut. You think ‘where’s the body, where’s the body,’” he said.

Casto uses the bow for turkeys during the fall season as well, having tagged one longbeard gobbler and six hens.

An advantage to placing the decoys so very close to the blind is that a gobbler that hangs up 20 yards away is still in bow range, according to Casto, who practices shooting all year long and has taken one gobbler at 40 yards.

When it comes to calling, less is more, Casto said. “I mostly use a lot of little clucks, purrs and whines. If a gobbler lights up the morning I’ll do some louder and more frequent calling.”

The latest tweak in the retired physician’s bowhunting portfolio has to do with his jake decoy.

“I’ve been watching gobblers strut around hens and noticed that the dominant gobbler’s head gets very white, especially if other gobblers come near,” he said.

“I got concerned that the white head on my jake decoy would scare away sub-dominant gobblers, the kind that might weigh 18 pounds and have an 8-inch beard and which I would be perfectly fine taking a shot at, so I used red paint to cover the white part.”

When the West Virginia buck season comes around on the Monday before Thanksgiving, Casto takes his Savage Model 99 for a walk in the woods, sometimes shooting a buck or a doe. Other than that, it is all bow and arrow. Besides the turkey tally, he has used archery equipment to bag deer, fox, coyote, bobcat, groundhog and bear.

Up next, though, are gobblers and Casto makes this observation.

“I don’t think I’ve ever killed a bird on a day that I didn’t hear a gobble, even if it was a distant one.”

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at