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Decoy strategies for turkey hunting
Photo by Steve Bauer

Decoys act as a lure and a distraction, which is obviously beneficial to hunters.

The Decoy Advantage

Experienced turkey hunters know calling gobblers entails much more than simply making noise to lure a lusty tom into shooting range. Sometimes, visual stimulation is key to a gobbler's demise. Enter: decoys. The question is when, where and how should they be used? Unfortunately, like most things associated with turkey hunting, there are no pat answers.

Most turkey hunters who use decoys have their own thoughts about when and where to do so. I use decoys several times every spring, but there are lots of times when I do not. Sometimes the terrain dictates my decision. If visibility is poor, and I know a tom will be in range when I first see him, I seldom take the time to put out a decoy. But there are always exceptions to every rule.

Normally when I use a decoy, it is a single hen that I can set up quickly.

At times, I use a set of three decoys, usually two hens and a jake or a full strut boss like the Primos B-Mobile. If I know where a flock of turkeys is regularly roosting and I'm hunting private land, I put out the trio on the afternoon before my hunt. The next morning, I set up close to the roost, without fumbling through the motions in the dark.

To make sure the real turkeys don't see them the previous afternoon, and the dekes don't get wet with dew in the night, I cover them with camo cloth. Well before sunrise, with minimal use of a dim flashlight, I remove the cloth, make a couple of slight adjustments, and sit down.

How it works

On one occasion, before fly down time, several toms started gobbling up a storm nearby. I also heard some muted hen talk. It's only a matter of time, I thought smugly. But rather than fly down to the meadow where I expected them to land, they chose a different location, which was disappointing. But just when I was about to get up and move to another spot, a lone tom gobbled behind me. Evidently, he was separated from the rest of the flock, and was anxious for company.

The tom was hidden by a low rise, so I was able to scoot around the tree and face his direction. When I gave him a few encouraging hen yelps, I could hear him spitting and drumming as he moved from right to left and stepped into the open. That's when he spied the decoys and decided to join them — and me.

Perhaps he thought he could chase my full-fan impostor away from the pair of fake hens but, because I was facing toward him and away from the decoys, I didn't give him the opportunity. He weighed nearly 20 pounds, had a 10-inch beard and sharp 7/8-inch spurs.

A different scenario

Another time, I located a small flock of turkeys, including an aggressive hen that came to my calls spoiling for a fight. Finding nothing but a strange lump leaning against a large black oak tree, she backtracked in a huff, taking the rest of the gang with her.

I returned the following morning with a hen decoy in my vest, and managed to locate the same loudmouth hussy again. Quickly, I set up the decoy, plunked down with my back against a big pine tree, and yelped aggressively with a mouth call. As hoped, the feisty busybody accepted the challenge. She came into view a few minutes later and headed straight for the decoy. While she was threatening it, another hen and two adult toms joined her.
One of the hefty longbeards took a ride in the bed of a pickup, although he didn't know it. I still credit the decoy for my good fortune. It drew the annoyed hen's attention away from me, and kept her busy until her companions caught up.

The safe setup

Whether I'm using a single decoy or several, I like to place them in plain view in front of me or slightly off to one side in the direction I expect the turkeys to come from. Before settling in, I step off the distance between the decoys and my position to determine the range before an incoming tom shows.

For safety's sake, I want my back protected by a wide tree trunk, and I like to see clearly beyond the decoys, just in case another hunter shows up unexpectedly.

The decoy lowdown

Decoys have come a long way in the last 20 years. My first one was a full-size, hard shell hen replica that I carried on my back in a mesh bag. It was light enough, but it was unwieldy on long jaunts.

Today, there's an ever-growing selection. They come in a variety of realistic poses, and many of them fold or roll up for easy transport.

For that reason, I rarely hunt without at least one decoy tucked in my vest. Decoys do not always work, but in the right place at the right time, a fake turkey may very well be worth its weight in drumsticks.
Ideally, decoys act as a lure and a distraction, which is obviously beneficial to hunters.

They also can pose a threat to toms, which is good for them and bad for you. Perhaps a particular tom lost some pecking order battles and doesn't want to risk getting beaten up again, or maybe a wise old bird hangs back and insists that the hen comes to him, rather than the other way around.

Decoys definitely have their place, but like all hunting gadgets, tricks and theories, nothing works all of the time, and almost everything works at one time or another. The uncertainty is what keeps the sport interesting, fresh and fun. — John Higley