All About Turkey Decoys
A good turkey decoy setup could be the difference between bagging the longbeard of a lifetime and going home frustrated with a tag sandwich. While nothing is a cure-all in the turkey woods, a lot of successful turkey hunters are devout decoy users. Now more than ever before.
We all know how successful a good decoy spread can be in the waterfowl world, but the turkey hunting world came around to decoying slowly but surely. Some old school hunters still refuse to utilize decoys. The new school hunters tend to be in the camp of living by the decoy.
So which camp is right? Well, it just depends on the turkeys you're hunting. We all know how fickle of a subject that can be. Good luck figuring out why one turkey will charge a decoy setup and another will run with its proverbial tail tucked.
However, there are some general guidelines that can make or break a good decoy set. There are definitely certain tactics that can trigger a response from turkeys, and there are other tactics that will send them running for the hills.
So let's go over some of the basics and discuss the world of turkey decoys.
Phase of the Season and Decoy Type
Nothing is more important than timing in turkey decoying. Each state and region will differ, but all states have changing phases during the spring turkey season. Just like whitetails in the fall, wild turkeys change throughout the spring.
In general, they are very aggressive early in the season and systematically slow down as they begin to pair up with hens and sort out the pecking order. This is key for the turkey hunter when it comes to decoying.
A full-strut gobbler decoy like the Avian X model displayed in the featured image may be just the ticket in the early portion of your spring season. Turkeys are aggressive and eager to scrap in order to sort out the chain of dominance. That same full-strut gobbler may run a mature turkey right off of your property just a few weeks later.
As a general rule of thumb, tone your decoying strategy down as the season rolls along. I like to transition from a full-strut tom in the very early season, to a half-strut jake decoy in the mid-season, and finally to a feeding hen or jake in the late season. Keep in mind that certain broods of turkeys will be more or less tolerant of your decoying. You have to know your birds.
Once you have selected the appropriate decoy per the phase of the season, placement is obviously going to be paramount. Everything from subtle details in positioning to proximity can make or break decoying success. Fine details like the way your decoy is facing could be the difference between bagging a bird and going home empty handed.
Some hunters like the decoy quartering to them, while others like the decoy to be facing away from them. It really depends on what you're hunting with and how you would like that turkey to react. More important than direction is distance. Distance will make or break successful decoying.
As a general rule of thumb, set those decoys at about 10 yards for bow hunting and around 20 yards for shotgun hunting. That distance will be crucial in the moment of truth. In addition, watch the height at which you stake that decoy. Try to keep the decoy at a realistic height in accordance with a live bird. A weary old tom will spook if your decoy is standing on a two-foot stake and hovering at three feet. Realism is key.
Keep It Real
Realistic decoys are king in turkey hunting. Turkeys are creatures of eyesight. They have some of the best eyes in the woods. If your decoy is not up to code, a weary old gobbler will probably call your bluff. A mature turkey, especially in a heavily pressured area, will notice the slightest detail. A glare off of your decoy stake or a cheap paint job could kill your hunt.
We're not trying to sell decoys for anyone, but it's hard to beat some of the new dekes on the market today. Zink's Avian X series of turkey decoys come to mind first and foremost. The Avian X decoys are the closest thing to the real deal in my opinion. However, there are certainly other brands making decoys that look great. Just look for a decoy that offers a good amount of fine detail when it comes to color, contour, and posture.
Mix It Up
While all of the little tips and tricks can help, you have to observe and take note while in the field. If a big longbeard on your property hangs up or spooks at the sight of a full sized strutting decoy, scale it back and try a submissive jake decoy. If the jake decoy doesn't work, try to go with an all hen setup. Try to create combinations if nothing is working. Put a jake decoy and a feeding hen together. Let the turkeys dictate your decoying and react accordingly.
You might be surprised at how well one specific setup will attract as a slightly different combination will repel. Reading those turkeys will do more to help you successfully decoy a big tom than anything else.