Any turkey hunter will tell you that decoys can be an effective hunting tool, utilized best during the spring turkey season. When the timing is right nothing can ensure a successful end to your hunt more than using the right decoy setup combined with the right calling tactics. The question is, how do you pick the correct decoy or group of decoys to use, and what are the decoy options available? Here's a quick review of your choices and how they can best work to make your time in the field well spent.
Nothing ensures success more than using the right decoy setup with the right calling tactics.
Decoys are manufactured from a variety of materials. The most simplistic designs found in stores are simply turkey images on cardboard. More sophisticated are lightweight one-dimensional fabrics with either the hen or gobbler image on both sides, and the most sophisticated designs are 3-D vinyl, foam or polyethylene turkey bodies with extremely realistic feathers and colors impregnated onto the material used. Any of these styles may work in the right situation, but there are obvious choices as to which style to choose based on ease of use, weight, and weather conditions.
Obviously, the cardboard and fabric one-dimensional styles may appear realistic head-on, but as a turkey approaches to investigate your setup, it may become wary at the lack of "volume" these decoys display as they're circled by an approaching bird. Another drawback is the deterioration of the cardboard in wet weather. Not a good, reliable decoy to use in inclement weather. If you're heading out on a long hunt, you don't need your hunt to be cut short by an unsuspected rain shower which ruins your decoy. While the cardboard styles tend to be lightweight to carry, they can still be awkward in shape to easily pack. The fabric styles are extremely lightweight and fold up for easy transport while taking up minimal space in a fanny pack or backpack. They are also excellent for wind-induced movement in the field, although once again, they lack volume and can put a smart old tom on alert when detected at close range.
By far, the optimum decoys to use are the realistic and weatherproof three-dimensional vinyl, foam or polyethylene styles. While some "molded" designs may be more cumbersome to carry and best used for hunting at nearby locations, the majority of these new 3-D decoys feature lightweight, compact, collapsible bodies which literally "pop" right into shape once shaken or punched-out from the inside cavity.
Inflatable styles are generally made of vinyl and can be quickly inflated or deflated for easy transport in and out of the woods. These materials are waterproof and extremely realistic in appearance but an added bonus for these 3-D decoys are their ability to move with even the slightest of breezes, mimicking actual turkey behavior in the field and thereby calming any wary hens or toms in the immediate area. The three-dimensional decoys come in a variety of poses and configurations, which can all be used to your advantage in the field.
Turkey Decoy Styles
Next to consider when choosing your decoy or group of decoys, are the different styles available. For the males, you'll find Jakes, "hot" or "aggressive" Jakes, full strut Toms or even a breeding pair setup, with a Hen below and Jake positioned on top.
Hen decoys are sold as "alert" hens (standing upright), "feeding" hens (bent over) or "breeding" hens (low to the ground). Moveable hen decoys can be purchased that will mimic all three positions which increases your flexibility to use it effectively in the field and reduces your need to carry several different styles.
One of the best choices to make when purchasing a decoy is a hen. An even better choice would be to purchase several hens of various positions.
Generally, you're trying to attract a big old Tom turkey. In the spring, a mature Tom is usually in search of a hen to breed, regardless of the timing...whether it's early, mid or late spring. When he sees a hen, he's going to gravitate toward it. Simply placing a standing or feeding hen approximately 15 to 20 yards in front of your position will usually lure that Tom right in. Several hens are even better, since they commonly travel in flocks, and can add to the "natural" look of your setup. Consider placing a few standing and a couple of others feeding; start your yelping and cutting, and you're set!
If you're after a more mature Tom, consider adding a Jake to the group or a breeding hen with a Jake positioned nearby.
Nothing can infuriate a mature Tom more, than to see some young boy chasing after "his" hens.
Nothing can infuriate a mature Tom more, than to see some young boy chasing after "his" hens. A "Full Strut Tom" or "Breeding Pair" can both be used to lure a mature Boss Tom who doesn't appreciate a stranger moving in on his harem.
These "challenge" setups may work best during early season when the mature gobblers are ready to fight each other for the available hens, but don't hesitate to experiment with different setups; sometimes the tried and true setups can work, other times they won't. Remember too, that while these setups can provoke an older bird earlier in the season, it may also deter an older bird later in the season when their urge to breed has waned a bit and their eagerness to fight has dwindled. Later in the season you might consider simply using a variety of hens placed in a group, without adding a Jake to the setup.
Several decoy manufacturers have catered to hunter's requests for lifelike movement in their decoys. Some decoys feature "moveable" bodies, allowing the hunter to choose which of several positions he wishes to place his decoy, such as in the alert, breeding or feeding positions. More advanced moveable styles enable the hunter to tie string from decoy to hunter (the string is usually sold with the decoy and wound onto a "reel" which is also included) and with a twitch of the string, the hunter can rock the entire body up and down, or pull it to the side, or pull just the head down, to mimic a feeding turkey. With the electronic models, simply pushing a specific button will result in a desired movement.
While a bit more work and more movement will be required by the hunter, the added naturalness displayed by these moveable decoy setups is often just what's needed to bring that old Gobbler within shooting distance.
(A word of caution: Before utilizing these styles in the field, be sure to check turkey hunting regulations and state hunting laws where you'll be hunting to be sure use of moving or electronic decoys are legal.)
Decoys that feature moveable bodies allow hunters to choose from several positions.
While decoys are fun to experiment with, it's imperative you make using them and transporting them a pleasure as well. When purchased, most are usually sold with a decoy stake or stand. The easiest to carry are the two-piece collapsible rods, best if attached with a bungee cord to ensure the two pieces don't get separated from each other. A nice option for the 3-D decoys, are the "umbrella" type expander stakes which feature several prongs at the top which help maintain the decoy's 3-D shape, especially in a stiff wind which can otherwise collapse them if attached to a thin rod.
If you wish to create movement with any decoy, simply purchase and tie some monofilament fishing line to your decoy and use it to create a bit of movement as a gobbler approaches – often just some simple wiggling detected by the approaching bird is all it takes to keep it coming and prevent it from "hanging up" just out of range.
Be sure to use a quality turkey vest with padded hunting seat, plenty of accessory pockets and built-in backpack large enough to hold several decoys. Rods can be placed at the bottom of the backpack pocket and decoys folded and stacked. Be sure to never leave a decoys head, especially a red or blue painted head, poking out from your backpack when walking, as this could potentially attract the attention of an eager turkey hunter in the woods, unaware of your presence. To avoid accidents, the best choice is to wear a blaze orange hat or blaze orange piece of clothing whenever walking in or out of the turkey woods.
Upon returning to camp, be sure to use a dry cloth to wipe any dirt or water from your decoys and stakes, and to dry them thoroughly to preserve them and prevent damage or decay from moisture. Repair any rips or holes with either glue or tape, and store decoys in a clean, dry place out of direct sunlight.
With the proper care and storage, your decoys should last a long time and serve you well on many successful turkey hunts.