The use of turkey decoys is probably at an all-time high these days. I can remember the first decoy I used many years ago when they first came out. It was UGLY. But I killed a lot of birds with it in front of me. Beginners luck? Were the turkeys in a mood where they would make a beeline to anything remotely resembling a hen? Who knows, but in those days, while I found some success, a turkey decoy worked against me as much as it worked for me. Today though, decoys are more realistic than ever, strutting tom decoys are growing in popularity and we learn more about how to use a turkey decoy effectively each year.
Yet, there are still times when a turkey decoy seems to be the reason for a spoiled hunt. They’re easy to blame, but I think it’s more operator’s error than the decoy’s fault. Let’s take a look at some common errors and what we can do to avoid them.
1. Be Sure your Turkey Decoy Setup isn’t a Turnoff
As turkey season progresses, so does a gobbler’s desires. In the early season, they are looking to secure their status on the pecking order. The strutting tom decoy that worked so well on opening weekend is now scaring sub-dominant birds away. They have been whipped a few too many times and don’t want to scrap with a dominant tom again. Now’s the time to switch to a single jake decoy with a hen or two. They will see your setup as a chance to redeem themselves.
Once a longbeard shifts his focus from fighting to breeding, a jake decoy (or strutting tom decoy if I know the bird I have targeted is a boss tom) placed over a hen in breeding pose is my go-to setup. Later, when hens start nesting, I will use a single hen decoy in a feeding pose around strut zones after the morning flocks disperse.
For help with choosing the right setup based on the phase of the season, download this free turkey decoy setup guide from Montana Decoy. It will get you on the right track, but you still may want to experiment or finely tune your setups based on the hunting pressure and personality of the birds in the area you are hunting. Just be sure to give a longbeard a representation of what is motivating his actions.
2. Take Yourself out of the Scene
For some reason, many hunters like to place their decoy directly in front of them, and in-line with the direction a bird is likely to come from. Big mistake. While the decoy will distract him, if you are in the background, there’s a good chance you will be busted.
Based on your scouting information or the direction of the tom’s responses to your calls, make an educated guess as to where he will approach from. Place yourself between the bird and the decoy. This way, his vision will be “locked” on the decoy and he will be pulled past your location. Quit calling once the bird is committed to checking out your fakes and get ready to shoot.
3. Don’t Hide your Decoy(s)
For a decoy to work, the turkey needs to see it. Use them in open areas such as field edges, logging roads and sparse timber. If I am working a bird in heavy cover, it’s probably one of the few times I will not put a decoy out. In these situations, the longbeard is searching for my calls and we are in close quarters. If he stumbles on a decoy, he may get spooked. Decoys work best when toms can see them from a distance. Use the terrain to your advantage, whether it’s a high spot in a field or the top of a gently sloping wooded ridge.
4. Set your Decoy System Close
This is a common mistake. Let’s say your maximum range is 35 yards, so that is where you place your decoys. But sometimes, stubborn gobblers hang up, strut and wait for hens to come to him, leaving you with no shot if your decoy is set up at the limit of your shooting range. It’s disheartening to watch the decoys do their job and still not have a shot.
Set your decoys up at 15-20 yards, and even closer if you are using a bow. This way if the bird does hang up, he is still in range. And if he doesn’t, well, I’ll take a 20-yard shot over a 35-yard shot any day.
5. Secure Your Decoys on Windy Days
A light breeze will give a decoy some subtle movement and really increases the realism of a set up. However, heavy winds can cause decoys to spin like a top, and that is not natural. The solution is easy. Carry some extra stakes, cut down some old arrows, or even use sticks to prevent a decoy from whirling in the wind. Prop the turkey decoy in place on both sides of the decoy as shown in the photo above.
6. Don’t Attract Other Hunters
Turkey decoys don’t just attract turkeys. They will bring in predators and other hunters, too. Safety is my first thought when I decide whether to put a decoy out or not. Today’s decoys are so realistic, that I leave them at home when hunting public land. Even hen decoys can cause problems on public land. So limit your decoy tactics to private land where you know the other hunters, and are aware that decoys are being used.
Turkey decoys work. There’s no doubt about that. But success is not as easy as setting up a decoy, calling a few times and pulling the trigger. Put some thought into your setup and you will find that decoys will do the job more times than not. And most of all, be safe.
There’s nothing like the feeling of seeing a longbeard storm your setup! I hope these tips help you bag a limb hanger this spring.