Choosing A Turkey Hunting Decoy For Success

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Choosing A Turkey Hunting Decoy For Success

by Matt Wettish

With all the different types of turkey decoys on the market, how can we know what to use and when.  Does it really make a difference if it’s a male or female?  Will they run the other way if the head is up and not down?  Will a gobbler really come in and try to kick the tail off a strutting decoy?  These are just a few of the questions that you may be thinking about when looking to buy a decoy, or maybe when you’re looking to pick one to bring into the field the next morning. 

Hopefully, this will give you a good idea about what the different decoy body postures mean, and how birds may act towards jake and gobbler decoys, and why decoys can be great, while other times completely mess up a hunt.

Understanding the Gobbler Hen Relationship

Notice the hens feeding and in a relaxed position heading towards the gobbler. Once he is with them, it is tough to pull him away until they leave to go to the nest.
Before using a decoy, we must understand the relationship between the hen and the gobbler.  When a tom gobbles, he is spreading to word to all the hen turkeys around him that he is there and ready to breed.  He gobbles so the hens will come to him, not the other way around.

When we call to a gobbler and he comes in, we are playing off his urge to continue breeding when he is alone, or not active with a hen at that time.  When the hen, or us as callers, do not show up for him, he comes to us.  This is not the norm, and how well most of us know, as we have all stuck a bird that gobbles his fool head off to our every yelp, and runs the other way.  It’s usually not our calling, or our setup, or that he doesn’t want to be with us, it’s usually that he is already with a hen and she doesn’t want the competition, so she walks the other way … and he goes with her.

This all being true, no matter how helpful decoys can be on a hunt, there is always an opportunity for a bird to lock up on a decoy and wait for her to come to him.  I have seen it in the past where a bird has been coming in slowly, strutting, gobbling, looking, and getting closer each time, until he sees the decoy.  Then he locks right up to show, off and won’t come any closer.

So, even though decoys can help a hunt, and get a bird to run right in, there are times when, keeping him looking, isn’t a bad idea.  If you find yourself in close quarters, with small rolling hills, limited visibility, and a bird coming towards you, you may be better off setting up at a point where he has to keep coming to find you.  And when he does, it’s too late for him, and he is already within distance.

Choosing A Decoy For Success

Now that we know what can go wrong, let’s focus on how to choose a decoy for a successful day in the field.  Starting with the hen decoy, we must first understand the body postures, what they mean, and when is the best time to use them.

Starting out with the head up, or alert position.  This is a decoy that can mean two things.  One, it could be alert, looking out for other birds that are with her, which isn’t always a bad thing to have if you have out more than one bird.  It is natural to have one bird looking out for the others. 

Two, if alone, it could be looked at as a spooked bird.  If you are calling a lot, then the bird comes in to view and you stop calling, it may look like the bird has seen something that has alerted it, and shut up.  This could put an approaching tom on alert.  But … if you continue to call, it may change the entire meaning of that heads up bird.  By continuing to call with a heads up decoy out in front of you, it may resemble an active hen that is yelping and looking for that gobbler that has been answering her.  This is a great early season decoy for when hens are actively breeding and still vocal.

The relaxed head position bird is a little easier on the posture for attitude.  It’s not at alert, so there should be no reason to have a gobbler think that something has gone awry.  But … and you know there is always a but … the relaxed head position is most often indicative of a walking bird.  When birds walk, and are relaxed, the head is down, so when there is no movement involved with this position, it doesn’t always look natural.

It’s still not a bad decoy position to have in your arsenal, because it can be seen better in high grass, and yet still not be viewed as an alert pose.  So keep this decoy posture in mind if you hunt hay fields, or open lots with high grasses.  It just may be the ticket to get that big ol’ gobbler to come in close enough for a shot.

The head down, or feeding position hen is a contentment decoy.  Great for any time of season, but highly recommended later on in the season, when the hens aren’t breeding as much and are set on feeding and nesting. 

This can be a great decoy for call shy gobblers since a feeding bird isn’t very vocal.  Clucks, purrs, the occasional yelp or two, and the accompaniment of a feeding decoy is sometimes all it takes to lure in a late season gobbler.

Taking a combination of these hen decoys to the field isn’t a bad idea.  Having a couple feeding hens with one alert paints a very realistic picture.  Adding a jake decoy to the mix can kick it up even another notch.

Having a jake decoy out, or adding it to the attendance of a couple hens, can really spark some jealously, or even aggression, in a gobbler that might be claiming that area as his.  Having a young male hanging out, with what could be that gobbler’s girlfriends, will many times draw that bird in and force him to protect his domain. 

A mature gobbler in an area that requires him to protect his claim, rolls up on this full strut decoy to show him who's boss.
Photo by: Author
Now the full strut decoy on the other hand can make or break a hunt.  First, a full strut decoy is an instant intruder into a gobbler’s home turf.  Putting one out is ultimately hoping that a fight is going to start.  By bringing an adult bird into another adult birds area, there will be some sort of conflict for hierarchy. 

The idea is that the gobbler will see the decoy, become very protective of his area, and immediately want to confront the newcomer and prove his worth to run that ground.  Obviously is doesn’t work out so well for the gobbler when he tries to bully the decoy.  It usually results in a splitting headache.

But … and as I said before there is always a but … there is a flip side to this scenario.  Picture this:  You haven’t taken a bird yet, and it’s the last day of the season.  You set out pretty boy in hopes that some dominant gobbler will come in and try to rough him up.  Your call is immediately answered by a gobble, and the game is on.  The bird is closing the distance with every call you make.  Right on the edge of the field you see a full fan coming your way.  As the bird gets into full view he stops … comes out of strut, walks away, and never gobbles again … What happened???

What most likely happened is that you had a less dominant bird coming in to your call thinking the boss was nowhere to be found.  He approached to the point of seeing the decoy in full strut, and thought it was him.  He turned and left rather than fighting.  You just lost your chance at taking a bird that season.

Unfortunately it’s Mother Nature, and you never know how a bird will react.  All I can offer for advice is, that the best area to use a full strut decoy in is, a spot where there are multiple gobblers fighting for the same piece of real estate.  It is this constant competition that will invoke the urge to battle it out, therefore making you successful. 

I’m not saying a full strut decoy won’t work in other areas, but try to stack the odds in your favor.  If there are less birds in an area, than maybe a jake decoy would be better suited for that scenario.

Also, always keep in mind, while using a jake or gobbler decoy, it is a bird that we are all out there hunting, so safety should always be in the forefront of your mind.  Be aware of what other hunter might be around.  Be sure your setup puts you in a safe position away from the decoy, and always take caution while transporting a decoy that resembles a gobbler or jake.

Silhouettes used in larger groups can pull flocks of birds in from great distances. It's often more effective in wide open places where one or two decoys might not have an impact.
Photo by: Author
Lastly, is the silhouette decoy.  Made in hen, jake and gobbler configurations, these can look extremely real, and take up very little room for transporting.  They are a great choice if you feel the need to put out many birds to resemble a flock for drawing power.  This is a great tactic for wide open spaces where the birds can see a long way.

Turkeys are social animals, so when the see one or two birds hanging out it’s no big deal.  But when they see an entire flock standing there, that’s a different story.  If your trying to attract large groups of birds, like the ones that can be found out west during the early season, it’s not a bad idea to use a large group of your own.  Make that gobbler think he's missing out on a better party than his own.  Or convince all the birds that your place is the place to be.  It gives a new meaning to putting on a "killer party".

When you are choosing a decoy for success in the field next time you head out turkey hunting, there are lots of things to think about.  You need to consider what you see naturally.  Do you see lots of birds together in a wide open field, or just one or two meandering through a small pasture.  Do you see multiple gobblers together, or just one all alone strutting by himself.  Or maybe you don't see them at all, and you know your going to have to put some miles on your boots trying to find them.

Whatever the scenario is, there is a decoy made to help you be more successful.  There are plenty to chose from, and a million ways to use them.  It's up to you to try and make your set up look real, and look inviting, whether it's using one hen, one jake, or five hens with a strutter.  It may even take leaving them in your vest.  You never know until you try.

So, next time you hit the woods, hopefully this will help you pick the right decoy for the job, and hopefully it will help you bring home the gobbler you've been chasing all season.  Best of luck, hunt hard, and hunt safe. 

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