How to Use Decoys While Turkey Hunting
- 15 Mar, 2017
Using decoys while turkey hunting can be a great way to tip the odds in your favor.
Few things feel as energizing as spring. The trees begin budding, grass start growing, and migrating birds return. You can almost feel life being breathed back into the world. At first spring comes tantalizingly close on a handful of winter days. A 50 degree day here, and warm wind there. These days are often followed by a coldsnap to remind you winter still holds the trump card. After a few weeks, and a few sunburns, the weather turns more agreeable as spring slowly overtakes winter for good. For sportsmen, spring is a time to dust off their gear and get into the field. Many sportsmen hit the water for some spring fishing, while others hit the local woods for some spring turkey hunting.
Spring turkey hunting is as much a part of spring as blooming dandelions and returning robins. Not only do sportsmen get fired up as the weather warms, but wild turkeys rev up as much as anyone. Hunting these cautious birds can be a real challenge, but the reward is awful sweet. As the weather warms, turkeys begin to breed. Like most critters, this makes them prone to investigate situations they would normally pass right on by. To improve you odds this spring you can certainly employ the use of a turkey call. In fact you might see results based off the call alone. If you want to up the ante, and increase your odds of success, you might also consider using decoys while turkey hunting as well.
Although there is no exact science to it, here are a few things to consider when using decoys while turkey hunting.
Probably the most popular decoy to use on a turkey hunt is the hen decoy. As mentioned, spring is a time when breeding takes place, so the hen serves an obvious purpose. You are trying to lure in a gobbler for some springtime romance. A good looking hen decoy can can a gobbler to throw caution to the wind, and coming running in with one thing on his mind. Another reason a hen decoy is a good option, is that most turkey calls out there are imitating a hen turkey. If a far off gobbler hears a hen purr, he’ll be looking for a hen turkey. Give him what he is already interested in, and you’ll improve your odds.
When looking for a hen decoy you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. One, go for something realistic. This rings especially true if you are hunting pressured birds. Turkeys learn fast, and like most animals, are very attuned to the fact they are being hunted. While in the past a beat up and weathered decoy may have been ok, these days it seems a realistic decoy is worth the money. This is the same principle seasoned waterfowl hunters talk about with their decoys. The birds are getting wise, and a poor decoy can do more harm than good.
The second thing you want to consider is to get a decoy that is freestanding on its staking system. The ability to move allows these decoys to pivot in a soft breeze and this added movement can snuff out the hesitation a curious tom may have. While most decoys these days use this feature, aim for one that will float, but is secure enough where a high wind gust will not knock it over.
Male turkey decoys come in two styles; jake and tom decoys. Each can bring in a different type of bird to your setup. For those unfamiliar with turkey hunting, a jake references an immature male turkey. They are characterized by short beards, small spurs, and a generally youthful appearance. Jakes tend to hang together, as they have not really come into their own physically. Since these young males tend to group together, a jake decoy then can be an enticing visual for another jake. A jake won’t feel as intimidated coming into a spread with another jake apparently hanging around.
Jakes can also be a good visual for mature tom. Although jakes are not fully mature, they will still butter up to a group of hens looking to breed. If a mature tom see this, he is liable to come investigate and scare off the young bird. In the turkey world, a tom simply won’t stand for a jake running a group of hens. A jake can seem like an awfully easy target sitting there all alone.
The other male turkey decoy is the tom decoy. As you may have surmised, the tom decoy represents a fully mature bird. Sometimes these are full-strut decoys, and sometimes not. Full struts are commonly used, as they are very flashy and give a good deal of eye appeal to an interested turkey. One appealing trademark many strutting decoys offer is the ability to insert real turkey feathers into the fan. Adding real feathers to any setup improves the realism of the spread and is the best way to go if you can.
Tom decoys come with a bit of a warning label however. Since they are simulating a mature bird, they can tend to scare off less confident turkeys like jakes and other young males. On the other hand, under the right circumstances they can send a mature bird into a tizzy he may never walk away from. Many of the pros advocate using a tom decoy in early season. This is when male turkey are still in groups, and, like most groups of males, they fight back and forth to establish dominance. If you can capitalize on their aggression, you might end up with an angry tom right in your lap.
Whatever kind of decoy you get, it’s important to keep one thing in mind when setting them up; distance. It sounds silly, but make sure when you set your spread up it will bring the birds in close enough for a shot. You don’t want to draw in a bird and then have him strutting out of range. Also, don’t feel bashful about bringing your decoys in close. I’ve had lots of cases where a curious tom comes into a call just that way; curiously. If he comes to investigate and doesn’t like what he sees, woosh, he'll be gone. If you bring your decoy closer to your setup, you’ll give yourself some wiggle room for this kind of investigator. You may be able to draw him in just close enough for a shot. On the other hand, if a tom is committed to the spread, he may dive right in for a chip shot.
Hopefully this spring will find you in your local woods on a spring turkey hunt. Spring turkey hunts are a great way to enjoy the warming weather and challenge your hunting skills. If you want to use decoys while turkey hunting, make sure you use the right type of decoy for your situation. Hens, jakes, and toms, all have advantages, and can work depending on time of year and how the birds are acting. Also, don’t make the mistake of setting your decoy too far out where you can’t get an accurate shot off. Although using decoys is a great way to tip the odds in your favor, they are by no means a sure thing. Turkeys can be one of the more challenging, and frustrating, hunts of the year. Good luck!
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