Why bother with a turkey decoy? The biggest reason as I see it is because when a gobbler responds to your calling, he is expecting to see another turkey. If he does not, he will often hang-up out of range, become suspicious and walk away. A decoy provides the gobbler with the visual confirmation he is seeking.
A decoy also helps to take the focus off of you. A wild turkey is very good at pin-pointing the precise location of your calling. Without the decoy, all eyes will be on your location, making it difficult to get away with even the slightest movement. When a gobbler is focused on the decoy, such movements are easier to get away with for the hunter. This is important to the shotgunner, but of vital importance for the bowhunter.
And hunting over a decoy is a lot of fun! Gobblers will almost always strut their stuff for a hen decoy, a show which just adds to an already enjoyable hunt.
When a gobbler is focused on a decoy, movements are easier to get away with for the hunter.
When To Use Them
Decoys work any time during the spring turkey season and can also be used successfully on fall hunts.
Where To Use Them
Decoys work anywhere turkeys are found and regardless of the sub-species. I’ve been lucky enough to have hunted turkeys in 17 different states and decoys have worked in all where decoys were legal to use. Decoys are most effective when they are set up in open fields, pastures or meadows, or in semi-open timber. If turkeys cannot see the decoy at a distance, the decoy is far less effective.
How Many Is Enough?
I generally carry one or two hen decoys when I am hunting on the move (running and gunning). When you are yelping, cutting, clucking and purring, those are all hen sounds. When a gobbler comes to your calling, he is expecting to find a hen waiting, so there is no need to use a jake or strutting gobbler decoy.
When I hunt from a pop-up blind, I will often use up to a half-dozen decoys just to give the impression of a flock out feeding in the field. However, using jake or gobbler decoys is a crap-shoot. Sometimes, using them will bring a gobbler on the run to put a whoopin’ on the competition. But I’ve seen it go the other way quite often. When the gobbler spots the tom or jake decoy he turns tail and runs. This is because, while establishing the pecking order, many 2-year-old gobblers have had their fannies whipped by older, stronger gobblers. But why would they run from a jake you might ask? This is because jakes tend to run in small gangs, like teenage tough-guys, and many a gobbler has had his butt kicked by a gang of marauding jakes.
The bottom line on jake and gobbler decoys? If you are going to use a gobbler call, use a gobbler decoy. And if you are only interested in the biggest, baddest gobbler in the woods, then a jake or gobbler decoy will get his interest. But if you, like most of us, are looking for any mature gobbler, then my advice is to stick with hen decoys.
One Last Trick
You can make any decoy more effective by gluing a dozen of so feathers to the back and sides of the decoy.
Good luck out there!
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Gary Clancy writes a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Gary has hunted whitetail deer in 20 different states and provinces. He has harvested many record-book animals, and presented hunting seminars from Tennessee to Wisconsin. Gary also has authored or co-authored six hunting books, four on whitetail hunting.