The behavior of the wild turkey can leave even the most experienced turkey hunter scratching his head in disbelief and bewilderment. Whether their actions are based on smarts, wariness, experience, or just plain luck, the level of unpredictability an old tom can exhibit will keep us on our toes and have us continually looking for new ways to make the task of bringing a tom into gun range a more consistent endeavor.
One of the most discussed topics around a turkey campfire is what decoy set up to use for the next day. With a huge array of options in the decoy world, there are situations where a specific setup can be beneficial. We will look at it through the viewpoint of a few of the most common setup options in the turkey decoying game.
The basic hen decoy
The basic hen decoy setup is the most tried and true method for bringing a turkey within gun range. I like to use a hen decoy by itself in an instance where I feel that the birds are particularly responsive to seeing other birds in the area and have an easy path to come to that decoy. Relying on the combination of your calling and the tom’s reproductive drive, a single hen decoy can seal the deal and bring a bird from just out of range to right in your lap if done correctly. A single hen can work at any time of the year but works particularly well when the birds are not in large groups and you can find a tom wandering around and lonesome by himself (typically mid-season to later in the season as the hens are nesting). Shop HEN Decoys
Hen and Jake
As jake decoys have become more common and much better looking over the years, their use has grown dramatically. The idea behind using a jake decoy is to set off enough jealousy and territorial envy in a tom that he can’t resist but come over and chase off the jake from “his” hen. There is a definite difference in an actual, non-strutting jake decoy as opposed to a full strut tom decoy as we will discuss below. I have had great luck using a jake decoy during times when you are chasing birds that may need a little more incentive to come over and check out your spread whether they are working an area a little further away than you’d like or if they are in larger groups yet. The addition of a jake decoy or even another hen can help bring a curious or upset boss hen your direction, and of course with her, a courting tom. If you are hunting a bird with a large group of hens and jakes around, throw a jake decoy in, it may be just enough to get things fired up! Shop Hen & Jake Decoys
More aggressive decoys
Full strut tom decoys have become increasingly popular these days and their use seems to be a love-hate relationship depending on the individual bird being chased. A full strut tom can bring a dominant tom running from hundreds of yards away, seemingly unable to get into a fight soon enough. I’ve seen groups of 1-6 toms come running wide open into a full strut decoy after we tried with just a hen or jake decoy with no success. On less dominant toms, they can sometimes cause a bird to hang up out of concerns of self-preservation and pride. I like to use a full strut decoy when I know there are several dominant birds in a group or when the birds are in a large group. It seems as if the sight of a bird strutting will often time start a flock headed your way and once that happens it’s essentially all over from there as the confidence of a big group keeps them coming. A full strut decoy like the Jekyll & Hyde will get a bird’s attention from a long way away and keep him focused on the intruder after his hens.
I like to place my decoy(s) strategically with a few things in mind:
- Visibility to the birds I’m targeting – When hunting an open area like a field edge or meadow the turkey needs to be able to see where the sound that he is hearing is coming from. While in a thick or hilly area, you can sometimes get away with no decoy or not worrying about the visibility of your decoy, in an open area it’s much more important. Use a small rise or ridge to allow the birds to see your decoy so they know where they are coming to.
- Positioning the incoming turkey – I like to place my decoys so that as the turkey is making his way into the decoy that he is not looking directly at me so I place the decoy off to the side…focusing attention on the decoy and not on me and any small movements I may have to make.
- Preventing hang-ups – I also like to put my decoys on the “far side” of me so that if that bird is, for example, coming from my left and I place my decoy to my right, if he hangs up at 60 yards from the decoy, he’s only 40 yards from my gun barrel.
It is important to remember that the natural order of things in the turkey world is for a gobbling tom to attract attention and have the hens come to him. So by us making him come to use we are changing things up on him, and there are instances where it just won’t work no matter what you do. Don’t despair that your calling or decoys weren’t right, rather work on getting set up in a position where you make it easy for that bird to come to you. Although this sounds contrary to some of what was said earlier, it can also be beneficial to keep your decoys out of his sight until he’s close enough that he is willing to walk that last bit to get into gun range.
Just remember that there is never a single right thing to do, and sometimes, there’s nothing we can do, but using strategy in how we place our decoys and in the decoys we choose to use, we can increase the odds in our favor that one of these wily and sometimes crazy birds will make the choice to head our way.
– Phil Kahnke
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