Turkey decoys are a hunting accessory that some people love to use and some people love to hate. It seems every hunter out there at one time or another has had a bad experience with turkey decoys. I have had many bad decoy experiences. A few years ago, I was hunting in Northern Michigan and a tom was on fire...he gobbled at every call I threw his way. When he first started to respond to my calls, he was a long way off deep in the timber. He quickly covered ground and in my mind, I already had the tag wrapped around his leg and his drumsticks on the grill.
The hunt went from awesome to down the drain in seconds. The bird appeared about 60 yards away when I first saw him. He was strutting and gobbling and then he noticed my decoy spread. He came out of full strut, putted one time and headed for the timber. I never saw that tom again.
If you have been turkey hunting long, I am sure you have had this happen a time or two to you while hunting. Does it mean you and I shouldn’t use decoys? No, we need to make sure we use the right decoys and use them the right way.
First and foremost, use the most realistic decoy you can afford. There is no question turkeys can be dumb and on the right day they will come running when they hear the squeak of a car door and will strut in front of a black gallon jug for hours. A turkey has great eyesight so if there is something that is going to spook a tom as he approaches your setup, it is going to be a decoy. Foam decoys for example, often look fake. Many styles of plastic decoys look fake. The best decoy on the market is a stuffer. A stuffer is a real turkey that has been mounted by a taxidermist. These decoys are extremely expensive, but if you have ever sat over them while hunting, you will quickly see they are worth their weight in gold. A stuffer has real feathers. The paint job is second to none and when you put a flock of them in a field, they bring toms in close.
I don’t want to hassle with stuffer decoys nor do I want to spend a pile of cash on them, so I use Avian X decoys. These decoys look great and the paint job on them is second to none. What I do to give them an even more realistic appearance is wrap them in Turkey Skinz. Turkey Skinz are an actual turkey skin that has a felt underside on it that is designed to be wrapped around a decoy. The Turkey Skinz is made with real turkey feathers. Wrap it around any decoy and it will look much better and add a touch of realism that a decoy by itself just doesn’t have.
Another thing that can help a decoy spread is UV Killer spray. The paint used on decoys often contains UV brighteners. These brighteners give off a blue glow and turkeys can see UV brighteners. 90% of the time it might not matter to a turkey, but I spray my decoys with a UV killer spray anyway to eliminate the blue glow that they might be giving off. Keep in mind we can’t see UV, so the only way to know if your decoys give off the blue glow is by looking at them with a black light in a dark room. If you don’t want to waste your time on that, just spray every decoy you have. The spray is cheap insurance.
The theory the more the better is a theory that surely applies when using turkey decoys. If I am running and gunning, I often only bring one decoy with me but if I don’t plan to walk for miles in the woods, I like to have three decoys. Sometimes more. Turkeys are social birds and often travel in flocks. Having a flock of decoys will increase the odds of your setup fooling a wise old gobbler. Last year, I hunted with Jeff Budz from Tag It Worldwide in Florida. Budz is a turkey guide and currently holds the record for turkey grand slams. It is safe to say he knows a few things about turkey hunting. We were hunting in Florida and it was the tail end of their season. Many birds had been killed on the farm we were hunting. To increase the odds of me killing a bird, he put out 6 or 8 decoys out, including a few stuffers. “A large flock like this will put a big tom at ease and he will likely come right in if we call to him just a little bit,” Budz said. Budz was right. Shortly after fly down, I started calling to a tom that was several hundred yards away. He gobbled at me occasionally, but was not extremely hot. I was a little worried that he might not come in but he ran into my setup after he got to the edge of the field I was hunting. When he saw nearly a dozen turkeys out in the field, he was convinced they were real. Taking the time to set up all those decoys was worth the effort. Would the bird have run into the setup if we had one decoy out? Maybe, but being that it was the late season there is a good chance he would have been more cautious. The large flock of decoys surely helped.
Proper decoy placement can make or break a hunt. When most hunters put out decoys, they pay no attention to how the decoys are placed. At best, they pace off ten or fifteen yards, put the decoys in the ground, and hunt. That can be a big mistake. Cally Morris from Hazel Creek Taxidermy has an online TV show called the Fifteen Yard Files. In this show, he talks about how he places his decoys when hunting with a bow. He calls it the love triangle. “Turkeys are claustrophobic. Many hunters put their decoys too close together. When the real tom approaches the decoys, there isn’t enough room between the two or three decoys they have out for the tom to comfortably strut amongst them. As a result, the tom stays away from the decoys and in many cases just leaves the setup entirely, which can cost the hunter a filled tag,” Morris explained.
I recently hunted with Morris on Ted Turner’s Vermejo Ranch in New Mexico. I saw first hand how effective the Love Triangle can be. When there is a lot of dancing room between the decoys, a tom will come in close and strut around in the decoys to intimidate the Jake decoy and impress the hens. When there isn’t much dancing room, he either stays off in the distance or flees the scene. I shot one bird with Morris that was five yards in front of me.
There are times when you can place a decoy upside down in a field and it will bring a tom in on a string but as a rule, the more realistic your decoy spread, the better chance you have of tagging a bird. By paying attention to the little things when using decoys, you can greatly decrease the odds that a tom spooks when he sees your decoys.
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