As we pursue turkeys, ducks, deer, or any other animal we may use them for, decoys serve one purpose; to get our target within range. The idea is very simple. We place fake animals in a place where the real animals will see them and, for one reason or another, approach them. But is the use truly that simple? The answer, like so many things in life, is yes…and no. For the first many years I hunted turkeys I just threw my decoys out in a way that I assumed a turkey would like without giving it much thought. And it brought in birds. Thus the “yes” side of our “yes…and no”. In general, a decoy has the potential to be effective just because of what it is. The “no” side comes in when realize that there are certain things we can consider to make them more effective. If we put a little more thought behind the decoys and, ultimately, the animal we’re pursuing, our chances of success go up. To give ourselves the best shot at successfully using a decoy we need to understand what it is that we’re trying to attract and what would appeal to them enough for them to come take a look.
In general, we use decoys to convey one of three messages; 1) there is food here 2) it’s safe here 3) there is a chance to mate here. That’s really about it. As we look at using decoys in our turkey hunts we must keep those three things in mind. Safety, food, and sex. Keeping those in focus, let’s take a look at a few things to keep in mind as we put out this spring’s turkey decoys.
Which decoys should I put out?
The answer to this question has much to do with when you’re hunting. In the beginning of the mating season, a strutting tom decoy can bring in a tom looking for a fight. Towards the end of the mating season, however, it can scare off a non-dominant bird. At this point, he’s spent the last 6-weeks getting his feathers ruffled and he’s not looking to walk into that again.
Our safest bet when pursuing spring turkeys is to use a hen and a jake. This combination will still draw in the dominant bird looking for a fight but is less likely to drive off the non-dominant one. He maybe can’t take a tom…but a jake? He’s got this…
Keep in mind that turkeys play the odds. If a tom see’s one hen, he has one potential opportunity to breed. If he sees three? You can do that math. A late-spring tom might see multiple hens as worth the trip.
Where should I place my decoys?
First, the easy answer; in a place that is highly visible. If the decoys aren’t easily seen then there isn’t much point to having them!
The not-so-easy (but still really easy) part of this one takes a little thought as you set yourself up. But, like most things in hunting, if we take a few seconds to think about what we’re doing, it becomes very simple. First figure out where you expect the bird is most likely to approach from. Now just make sure that when he comes in looking at the decoy you’re not directly behind it. If he’s coming from the side then having the decoys directly in front of you works fine and dandy. If he’s coming straight at you, place the decoys off to your side. Wherever you’re hunting, whatever the situation, attempt to avoid him approaching you straight on with the decoy in the middle. A turkey’s reputation for having incredible eye-sight isn’t unearned. We need to do everything we can to minimize his use of it.
How far away should my decoys be?
In general, place your decoys near the distance of your ideal shot; typically 15-20 yards. Certain factors like experience, the size of your gun and shells, or the area you’re hunting can very this distance but in general the standard 15-20 yards is about right. Practice at varying yardages, patterning your shots, to know what you are comfortable with and capable of. Use this information to determine your ideal shot range and place your decoys there.
As you head into the woods this spring with decoys in hand keep these three simple things in mind. Your chances of walking out with a tom in hand only get better.