Most turkey hunters use decoys, but many don’t give their strategy much thought. They throw out a hen and a strutter and start calling.
That works some days, but why limit yourself? Boost your decoy game with fine-tuned approaches from the pros.
Steve Stoltz, Knight & Hale pro-staffer, lets the terrain dictate decoy usage. If the situation isn’t right, he forgoes fakes.
“I prefer decoys in field setups because they give the gobbler a visual,” he said. “Turkeys are social birds, and in the wide open, they know that if they hear calling, they should also be able to see exactly what’s making that sound.”
Chris Parrish, Knight & Hale pro, changes his decoy setups to match the phase of the breeding season.
“I feel that in certain periods of the cycle, particular setups are the key to success,” he said. “I prefer to use a strutting gobbler early when most birds are trying to establish their dominance. It seems at this time even the birds that might shy away at mid season will tend to be aggressive enough to come to this setup.
“Those birds, as the season progresses, may not come to a gobbler, and if the hatch doesn’t yield a large jake crop, I will incorporate a jake with a couple of hens to play off the dominance factor. When a large jake crop is present, I will go to strictly hen decoys as the season progresses.”
Late in the season, after hunters have killed many subordinate gobblers, Parrish might resume using a gobbler decoy to play on the aggression of older longbeards.
Ernie Calandrelli, public relations director for Quaker Boy, typically uses a jake with a feeding hen and an upright hen but pays special attention to the turkey social structure and how birds react to fakes.
“The first gobbler that sees the decoys and spooks, I remove the jake and upright hen for a few days,” he said. “They are just not ready for decoys yet, or there’s an overabundance of jakes where you are hunting. The overabundance of jakes to an adult gobbler means trouble, and he will avoid the jakes like the plague.”
Tad Brown, of M.A.D. Calls and Flambeau Outdoors, sets his decoy spreads to mimic natural situations. He wants fakes with realistic postures.
“The feeding hen is the most natural position in nature,” he said. “If you pay attention, most every gobbler/hen flock consists of feeding hens followed by a strutter. It does not get more realistic or relaxed than that. Breeding hens are good, too.”
It should go without saying, but place your decoys to allow a good shot. Calandrelli sets his jake decoy where he wants to shoot a gobbler, because a longbeard will typically go to the jake.
Parrish also advised hunters to consider visibility.
“The one key factor to decoys is to use them where turkeys can see them at longer ranges,” he said. “They tend to shy away when they come in contact with a decoy if they come upon it from 50 yards and closer.”