Decoy tactics for turkeys

Eric Davis

Mayhood’s Sporting Goods

CHENANGO COUNTY – Now that spring turkey season has begun for 2017, many hunters may have faced a tom that is either reluctant to come in or seems to know the right time to leave.

The wild turkey stays alive by relying on its keen senses of sight and hearing to notice any potential dangers. This causes toms to become wary of hunters at times. In the wild, male turkeys – adults males are called toms – gobble and display in open areas where females – adult female, hens – can see them.

Then the hen goes to the tom when she deems that he is a suitable mate for breeding. During the spring, hunters often imitate the call of a hen to get the tom to gobble and come in. Toms are greedy and will come investigate a hen if she sounds close enough to his location and he doesn’t have a hen with him.

Toms will come in and hang up usually at 60 to 80 yards away, almost like there is an invisible fence. They will pace back and forth, strutting and gobbling and then after a few minutes they walk away. The tom is expecting a hen to be where the calling is coming from. If you are in open hardwoods, the tom can see the 60 yards to where it heard the calls coming from.

If it doesn’t see a hen, after a few minutes, it’s senses are telling it that something isn’t right and walking away is a smart move. Another time where toms can be tricky is if they have a hen or two. They will gobble like crazy on the roost but when they fly down they virtually quit gobbling. This happens when they roost near the hens and meet them as soon as they fly down.



Once he’s with the hen or hens, the tom follows her/them everywhere until he gets to breed. Both of these situations can potentially be solved with the help of decoys.

Decoys can be made of foam, rubber, plastic, or a mix of any of these. Some people even used taxidermy mounted turkeys as decoys. The point of using decoys is to include a visual aspect to your hunting setup. Most decoys are made so they can be easily carried around in the back of a turkey vest. This is a great safety measure, as carrying a decoy that looks like a real turkey in the woods could cause someone to shoot at the decoy and harming the hunter carrying the decoy.

Decoys that don’t fit into your vest should be carried in a bag that covers up the decoy completely.

There are plenty of options for decoys in terms of what it is imitating. There are feeding hens, lookout or upright hens, breeding hens, jakes, half-strut jakes, quarter-strut jakes, full strut jakes, and full strut toms.

Each decoy has a situation where it can excel over other situation. A single hen decoy that you put out can get that tom to close the distance from 60 to 20 yards, where you can get a clean shot off.

Matching a breeding hen with a jake or tom decoy can cause toms to view the bird as an intruder on his territory and hens, causing the tom to come in looking to fight the decoy and run him off.

When using a jake or tom decoy, try not to have the decoy facing directly away from your location. A tom will come face-to-face with the decoy to start fighting it, meaning that you would be in the background of the decoy when the tom is looking at it. If the tom sees any movement behind the decoy it may take off before you get a shot.

Where you put the decoy can be crucial to its success. Putting a decoy in a dip in a field where it can’t be seen from a long distance cuts down on it’s effectiveness. Likewise, with other cover such as bushes that can block a turkey’s view to the decoy.

If using a jake or tom decoy, expect to shoot a bird at the decoy, so put the decoy at a distance you know you can lethally shoot one. Typically, I put one decoy at 20 yards. This allows me to better judge distance, especially in open fields. I can look at the distance to the decoy and then imagine doubling the distance – 40 yards – which is how far my shotgun has a lethal pattern.

Now I can decide if a bird is within my range easier and am less likely to wound a bird by shooting at it when it is too far away.

I have left out the newest fad in turkey hunting that is commonly called reaping. This is when you hide behind a fan or strutting decoy and walk towards a tom in an open field.

Toms will often come in to fight it the same way as described above, and when the turkey is close enough the hunter drops the fan/decoy and shoots the turkey. I have nothing against the technique but I try not to promote it from a safety standpoint.

If someone is comfortable enough to attempt this technique, I would say go for it.

One of the greatest hunting safety tips is to know your target and what is beyond your target. This means taking a couple seconds and looking at your target to make sure it is a living turkey. Then look around the turkey, are there other turkeys in the same small area that could get hit by errant pellets? Are you sure its a live turkey? Does it have a beard – which it needs to have to be legally taken in New York.

Remember to treat the land with respect. Pick up garbage you may find, even if you didn’t make it. And make sure to thank landowners that give you permission to hunt their property. Good luck to all turkey hunters this spring.

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