Decoying Wild Turkeys Feast or Famine?
April 6, 2001
Turkey hunters joined waterfowl fans and began using decoys to fool their quarry a couple of decades ago. Decoying spring gobblers is controversial among hunters. Alabama prohibits the use of decoys for turkey hunting in that state. Many believe it cheapens the experience or takes unfair advantage of this finest of game birds. One can see why some traditionalists might prefer to omit decoys from their hunting options. I can't argue with that.
I have used decoys intermittently for several years. My experience is that one gains little if any advantage over the length of a season using decoys. I have lost about the same number of birds using decoys as I have gained.
What a decoy should do is give an incoming gobbler or flock confidence that all is well in the area. And it should distract their sharp eyes from focusing on the hidden hunter. This works just that way sometimes and the results are spectacular. Gobblers have been known to fight a jake decoy, knocking it down with its wing and stomping on it. They have tried to mate with hen decoys. I have taken gobblers that were distracted by my decoy.
On the other hand, I have spooked gobbling toms as I tried to sneak into an opening and place a decoy. The wary birds can see much better than we believe, even after years of hunting them. What looks like woods that no eye could see through, has a thousand tiny pinholes through which gobblers can see. Some claim turkeys can see through tree trunks, and I have had a few defeat me that seemed to have that ability.
My assessment of decoys is that one needs to use them with the same high degree of skill that is required in calling or setting up for wild turkeys. Learn when to use them and when not to use them. Eastern birds are probably harder to fool with decoys because there is little open terrain to provide visibility, and in my experience the Merriams and Rio Grande species of the West and the mountains are not as alert when approaching a setup as eastern gobblers. Decoys work better on those toms for me. Some of the first turkey decoys on the market were made of pressed paper and painted with the various colors of a wild turkey. The huge replicas had to be lugged along through the woods much as one would carry a watermelon or a loaf of bread. Then came collapsible decoys made of light Styrofoam. These could be folded and slipped into a large pocket. They eventually became creased and would not hold their shape.
Recently, inflatable decoys came on the scene. I like the ones made by Sceery Game Calls of Santa Fe, New Mexico (1-800-327-4322). Four breaths will inflate them and they can be deflated and bagged in less than a minute. Their polyvinyl material folds easily and does not crease. The stake is a two-piece, structured so that a breeze can only move the decoy 90 degrees back and forth. Sceery decoys are realistically colored, but I am going to add a little more black to some of the brown tones on mine.
And if you are one who chooses never to use decoys, I salute you. I too hunt certain times, certain locations and certain birds without decoys. I may decide to pit only my calling and setup skills against a particular special bird… Decoying is another option that each hunter must embrace or reject.