Tom Foolery

Wild Turkey Decoys are nearly essential for bowhunters because they help predict where a gobbler will stand for a shot.  Raising or drawing a bow within sight of a wild turkey rarely works and when a gobbler is keenly focused on a decoy, your slight motions may go unnoticed.  Here’s a look at three types of decoys and how they affect wild turkey behavior.

A feeding hen will attract a gobbler from a distance.

A Honey of a Hen

Hen decoys are sold in three behavior models.  Alert hens stand with their head up as if they just saw a tom approach.  Feeding hens have their heads down in a feeding stance and their allure can be enhanced if they move on the stake in a gentle breeze.  The breeding hen lays flat as if she is submitting to a mating gobbler and is often used in conjunction with a gobbler decoy.

Shown are a feeding and an alert hen.

Good News, Bad News

The good news about a hen decoy is its universal appeal to gobblers.  Often calling to a tom won’t attract it unless the bird can see the source of the sound.  When you add sight and sound together, the gobbler’s natural wariness is quickly overcome.  The downside of hen decoys occurs when the dominant hen doesn’t like them, alarm putts, and leads the flock in a different direction.  Additionally, since a hen decoy is the most commonly used by hunters, some toms have been missed while approaching them and are repelled by a bogus bird.

Jakes are yearling male wild turkeys with a short beard.

Jakes- The Roudy Teenager of the Turkey World

Jakes are yearling gobblers that display the red head of a male and sport a short beard, two-to-four inches in length.  Dominant hens hate them and often drive them away from their flock.  Gobblers despise them because they attempt to breed hens and are seen as competition.  As a result, jakes often travel in flocks and will actually attack a longbeard if their numbers are great enough.  Pairing a jake and a breeding hen makes a longbeard even more aggressive and they frequently attack.

A jake in conjunction with a hen is a powerful allure to a mating tom.

Good Jakes, Bad Jakes

I have an Avery jake decoy that over a four-year period has never been ignored by a gobbler.  It’s so realistic that when a tom sees it, it approaches.  The downside of a jake decoy is the aggression it prompts.  An archer must make a precise shot on a gobbler and as mature gobblers approach they are in attack mode and rarely stand still.  With a shotgun, a tom is literally “easy-pickings” but the bowhunter has to demonstrate extra patience.  If you relish that full strut,  broadside shot, use a hen.

A gobbler decoy with a natural fan is a tremendous allure.

Gobbler Decoys

About 10 years ago, I learned a trick called “fanning.”  The tactic is to use a real gobbler fan to attract a dominant male, and it worked so well that we rarely use turkey calls when hunting.  The next step was to use a half-gobbler decoy with a real wild turkey fan, as shown above.  That trick is so effective that I had to promise not to write about it or face expulsion from the South Dakota turkey camp where I hunt each spring.   Today, virtually all TV and YouTube hunting videos use strutting toms and the secret is out.

Place decoys in a position out of range of an approaching hunter.

Safety First

When using decoys, especially jakes, and gobblers, you must ABSOLUTELY USE EXTREME CAUTION.  People trespass and hunt illegally, so just because you are on private land, you cannot assume that another hunter won’t be there.  A large pop-up blind helps alert others to your presence, but place decoys in a position where an intruding hunter won’t shoot at them and endanger you.  I place my decoys in front of a batch of nasty briars that would deter a coyote.  Should you see an approaching hunter, YELL TO HIM!  Hey, I’m hunting here!  

Fooling a trophy tom like this one takes careful preparation.

Real Feathers Work Really Well

Today’s decoy models are incredibly lifelike, but if you want to bump your game up a notch, use a real wing feather on a hen.  Real tail feathers on a strutting tom enhance the allure greatly.  As the wind blows on a spring day, the subtle movement of the feathers is a powerful allure and most toms will be fooled.  Once you are successful, take the fan from your bird, put the meaty portion of the fan in borax, spread the feathers on cardboard, pin them in the full strut position, and allow them to dry.  Next year you’ll have a dynamite draw.

Using more than one decoy add realism to your ruse.

Post a Flock

Just as duck hunters use a number of decoys to increase reality, using multiple birds increases the likelihood that a gobbler will fall for your ruse.  I post a jake, an alert hen, and a feeding hen with the jake in the exact spot I want to shoot.  I set my decoys 10 yards from the blind at first light and settle in to wait.  I use a gobble call early in the morning and soft yelps every 15 minutes after that.  Usually, by 9:00 am, I catch movement toward the decoys and my heart begins to pound.

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