Gobbler Decoy Strategies – 5 Questions Answered

By Tracy Breen

Turkey decoys have come a long way in the last decade.
But do you know how to use them?

Ever since turkey decoys were born (or were they hatched?), hunters using them have seen their success rates go up. Hen decoys work because lovesick gobblers are hoping to get a little more love. Jake and tom decoys bring gobblers in close because a dominant gobbler doesn’t want another tom or jake taking away his hens.

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Missouri is a state loaded with eastern wild turkeys. If you can’t go all the way west, it’s a great place for success.

OK, but isn’t one decoy as good as another?
Today’s decoys are better than ever. Not long ago, the only turkey decoy option out there was a cheap foam decoy that looked like it was half turkey, half rat. With today’s extreme realism in decoy technology, many turkey decoys are dead ringers for the real thing. The truth is hen decoys work, but a realistic tom or jake decoy in the right situation can be as effective, maybe even more effective.

Isn’t calling enough, without using decoys?
Sometimes you’ll run into a gobbler that takes you by surprise, and a deke can seal the deal. Last year while hunting in Kansas with Knight & Hale Pro-staff member Mick Bowman, I shot a longbeard that never responded to our calls. We had no idea he was in the area until he came on a dead run out of the thick timber with one goal—he wanted to kill our Pretty Boy strutting decoy. When he was only inches from giving the decoy a bad headache, I killed him. This was not an isolated incident, and if the Pretty Boy hadn’t been there to focus his attention, I probably could not have killed him.

Isn’t a decoy a way of cheating?
Hey, some people think using a shotgun is cheating! Look at it this way – the deck is stacked in favor of the turkey. A few years ago while hunting on the edge of a field late in the season, I killed a gobbler that I missed a few weeks before. He was understandably call shy and had changed his pattern considerably since being shot at. This made him harder to kill than ever. The thing that hadn’t changed was the fact that each day he headed to the same open field to strut. So I placed a quarter-strut jake decoy along with a couple hen decoys on the edge of the field.

I positioned them so that regardless of where the gobbler came into the field, he could see the decoys. But another hunter also had permission to hunt the same field, adding a new variable. Shortly after daylight, the gobbler approached the field edge only 60 or 70 yards from the other guy who was whispering sweet nothings to the gobbler. Instead of making the short walk to his setup, the gobbler saw my jake decoy several hundred yards away and raced across the field like an Olympic sprinter. When he got to about 75 yards, he stopped and strutted, then ran the rest of the way to show the jake decoy who was boss. My gun barked and the gobbler flopped.

Here’s another case when calling (no matter how good), wasn’t enough. It was a jake decoy and the ego of the real gobbler that helped me put another bird in the freezer.

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Print aerial photos of the places you plan to hunt, and take them with you.

Can’t decoys be counter-productive?
Yes, strutter and jake decoys can spook birds, but if you know when and how to use them they’ll help far more often than they hurt. When using a strutter decoy, use a jake tailfan if possible so real toms think the decoy is a smaller, sub-dominant bird. Many companies making strutter decoys design them smaller than a real bird so the decoy appears small to an approaching tom.

Here’s where the words “pecking order” really mean something. Birds have a pecking order and gobblers are constantly fighting and challenging the pecking order in the spring. Using tom and jake decoys can help any turkey hunter capitalize on this weakness.

One guy who regularly uses tom and jake decoys is Brett Berry from Zink Game Calls. “Jake and strutting tom decoys work well in the right situation at pulling in dominant toms,” says Berry. “The key is knowing the tom you are hunting is a dominant bird. Sometimes when a subdominant bird sees a strutting decoy, they will go the other way out of fear.” Berry often uses an Avian-X jake decoy. “I’ve had dominant birds attack my decoy and actually put holes in it. One time a tom wouldn’t stop attacking my decoy long enough for me to get a clear shot. I sat up and whistled at the bird several times before he raised his head.”

How can you be sure a gobbler sees your deke set-up?
Berry uses jake and strutter decoys on field edges to bring in birds that tend to hang up out of range. “When hunting open fields, I place a hen and a strutting decoy on top of a nob where a gobbler can see it from a long way off. Sometimes when calling and using a hen decoy, a tom won’t come all the way across a field to my set-up. When you add the quarter strut jake or a strutting decoy, they often come because they want to kick the tar out of the decoy. The key when using these decoys is having them in the open where a real bird can easily see the bright red head of the decoy.”

Need a new trick up your sleeve this spring? Use a realistic new jake or tom decoy to bring toms in close!


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A Colorado Merriam’s turkey and a mountain backdrop is a scene that’s dramatic and memorable.

If you’re looking for a way to make your decoy spread more realistic, check out Turkey Skinz from A-Way hunting products. Turkey Skinz is the actual skin of a turkey—feathers and all—that you wrap around a decoy to make it look more realistic. Using real feathers makes a painted decoy look like the real thing. Learn more at www.awayhunting.com.


tracy-breen-outdoor-writerAbout Tracy Breen

Tracy is a full-time outdoor writer and consultant in the outdoor industry. He works with a variety of television shows and outdoor brands including Havalon Knives. Learn more at www.tracybreen.com.

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