I can remember Spring hunting seasons when I have done everything right. Not every season goes as expected, however. Thinking through everything that caused me to fall short in past seasons. I had the right gun - the right equipment for my bow as well. I made sure I had the right blind. I had the right setup for decoys. Pre-season scouting. Knowing where the birds were, and where they are going. I invested in what I thought was the perfect setup — a feeding or looking hen, a breeding hen, and a half-strutting Jake. I even went the extra distance to invest in a Strutt’n 360 to add motion to my decoys. What gobbler wouldn’t come into that setup, right?
Season came. Then came the hunt. The turkeys were gobbling. After some calling, I could hear them getting close to my decoys. The moment of truth—out comes the turkey in a wide open area, just out of range. He takes one look at my decoys, turns, and walks away, leaving me asking myself,“What just happened?”
If this seems all too real for you, I don’t think either of us are alone. In my experience, when I have done everything I know to do, turkeys will be turkeys! They are seemingly unpredictable and at a moment's notice, can completely rewrite the script.
Although this is all too real for most of us, I have gleaned, both by experience and research, some tips regarding the use of decoys that can definitely guide you to success in harvesting a turkey this spring.
Just because a certain decoy setup worked one year doesn’t mean it will have the same kind of success the next. For whatever reason, turkeys don’t always react the same way from year to year. As with whitetail deer, we know that turkeys breed relatively the same time every year. However, just as deer do not respond or act the same way every year during the rut, neither do spring turkeys. Every year, it is important to “read the turkeys” and modify my strategy accordingly. There have been seasons where a strutting decoy works to bring a gobbler in to flog my decoy almost every time. In other seasons a mature gobbler takes one look at it and turns the other way. Reading how turkeys are responding and adapting accordingly is a great strategy to harvest turkeys.
Adapt Turkey Decoy Setups
Similarly, just when I think I have the perfect decoy setup, a mature gobbler turns up his nose and walks off uninterested. Though a 3- decoy setup works fine and a 5- decoy triangle is deadly, does not mean the lone wise gobbler you are trying to hunt is going to come in. I used to blame it on the time of the season. From my experience, I believe it has more to do with the individual turkey than how the birds act at a given time during the season. On more than one occasion a lone tom failed to commit to my decoy setup.
Again, adaptability is the key. Learning the behaviors of the birds you are hunting can save your heartache. For some turkeys, less is more. I have modified my setup to include a lone hen or no decoy at all and have been able to close the deal when nothing else would. It doesn’t matter that these birds are big enough to most likely win the fight on any other turkey around. Some would rather not fight at all.
On the flip side to this, when I have seen a group of mature gobblers together — typically younger birds around 2-3 years of age — I have found greater success in bringing out a strutting decoy. It seems there is power in numbers and a group of young gobblers get emboldened and ready for a fight at this kind of decoy. Adding a hen to the setup may be just the trick to bring those younger birds in.
Use a Less Mature Strutting Decoy
On more than one occasion, I have come across a gobbler that is a bit more shy when they encounter a big mature strutting decoy. For this reason, for my setup, I choose to utilize a half-strut Jake decoy rather than a full-strutting mature gobbler. It seems to be the best compromise for both younger and more mature turkeys, resulting in greater success in harvesting a bird.
In addition, I use a 2D mature strutting decoy for turkey reaping. When a gobbler gets hung up across a field, pulling out the last ditch effort to attempt a reaping, utilizing a complete strutting tom may be just the ticket to get that bird to come in. But be ready — when that bird commits, he will often do so wholeheartedly coming at you fast! It should also be noted, I only attempt turkey on private ground that I have full confidence no other hunter will be on the property.
I encourage anyone to invest in a good set of decoys as they can be an excellent tool to provide the visual a gobbler needs to come in range. I also have included in my investment a couple of decoys that can be easily packed in my vest and assembled/reassembled so I have something that can be utilized in a “run and gun” situation. But, be aware — just because I have the decoys does not mean I will always want to use every decoy that I have in every situation. Utilizing this strategy and avoiding the mistakes mentioned, just may leave you with a bird in the back of the truck.