It’s really a bit of a science to properly use turkey decoys. Just blowing up a balloon hen and sticking it in the ground won’t cut it. Turkeys can see 10 times better than a human. Their peripheral vision and constant head movement allow them to see almost 360 degrees around them. Using a poor decoy or a bad setup will scare off more birds than it will bring in.
How to Scare Off a Gobbler: 5 Decoy Don’ts
There are definitely some dos and don’ts in decoy use. With so many options out there, it can be hard to know what to use. So here are some things that I’ve found don’t work (and a few that do).
If you want to bring in a big gobbler with your decoys, don’t do any of the following:
Don’t #1: Use lots of decoys
“The more the merrier” may apply to parties and social gatherings, but not to turkey hunting. It’s not like waterfowl hunting, where creating landing zones requires large spreads of decoys.
Using too many turkey decoys will spook your gobbler. Imagine yourself walking into a room with a lot of people, and everyone is frozen and staring at you. Think you might feel a little uncomfortable and leave?
Large flocks of turkey decoys just don’t work.
Don’t #2: Use the biggest decoy you can find.
Even though turkey decoys may come in magnum sizes, don’t go out and buy a huge strutting Tom decoy and think it will bring in a big turkey. It will actually most gobblers think twice about coming in.
An approaching medium-size gobbler isn’t going to want to take a whoopin’ from somebody bigger. When challenging gobblers first approach, they circle each other with heads held high. They are assessing how big the other guy is.
It’s like this: say you were out somewhere and you heard some loudmouth guy spouting off about what a bigshot he was. I bet, before you ran over to punch him in the nose, you’d check out how big he was. If he’s some big body builder type, you’re probably just going to leave without confrontation.
Gobblers feel the same way about a giant turkey decoy.
Don’t #3: Use decoys with their heads up.
Turkey decoys with heads down are much better. They appear more natural and relaxed.
If one turkey in a live flock senses danger, the first thing it will do is raise its head up high and sound off a series of alarm putts. In a split second, all the other birds in the flock will lift their heads and freeze, trying to identify the threat. Their body language says, “Danger! Leave!” So, “heads up” is not what you want in your decoys.
However, a small Jake decoy with his head held high set up next to a hen may trigger an approaching gobbler. He might come in to put the Jake in its place.
There are always exceptions. I can hear grandpa muttering, “I’ve killed lots of gobblers with my decoys, and I ain’t changin’ now.” Generally though, you’ll bag more birds using a couple of smaller-sized decoys with heads in a feeding position.
Don’t #4: Use lots of Jake decoys.
Don’t use more than one Jake decoy per set up. Many times I’ve watched a group of live Jakes gang up on a gobbler and drive him off. “Adolescent thugs,” I call them.
Gobblers may be wary of a setup with a bunch of Jakes. If they’ve been ganged up on before, they may decide to play it safe and leave.
Don’t #5: Use a Jake with a brightly colored head.
Jake decoys shouldn’t be too dramatically colored.
I’ve seen several turkey decoy manufacturers make these color mistakes. I think they’re trying to attract more turkey hunters than turkeys.
Brightly colored heads and necks are too strong a sign of dominance. A gobbler’s head and neck change color based on the oxygen levels in their blood. It’s an indication of the bird’s emotional state. If he’s fired up, he’ll be all-American–red, white and blue. If he’s white-faced, it indicates he’s scared.
So your decoy’s head should be muted red, white, and blue.
Also, strutting gobbler decoys with predominately white heads send crossed messages. The contradiction is that you can’t be proud and strutting while simultaneously being scared. A white-faced gobbler decoy says there’s danger near, and will scare off incoming Toms.
Tips for Using Turkey Decoys
Location, Location, Location
If you know where the gobbler is before you set up your turkey decoys, face them away from the direction he’ll be coming. If they are facing him directly, and he spots them at a distance, he may hang up. After all, nature’s way is for the hen to come to him. The reverse usually works when decoys are faced away. He’ll gobble, and when nobody turns around to pay attention, it will trigger his advance.
If the field allows, position your decoys slightly obscured by a little high grass. Remember, turkeys are said to have 10 times better vision than that of a human, so a little subtlety can help.
Confidence of Another Feather
Even if you consider yourself an advanced turkey hunter, here’s a tactic you may not have tried.
Waterfowl hunters have added confidence decoys to their duck spreads for years. Setting a keen-eyed heron decoy perched nearby has fooled many wary ducks.
If you’ve been after a particular smart gobbler that won’t commit and come in, try placing a couple of crow decoys about 50 yards from your turkey setup. Put one on the ground and the other in a tree (use a weight and fishing line to hoist it up there). Occasionally, make a couple of crow calls between your turkey series.
If a gobbler sees crows hanging around your turkey decoys, he’ll figure your setup must be safe. This technique works best in a large field.
Evaluating Turkey Decoys
To help with sorting out the good from the not-so-good, I’ve created a printable guide to evaluating a turkey decoy. It gives a run down of what to look for on a decoy and why. You can download it for free from my Outdoor Resource Library.
I’ve also created a course on Modifying Your Decoy to Bring the Gobblers in Close, which is part of my Turkey Killer System course which also includes courses on scouting and calling. In these courses, I give you a step-by-step system that I’ve put together from my 30+ years of turkey hunting experience.
If you want to efficiently bag a gobbler without wasting your time…
If you want a system to locate, call, and bring in a bird…
If you want to make a clean, humane kill…
If you want to get that hung-up gobbler to come in…
Then the Turkey Killer System is the course for you.
I’m so excited to share this system with you, and I can’t wait to see the photos of the giant birds you bag using it!
You Be the Judge
There are several turkey decoy manufacturers that have gotten it right with color, body posture, size and shape. Below are a few for you to see in a natural setting. I don’t necessarily want to give any particular decoy manufacturer a bad grade, so I’ll let you decide which ones look best in the field.
Vote for your favorite numbers in the comments below. Tell me which turkey decoys you think would work best and why.
Remember, a turkey’s eyes are 10 times better than yours, so if it looks a little fishy to you, it’ll be 10 times worse to a sharp-eyed gobbler.
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