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The Decoy Advantage

Ramblings by John Higley author badge for my outdoor

very experienced turkey hunter knows that calling wild turkeys entails much more than simply making noise in an attempt to lure a lusty tom turkey into shotgun or bow and arrow range. Sometimes, visual stimulation is the key to a gobbler’s demise, and for that reason decoys are often employed. The question is when, where and how should they be used? Unfortunately, like most things associated with turkey hunting, there are no pat answers.

It’s safe to say that most turkey hunters who use decoys have their own thoughts about when and where to do so. I’m no different. I use decoys several times every spring, but there are lots of times when I do not. Sometimes my decision is dictated by the terrain I’m hunting.

For example, if visibility is poor, and I know a tom will be in range when I first see him, I seldom take the time to put a decoy out. To me it doesn’t make much sense to use a decoy if a tom can’t see it until he’s almost in my lap. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and I’ve been known to bend or break some of them occasionally.

Tom Turkey Decoys by John Higley for My outdoor outdoor online magazine
Some of the decoys Higley has used with success over the years.

When I do use a decoy, it is usually a single hen that I can set up quickly when the need arises. At times, however, I use a set of three decoys, usually two hens and a jake, or a hen with a full strut boss like the B-Mobil from Primos that I used to my advantage a couple years ago. At that time a real boss tom came in spoiling for a fight with the fake and rode home in the back of my truck instead.

Last weekend, on a hunt in Mendocino County with my pal Tom Stone, I put a single Avian X hen decoy out in a pasture below a ridge top roost site on private land. In front of me I set up a low camo cloth blind in hopes it would hide any slight movement I might make. I wasn’t really worried because it was foggy and the turkeys would have to be close to see me and I them. I did not count on the horse and mule that came out of the mist to inspect the decoy. I don’t know how they did it but I heard an odd noise and the decoy was upside down several yards away from where it was. Looking smug, the horse and mule then ambled away. I took a chance and reset the decoy while the tom turkeys on the ridge started gobbling sporadically from their roosts.

Shasta County Tom and tom decoy by John Higley, my outdoor outdoor online magazine

A couple years ago this Shasta County tom came in to challange a full bodied strutting tom decoy made by Primos. Higley was happy that he did.

Sometime later, after the birds gathered on the ground and the fog lifted a little, a particularly aggressive hen came down the hill directly toward the decoy. Following close behind the hen were two white headed toms, one of which was taking his last steps.

The point here is that the decoy worked. I don’t think my calling alone would have enticed that top-of-the-pecking-order hen to cross the open ground and come down to challenge the interloper.

Toms during turkey hunt, decoy, by John Higley, my outdoor online outdoor news magazine
Decoys do not always work but when they do they add another demension to a turkey hunt. These toms were safe as they were photographed a week before the season opener this spring.

Ideally, decoys act as a lure and a distraction, which is exactly what they did last weekend. Occasionally, however, the fakes can also pose a threat to toms, which is good for them and bad for you. Perhaps a particular tom lost some pecking order battles and doesn’t want to risk being beat up again, or maybe a wary old bird hangs back and insists that the hen he sees come to him, rather than the other way around.

Decoys have come a long way in the last 20 years or so. My first one was a full size, hard shell hen replica that I carried on my back in a mesh bag. It was light enough but it was, in my opinion anyway, somewhat unwieldy on long jaunts over hill and dale. Today, there’s an ever growing selection to choose from. They come in a variety of realistic poses, and many of them fold or roll up for easy transport. Lately I’ve been using Avian X decoys which are manufactured by Zink Calls.

They’re not the only decs worth using but I’ve hunted with the guys from Zink and I like their stuff. Besides they gave me a couple decoys to try.

Decoys definitely have their place, but like all the gadgets, tricks and theories involved in the turkey hunting process, nothing works all of the time, and almost everything works at one time or another. When you think about it, the uncertainty is what keeps the sport interesting, fresh and fun. Decoys do not always work, true, but in the right place at the right time, a fake turkey may very well be worth its weight in drumsticks.

Author and writer John Higley is a resident of Palo Cedro, CA. His articles have appeared in Outdoor California and other fishing and hunting journals. He is the author of two books: “Hunting Wild Turkeys In the West” and “Hunting Blacktail Deer.”

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