Boy, turkey hunting sure has changed.
In the 1980s when I first started chasing longbeards, the use of decoys wasn’t all that popular. Truth is, few of them could be found, and those that did exist looked pretty darn bad.
Fast forward to today and the offerings that are on the market are so realistic that they’ll even fool a person at close range.
I use the Avian-X models from Zink Calls for all my trips to the woods in the spring. The models are a sight to behold and, at times, I even catch myself having to do a double take after I’ve been sitting a while and glance at them.
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After all, when a piece of inflated vinyl looks as realistic as these things do, it’s easy for the eye to be fooled and there’s always the chance that a real bird has snuck into your decoy set-up silently.
Still, even with all of this realism, there are considerations when hitting the fields with a flock of plastic poultry and there are times that an improper decoy set will hinder your efforts.
Let’s take a gander at just how things change throughout the month-long season that starts April 1, and how it’s best to incorporate decoys into your turkey hunting during that period.
Depending on the weather, the early season can find gobblers running around in bachelor groups. These boys have already sorted out their “pecking order” of dominance and don’t take too kindly to other fellas invading their territory.
In this scenario it often makes sense to place a Jake decoy over a subordinate hen just to rile them up. It’s not unlikely that you’ll see the entire bachelor group run into your decoy spread with the intentions of whipping up on your fake Jake.
In the second phase of turkey season, breeding has begun and many of hens are sitting their nests by mid-morning. The Toms will scour the woods and fields looking for lonely hens that haven’t been bred. This is a good time to place one or two hen decoys just inside the edges of fields but be sure to make one of them a “feeding hen.”
Feeding areas tend to be in open areas with sparse cover which, naturally, makes turkeys a bit nervous. That decoy you place in a relaxed feeding position helps those gobblers to relax as well and feel that there’s no danger around. Thus, they’re far more likely to make the trip all the way into your decoys.
As you get deeper into the breeding season, don’t hesitate to add more hens to your display since that lovesick gobbler will often react even quicker if he sees the odds of finding a receptive hen to be in his favor.
A good tip is in the real world, hens often shut up when a Tom is in view. If you’ve got an old longbeard working toward you and he’s within the direct line of sight of your hen decoys, quit your calling. A few clucks and purrs are one thing, but screaming at him with yelps is going to seem a bit out of the ordinary.
If you’ll pay attention to that he’s far less likely to “hang up” on you at a distance just outside of gun range.
As April nears its end, most of the breeding is done and those Toms will start to ease back into their bachelor groups. This is the time to throw out decoys representing both a Tom and a Jake in hopes of other longbeards coming to join their party.
It’s still fine to place a hen out there just put her a bit to the side and away from them since the males are more interested in feeding than breeding during this period. If a gobbler happens to still be interested in chasing the girls comes in, you’ll be presenting him with a little temptation as well.
No matter the time of turkey season placing decoys at the proper distance is vital.
Any good turkey hunter knows his gun and exactly how it patterns at various distances, but I doubt there’s any gun out there that patterns well up close. It’s for this reason that you’ll want to put your decoys at a minimum distance of 20 yards from where you’ll be making the shot.
Planning to try your luck with a bow this year? The opposite applies.
Bowhunting turkeys is best done from a “pop up” ground blind which affords the hunter opportunity to make the added movement that’s necessary when using a bow.
Just remember to wear black instead of camo inside the blind and put those decoys much closer in at, say, 10 to 15 yards from your chair.
Although many hunters tried and ultimately abandoned using decoys years ago, I’d encourage them to give them another go since the tools we have today are so much better than in years past.
If you’re one who hasn’t tried them at all, I’d say you need to get on board. There’s nothing else out there that will up your game to the degree that these ultra-realistic decoys will.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.