The Turkey Decoys Every Hunter Actually Needs

by Braxton Taylor

There is a common misconception amongst hunters when it comes to decoys, that involve a too-simple thought process. This goes for turkey hunters, but also whitetail hunters, and western hunters who deploy a fake to entice a critter into range.

The thinking goes like this: If a real animal sees your fake animal, it will come to you. While that pretty much explains decoying in a nutshell, it’s not quite so simple. Take whitetails, for example. If you put out a doe decoy outside the rut, you might succeed in scaring all of the real does while not drawing in any real bucks. A buck decoy at any point of the season might scare all of the real does, as well.

Seasonal timing and individual setups will dictate the best choice for deer decoys, but what about turkeys? While the number of decoys will vary, one thing should remain constant—you should use a non-threatening jake decoy as much as possible. In fact, other than on public land where there are safety concerns or really late in the season (the last week or two of May), a quarter-strut or breeder jake is the ticket.

Dominance Prevails

A few years ago, I shadowed two longbeards for half of the Minnesota season. When I finally called them off of their hens and arrowed the dominant tom, I hit him low. He went from strutting to limping in half of a second, and in the other half of the second, his submissive buddy turned dominant.

It was an incredible thing to witness, and it speaks to turkey behavior. As the members of wintering flocks notice the longer daylight hours, they start to test each other out. Eventually, they’ll tussle enough to figure out who is the king of the flock. This hierarchy stands until someone knocks off the dominant bird, and a turkey power vacuum is created.

They then figure it all out again and get back to making little turkeys. Throughout this, the one thing that all of the top toms and lesser birds won’t tolerate is a lone jake who seems to have his own little harem. That’s not how the natural order shakes out, and it almost seems offensive to wild birds. This is a good thing for you if you tap into it.

Jake Breakers

There are a lot of jake decoys that will work, but if you want an option that won’t let you down, just get a quarter-strut jake or a breeder. Either posture shows a bird that wants to present a studly image but also appears small and timid. If you take your jake decoy and position him close to the ground so he looks even smaller, you’ll give real birds even more confidence.

Add in a laydown hen below him, who looks like she has just swiped right, and the reaction from most real birds follows the same script. Toms and jakes might walk in cautiously or strut in slowly, but when they see the hen below a tiny rival, there is usually an obvious change to their body language. This is because there isn’t a bird out there that doesn’t think he has a chance at that point, too.

Beta Birds & Alpha Bullies

Fortunately for hunters as a whole, we leave the trophy BS to big game. While turkey hunters have always flirted with trophy hunting, it hasn’t quite caught on. Sure, bagging a 28-pounder or a bird with a 12-inch beard and 1.5-inch hooks is cool. But no one really cares. Turkeys are meant to be hunted for the challenge and for the fun of it, and the rewards come not from bragging rights but the experience.

Most hunters really just want a turkey to do what they hope a turkey will do. Gobble, strut, put on a show, and mostly, work into the decoys. If you want to increase your chances of this happening, use a decoy that will intimidate no one. Spindly, late-born jakes that tip the scales at 12 pounds will come into a quarter-strut fake just as easily as a boss tom on a midmorning stroll will. That’s the beauty of the right decoy, it welcomes all without discriminating.

That’s what you want. Because the more birds that are willing to commit, the more fun you’ll have this spring. Whether you pair him up with a laydown hen or a whole gaggle of feeding and preening hens, the truth is that the linchpin to the whole setup is a weakling jake, who looks like he’s about to have the best morning of his young life.

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