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Best Set Ups for Turkey Decoys

How and where to place your turkey decoys for the best chances of success.

May 26, 2023
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Best Set Ups for Turkey Decoys

Admittedly, I sometimes expand on traditional uses of hunting gear. For example, during deer season, I sometimes put a spread of turkey decoys in the vicinity of the tree stand I'm using. My reasoning is that the ever-vigilant turkeys are first to sound the danger alarm so if a group of turkeys are feeding unconcernedly, the coast is clear. At least, I hope that's the message that the deer get.

Turkey hunters will argue until they're as red as a gobbler's head about where, when and how to use decoys. Nearly all have a story about the time a decoy or decoys spooked a big gobbler. They also have stories about otherwise keen-eyed, wary gobblers trying to mate with a decoy. So why do decoys work sometimes, and not at other times?

Turkeys often move through areas that are open, such as newly-planted agricultural fields or open areas in the woods. Decoys work in those set-ups. The tom turkey can check things out at a distance, and the decoys sell the calling.

What type should you use in those situations? The typical decoy set up is two or three decoys, with one or two hens and one jake. When you use a jake, you should always set it up facing you, because a gobbler will want to face off with it.

But, hunters say, I've seen gobblers turn tail and run at the sight of a jake. And that can be a learned behavior, because two or more jakes may gang up on a gobbler and give him a thumping. Using one jake should work, because a mature gobbler should be bold enough to win that fight.

It's true that some gobblers may hit the brakes when they get within sight of your decoys. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are decoy shy because a mature gobbler expects the hen to come to him. You keep calling and he keeps gobbling, but he doesn't come any closer. Having a jake decoy in your gang may help bring in the gobbler, who wants to compete for breeding rights. The hen decoy which is in breeding position, along with a jake, can really bring in a tom like he's on a string.

As the season continues, mix things up. For example, when hens are laying eggs or nesting, they are often seen alone. This is the time to switch to one decoy, and set up in areas of thicker cover. Also, resist the urge to put the decoy out in plain sight in the woods think about it, how many turkeys would survive if they stood still in the middle of a clearing? Hide the hen behind a log or other cover, remember how sharp their eyes are. The gobbler will find her.

Make sure your set up is realistic. If you're setting up in the hardwoods, scratch out a couple areas around each decoy. Make it look as if the birds have been rustling the forest floor for last-fall's acorns or this spring's bugs. I do this when I'm moving to a new set-up if I stop to call, I also scratch around in the leaves.

In a field, turkeys don't stay in a tight group; instead, they spread out. Don't be afraid to spread out the decoys and even up the numbers. To make sure the gobbler comes to the right decoy, which is the one in gun range, position that hen in breeding position, low to the ground.

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