Do I Need Decoys for Hunting Gobblers?
When should I use a Jake or Hen decoy? How to set up my decoys for success?
Should I use one or a full flock of turkeys? Is a full-strut gobbler the right choice?
These are great questions that turkey hunters will be asking themselves every time out. With turkey season approaching it's time to figure out how you can be successful hunting turkey using decoys.
Decoys work well for hunters looking to divert attention from themselves and entice toms to come in close enough to get a good shot. You can get the attention of the gobblers using a turkey call, using the right ScentLok camouflage will keep you invisible, and with the right Remington Turkey Shotgun you can harvest a turkey this season.
Use a turkey call to get their attention, the decoy will keep their attention and provide enough distraction to keep their curiosity and come in close for a good shot.
Turkey decoys have come a long way in the last few years. With new technology including HD photo imaging and printing, today's decoys have extreme detail, vibrant colors, and lifelike characteristics.
3D decoys are a very popular style. These full 3/4 to full-size decoys get turkeys excited and since turkeys have excellent eyesight they appear to be real in every manner possible.
Now don't get us wrong, you can be very successful hunting turkey using just a turkey call and ground blind. But, when you can't get the turkey to cross a field by just calling, a decoy could do the trick.
What is Turkey Decoys Used For?
Decoys are used in conjunction with turkey calling to provide a visual for incoming turkeys. If they see a decoy then the calling is not a question. They don't wonder why they hear a turkey but don't see one.
Who Should Use a Turkey Decoy?
Decoys can be used by all sorts of hunters. You can use them in the spring to excite mature toms for mating or to get the attention of hens to come to join the flock.
All hunters should use a decoy when hunting this season. Knowing the right time to use them and how to set them up will help with your success.
Anytime you want to give the impression there is another turkey in the area, you should use a decoy.
When Should a Turkey Decoy Be Used?
Use a decoy when you are calling. A single lone hen or a roaming tom can attract other birds.
When you are bow hunting turkey, use a decoy to get a tom in close and keep their attention while your setting up for a shot.
Where Should a Turkey Decoy Be Used?
Use a decoy when you are sitting under a tree. A decoy works great when you are run-n-gunning turkeys. Place a few decoys out in front of a ground blind.
If you are helping new hunters or youth with their hunts, use a decoy and get more attention.
At Shaggy Outdoors our team of hunters uses turkey decoys often during their hunts. When hunting the mid-west states of Wisconsin and Michigan, we use them to set up out front of our ground blind, and when hunting turkey in Arizona, we'll set up a decoy when we have determined there are turkeys in the area and start calling.
Let's get into the weeds of hunting turkey with decoys throughout this article. We'll hit about every topic there is with decoy turkey hunting and even show you a video we think is important.
Pick up a turkey decoy this season to increase your odds of pulling a mature tom into shooting range. When you're ready head on over to our blog on the 13 Best Turkey Decoys for Hunting Gobblers.
What are the Different Types of Turkey Decoys?
When it comes to decoys you have three types to choose from. You can pick a Strutting Mature Tom, a Jake, or a Hen.
While these are the three standard types there is an assortment of different positions the decoy can be in or even configurations for the birds. You could place decoys in a position that appears they are feeding, challenging, getting ready to breed, or even a full strut.
Knowing what position you should put your decoys in is important. You will change positions based on the current set up and you may choose to alter or change them throughout the day.
Here is a quick review of the differences between Jake, Hen, and Gobbler. Check out this slide here from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Get a quick visual of the different types of turkeys.
Jake turkeys are male turkeys typically between 1 and 1.5 years of age. These birds will typically be most aggressive and interested in breeding in the spring. Their immaturity will get their butts kicked around when they face off or challenge a more mature tom.
You can use Jake decoys in the spring to get mature toms pissed off and aggressive. Placing a jake in a position over a breeding hen with some good calling on your part will pull in any gobbler in the area.
Use the Jake decoy as part of a larger traveling flock or feeding flock as it will attract more mature toms in the area.
Having too many hens in your decoy bag is not possible. While you may choose to only use one or a whole flock the hen is a necessary decoy for every hunter.
Some postures that will work best for hens are; breeding position, feeding position, and submissive. You can use a lone hen and call to bring in a gobbler to your setup. A lone hen sometimes will indicate they don't have a flock or maybe a tom just want to add another female to his harem.
Single hens can be a good choice late in the spring season. For those younger toms that haven't bred yet, they may be more apt to come into a single hen than a flock with a larger tom.
A gobbler is also known as a long beard, a mature tom, or a tom turkey. A Gobbler is the most mature turkey in a group. He probably is the oldest and may well be the largest. A gobbler can have a wingspan of over 5 feet and weigh between 18-22 pounds.
When hunting with a tom turkey decoy you may choose to have a couple of different types. Gobbler decoys can come with their fans open, giving the impression of strutting and trying to defend their hens or fight another bird. Or a tom decoy could be fans down to give the impression of feeding or breeding.
Be careful using a strutting tom late in the spring season. If you are looking to attract any tom with a beard toward the end of the season a full strutting decoy could scare off young toms. If the birds have been fighting and if a bird has had his butt kicked a few times, he'll likely shy away from a decoy in the full strut position.
Since there are several positions a tom can be placed. Make sure you are using the appropriate decoy for your hunting situation.
What Materials Are Used for Turkey Decoys?
There are several different materials used in today's turkey decoys. Depending on the type of decoy you could have blow-molded, polyethylene plastic, fabric, and more.
You can pick up decoys that are or are near life-size and are ready to go with just the addition of a leg stand. Some decoys are made with fabric which allows for compact storage in your pack or vest.
Deciding on your decoy will sometimes be determined based on your ability to get to the woods and how you intend to get the decoys set up.
If you have a distance to walk and a solid decoy you may need a decoy bag or backpack to carry your decoys. If you plan to use several decoys in a setup, then full-size solid decoys may be more difficult to travel and carry.
Decoys that are made of fabric are easier to store and carry to your hunting spot. With a compact foldable decoy, like Montana Decoy Co Turkey HD Series, you can have a flock of birds in your backpack and still be able to hike and carry multiple birds.
The attention to detail in today's designs is unprecedented. The Montana Turkey Decoy HD Series uses an HD Photo printed with 3D fabric giving an extremely lifelike appearance. While this is a great foldable option, the Avian-X HDR Series are Blow-molded to withstand some turkey shot and are hand carved with unreal feather features.
Pricing for decoys does depend on materials, whether they are hand carved, if they are 3D in design, or even if they are hand-painted. Buy the best you can afford is what we say at Shaggy Outdoors. If you have a budget, buy a flock of birds for the best value. If you can only afford one bird, find an option that has multiple positions that the bird can be placed into or maybe like the Avian-X Series it may come with multiple heads to change out.
So many of the decoys today have extremely lifelike features. The eyes, head and neck positions, extreme detail in cooler for the jakes and toms, and body positions all work together to give the real turkeys something to be attracted to.
How to Make a Turkey Decoy More Lifelike?
If you picked up a decoy and would like to make it more attractive consider these options:
- Add Real Turkey Feathers - pick up some feathers and add them to an existing outdated or old solid plastic or foam decoy. Dress it up a little with new feathers.
- Add a fishing line to the decoy - place the line on the decoy and give the decoy some life by slightly moving its body. This option is inexpensive but make sure your state allows for the use of a mechanical decoy.
- Update your decoy with color - if your current decoy has faded, you can update the paint and make the decoy more attractive.
What are the Best Turkey Decoy Brands: 14 Top Brands for Every Hunter's Setup
The choices for turkey decoys are so vast that it could take a whole article to cover them all. Here is a brief list of 14 Turkey Decoy Brands and two of their most popular decoys offered through Amazon.
Montana Decoy Co. Turkey Decoy
- PurrFECT Pair HD Combo - get a Jake and Hen with a travel bag. The decoys offer three positions each to give you a variety of options for these decoys.
- Wiley Tom 3D Decoy - Full 3D and Fully Collapsible - fold up for easy transport. The ultra-high definition printed image, along with a 3D design gives the allusion to a realistic tom.
Looking for more information on Montana Decoys Co Turkey Decoys? Check out our review of the company and its decoys by clicking here.
Avian-X HDR Decoy
- Jake Turkey Decoy with Multiple Head Positions - incredible lifelike design and color details
- Strutter Turkey Decoy - very real and has great details. Two head postures. 15% smaller than a true gobbler. Adjustable tail fan, plastic tail but add real feathers for a lifelike look.
Fold Up Decoy Store
- FUD 6 Foldable, Full-Size 2D Turkey Decoys - these are 2D flat on one side for side viewing. Best to place where turkeys can see them from the side angle.
Lucky Duck - Turkey Decoys
- Lucky HD Collapsible Hen - built to be used as a lay-flat submissive position or deploy upright to be a standing hen. EVA plastic material for easy foldup to place in turkey vest or backpack.
- Lucky HD Collapsible Field Strutter - is a Jake decoy designed to attract dominant gobblers. EVA plastic allows for collapsible construction for easy storage in a backpack or hunting vest.
Primos Turkey Decoys
- Primos Hunting Killer B Full Strut Turkey Decoy - removable fan, replace with real feathers, 90-foot of rope pull, has iridescent colors for lifelike appearance.
- Primos Hunting Lil Gobstopper Jake Turkey Decoy - this is a lightweight decoy, smaller less intimidating decoy.
- Scoot-N-Shoot Max Tom Turkey Hunting Decoy - this decoy is a fontal allowing for hunters to place themselves behind the decoy for a shot. The decoy has a viewing screen in the fan to see the gobbler coming. Check out this decoy for those wanting to spot and stalk their turkey.
- Tail Chaser Max - this decoy is a tom front with a fan that is a tripod for your shotgun. A unique decoy for those looking to stalk their turkey and get a closer shot.
DSD or David Smith Turkey Decoys
- White Face Strutter Decoy - the most authentic-looking custom turkey decoys on the market. This submissive tom pose has the position of wanting to breed. Iridescence feather, Ace Technology, and Black Flocking on the back.
- Breeding Pair Decoys Combo - this option gets you two decoys. The objective of this pair is to get a dominant male tom excited and ready to fight. He'll want to push this smaller subordinate Jake off and you will be there to take the shot. You get 1 Jake and 1 Hen. The body is made to reseal if your shot gets a little too close.
- Full Strut Tom Turkey Decoy - this decoy has a magnetic removable fan. XHD Hyper Feathering highlights individual feathers with extreme detail. Change out the fan with a real feather fan to give the decoy even more lifelike characteristics. This is a full-strut decoy looking to battle or show his dominance.
- Hen Turkey Decoy - this hen is in the feeding position. Decoy has vibrant detail painting with a deep carving 3d appearance. The natural feeding positions allow other birds to be more comfortable and be more apt to come in to feed alongside.
Bone Collector Decoys
- Quarter-Body Strutting Tom Turkey Decoy - this decoy shows a full-body tom from the front with 2D and 3D designs. The fan is removable and can be changed out with a real fan of feathers. Scratch and flake-resistant paint and solid stand.
- Upright Hen ad Jake Turkey Decoy Combo - these lightweight collapsible decoys are good for those hunters on the move. Good combo for those looking to have multiple decoys in a flock.
Hunter Specialties / H.S. Strut Decoys
- HS Strut Lite Flock Jake & Feeding Hens Combo - these feeding hen and upright hen turkey combo with a Jake give the allusion of a relaxed scenario. The decoys are hollow-bodied designs with lifelike paint and finish features.
- HS Strut Lite Feeding Hen Turkey - this hollow decoy is great for folding up and packing away for travel. Use as a single or pick up a few to give the appearance of a flock of turkey feeding.
The Grind Turkey Decoys
- Grind Reaper Quarter Body Strutter - this front-facing tom has a smaller fan with the body in a strutting position. Use to reap, when safe & allowed, or include in a pairing of decoys. The smaller body appearance will pull in those gobblers ready to fight.
- Grind Relaxed Feeding Hen Decoy - pick this decoy up in three postures; the Bugging Hen, Lay Down Hen, or Relaxed Feeding Hen. EVA materials are tough and lightweight holding good posture and appearance.
Gobbstopper Turkey Decoys
- Strutter Tom Turkey Decoy - grab the attention of gobblers without intimidation. Get Tom's in close for an easy shot. Detailed color and poses.
Flexstone Turkey Decoys
- Funky Chicken Turkey Decoy - okay, this is an interesting decoy. You have an appearance of the neck and head of the turkey. Great colors and the look of a curious Jake looking around. No body or tail fan, just a chest, neck, and head.
- Thunder 1/4 Strut Jake Turkey Decoy - realistic 1/4 Jake to attract mature toms. High profile relaxed position and non-threatening pose.
Flambeau Turkey Decoys
- Shady Baby Upright Hen - gives the appearance of a hen looking around. Lightweight and compact for easy storage and transport.
- Shady Baby Feeding Hen - with the head and body in the feeding position, this lightweight decoy gives the appearance of everything is fine and we're just eating. Bring other hens and toms in close using a feeding hen.
What are the Best and Most Effective Turkey Decoy Body Positions and Strategies?
Now that you're the owner of a flock of decoys, it's time to figure out the best body positions and strategy for success. Depending on the time of your season will influence how you want to have your decoys set up.
Early spring breeding season you can be aggressive with your Jakes and Hens. You can even place a couple of strutting toms facing off to show aggression and dominance. Just knowing the body position isn't enough. Figuring out the setup of where the decoys should be placed is just as important as body configuration. If you would like more information on the 7 Best Strategies for Turkey Setup check out our blog here.
Watch this short video on Decoy and Blind Setup for Turkey Hunting for more detailed information.
Make sure you are using the right body positions for your decoys based on your current hunting situation. You don't want to use a breeding position with a hen and Jake in the fall season when the breeding season is in the spring. If you want to make the appearance of a flock feeding make sure there are a few hens with their heads down toward the ground.
Here are a few of the decoy's body positions and the best opportunity for attraction:
The submissive mating hen position shows a hen typically in a laying position ready to be bred. This position is great to work with a Jake decoy. Place the Jake behind the hen or slightly off to one side. Based on the direction the Gobbler will be coming from make sure you have decoys for a side view. The gobbler will go crazy if he sees a smaller tom ready to approach a hen.
A full-strut Jake has a smaller fan than a mature tom. The full strut Jake decoy could imply he is trying to show his dominance in a flock. Use the Jake strutter to aggravate and make a mature tom angry. With the right call gobbles, this decoy will bring a tom in close for a good shot. Use with additional decoys a hen or another Jake facing off.
3/4 Strut Jake
A 3/4 Jake will have his fan down and wings tight. His head will be rolled back towards his body and he'll be in a position to travel or breed a hen. The positioning can imitate Jake trying to take a few hens from a flock. Use this decoy or decoy position to aggravate mature toms and use it with one or several hens in a group.
Mating Position with a Jake and Hen
The mating position is one of the best for the early spring turkey season. The mating hen decoy is lying on the ground with her head up. The hen is ready to be bred. Now place a Jake decoy behind, to the side, or on the backside of the hen. This position will imply this younger male turkey is trying to mate with a hen. This position is very aggressive to use when calling a mature gobbler. The gobbler will see the position and smaller jake and gobble and strut to move the jake off the hen.
The feeding flock can be used in the spring or fall hunting season. You can give the impression of birds finding some bugs or food in one location or you can line the birds up in a manner that would appear they are traveling and feeding along the way. Having several decoys works best for this setup.
When a dominant male bird sees two Jakes facing off it's time for him to show his dominance. Using Jake decoys gives the illusion of two smaller male birds. A mature gobbler will want to show off. Start by placing two Jake decoys in a full strut position facing each other at a distance of 2-3 yards. The best is for a side view of an oncoming gobbler. Use aggressive calling tactics to agitate and get the mature tom riled up.
Half Strut Jake or Quarter Strut Jake Next to Hens
This is another scenario where the jakes and hens work together to make a mature tom more aggressive. Place a submissive or breeding hen near one or two 1/2 or 1/4 strut jakes. The more aggressive calling will attract a tom and he'll want to join the party and mate with the hen.
Preening Hen Position
The preening hen is a new decoy position by Dave Smith Decoys. Preening is the act of straightening and cleaning feathers with a bird's beak. The hen has her head tucked back into her body giving the appearance of cleaning herself. This decoy works great with a larger flock of birds foraging.
The position of this hen is designed to get the interest of a dominant hen in a flock. When a gobbler won't pull away from his flock, using a posturing hen gets the dominant hen aggravated and moves her toward your decoy. The object of this decoy position is to pull in the dominant hen with the gobbler trailing behind. Pull the tom in using his hen.
How Many Decoys Should A Turkey Hunter Use?
Is one decoy enough? Do I need two, three, or a large flock?
Decoys are an attractor for those gobblers and using the right attractors is the most important factor. The number of decoys will be determined based on your setup.
If you are implying a mating pair, you would need two decoys a Jake and a Hen. If you want to give the appearance of a traveling flock. You may choose to have 4-5 decoys. One feeding position hen could be all you need.
Each hunting scenario will dictate the number of decoys you may choose to use. If you only own one decoy it should be a hen. You can place this hen and call giving a gobbler the indication the hen is available and maybe wants to mate, or its position shows it eating and all things are good.
Either way, if you only have one decoy, it should be a hen. Pick up a decoy that can change positions giving you the opportunity to change out a head like the Avian-X HDR Hen Turkey Decoy or change into several body positions like the Montana Decoy Co's Miss Purr-FECT XD which has the ability to modify the neck and head placement giving you several options when setting up your decoy.
10 Mistakes Hunters Make When Using Turkey Decoys
I have found myself hunting turkeys in many situations and I have screwed up more times than I can remember. I've also had great success using no decoys and only one decoy. It just depends, sometimes.
Let me share a few pro secrets to using decoys and how to avoid my mistakes.
- Too Many Decoys - sometimes less is more - try different approaches with fewer decoys.
- Thinking Decoys are More Important than Calling - yep just because there is a decoy doesn't mean you don't call. Calling gets their attention and decoys keep their attention.
- Placement of Turkeys too Far from the Shooter - know your distance. Bow hunters want shots less than 20 yards so place decoys 10-15 yards from your location. Shotgun hunters can reach out further so place your decoys around 20 yards from your location.
- Hiding Decoys - don't hide your decoy. Make sure you have it in an open area that gobblers can see from a distance. If you are using one of your turkey calls and they can't see the birds they may move off instead of investigating.
- Don't Use Breeding Positions in the Fall - mating happens in the spring
- Anchor Down Your Decoy - if you have a little wind or expect some gushing wind conditions make sure your decoy is not going in circles. A good option would be to place some nature sticks on each side of the tail to keep the bird from going in circles.
- What's Behind Your Decoy - if the expected line of sight for incoming toms has you behind the line of sight for the decoy placement, you could scare off the bird. Remember turkeys have excellent eyesight and if there is a movement beyond the sight of the decoy, a mature tom may not come in close enough to shoot.
- Safety when Calling on Public Land - aggressive calling in early spring could have you pulling in other hunters on public land. If you add in an excellent decoy setup then be careful you're not getting shot at.
- Late Spring Strutting Gobblers - if you've been chasing birds with no success and you know there are several younger toms or jakes in the area, be careful using full strut larger gobbler decoys. You could scare off smaller toms that have been beaten up earlier in the season. They may not want to fight anymore, so choose a smaller strut tom or some hens to get your bird.
- Reaping is Unsafe and Outlawed in Many States - don't use reaping decoys when hunting active public land. If you know you're not the only hunter on a piece of land this is a bad decision. Make sure you check your state hunting laws, many states have outlawed this style of hunting because of the potential of other hunters being shot.
Turkey Hunting Using Decoys Wrap Up
Knowing how to use a decoy and when to use that decoy can benefit you this season. Having good quality decoys also plays a part in the success of bringing in turkeys.
Calling turkeys is key to getting their attention and once you have their attention decoys work to keep their attention. If you are calling and the tom doesn't see any turkeys he could decide it's not worth his time and move in another direction he knows the hens have gone.
Like other parts of hunting the gear you use, the planning you put into your hunt, and the tools in your toolbox all help you be more successful. Check out our Ultimate Gear Guide for Turkey Hunters where we provide you with a comprehensive list of all things turkey hunting.
There is only one way to figure out the best way to use turkey decoys and that's by getting out and doing some hunting. The season is approaching, get your gear together and head out to the woods.