There are several turkey decoys on the market that can bring adult gobblers into shooting range. These gobblers are interested in a submissive hen decoy.


April 01, 2016

With all the new realistic looking turkey decoys on the market, which is best? Which guarantees gobblers will come runnin’ and how do I set them up to ensure wild turkeys will be attracted? These questions and more are asked by Michigan hunters looking to fill their turkey tag. The answers are simple yet somewhat complex and if you read on you will become a much wiser, more effective gobbler hunter.

In the world of wild turkey products the choices seem endless. Just look at the great variety in calls, camouflage clothing, pop up blinds, shooting sticks, face paint, vests, camouflage boots and more. But perhaps the most important product is the decoys you place near your stand. Use junk decoys and wild birds will move in the opposite direction when they see your spread. But if you use new, modern decoys with realistic feather and body detail, the wild birds will be persuaded to venture close for a better look. This is best described by the following anecdote.

It was a beautiful spring morning when I placed the submissive hen decoy in the small pasture near a Clare farm. Wild birds were singing at the top of their lungs when I heard a nearby gobble. I responded to the call with a few wake up sounds, putts and finished with a few soft purrs. The next gobble was much closer; obviously the wild turkey heard my call and came to investigate. That’s when I noticed three large black bodies slipping through the underbrush headed in my direction. When they reached the meadow the lead bird stopped, stood tiptoed and eyeballed my hen decoy. I gave a few more soft purrs and the big gobbler immediately responded with a gobble then went full strut, opened his huge tail fan, puffed up his feathers and made tight circles in an effort to encourage my decoy in his direction.

A subordinate gobbler stood on watch but after seeing the hen decoy laying down, the invitation was irresistible and he broke rank and quickly danced toward my set up. The boss gobbler not to be outdone, lowered his fan and charged ahead in order to be first to greet the receptive hen. I snapped photos as the adult gobblers surrounded my hen. At one point they were all fanned out, slowly circling the hen but when the boss made a move to mount the decoy I readied the shotgun. That’s when things went south and the decoy tipped over on its side and somebody sounded an alarm putt and the birds ran a few feet and stood heads up. The Benelli found its mark and with a boom the largest gobbler with a 10-inch plus beard lay next to the toppled decoy.

Since this experience I set out to test several turkey decoys and a variety of set ups in order to determine which is best. Wow, did I get an education and discovered the trick to decoying wild turkeys revolves around one important facet, a fanned tail. After decades of sitting in a blind trying to get quality photographs using decoys, a variety of calls and more I hit on a system that guarantees results. My secret trick is a turkey fan. Of all the methods used to entice adult toms into close range nothing compares to the drawing power of a turkey decoy with fully fanned tail feathers. More importantly, if you move the fan, make it turn or go up and down, side to side, the gobblers go ballistic and charge the set up.

I hit on this tactic after studying Indian folklore and came across a painting of American Indians stalking wild turkeys by hiding behind a turkey fan. So, I grabbed camera gear and tried the technique. The results were impressive and that’s when I used the full fan decoy when hunting and had fantastic results. I staked out the fake tail gobbler and placed eye bolts in the ground and ran clear fishing monofilament to the blind. When wild birds appeared in the distance I would tug the line which caused the decoy to rotate in a semi-circle and wild gobblers came running. Some would attack the decoy and eventually I replaced my prototype with a manufactured decoy with full fan.

Obviously, fanned tail feathers send a message to other gobblers that a receptive hen is nearby and they quickly come to investigate. The instant I switched from resting decoys to full fan gobblers my success rate soared and soon my photo file was bulging with impressive images of mature gobblers. It appears that the visual stimulus of a fanned tail sends a powerful message to love sick gobblers in search of a mate and they instinctively want to join the party.

To make the set up perfect, use a submissive hen decoy and face the gobbler toward the hen. This sends a second visual cue to other gobblers that a receptive hen is laying down, ready to breed and gobblers who see the hen will charge within easy range at lightning speed. A lifelike breeding pair ignites a mature gobbler’s instincts, making boss gobblers aggressive. Some mature boss gobblers are jealous about other toms breeding hens on their home turf. This tactic is deadly on huge gobblers with large bodies and impressive beards or spurs.

What I discovered is that decoy-shy gobblers that refuse to leave safety of cover will decoy with ease if you use this system. Some hunters use a decoy flock, not me. Others spend money on expensive decoys that stand motionless and lack the visual cue to draw big gobblers. If I had to pick just one decoy for wild turkey hunting, it would be a gobbler in full strut with fan fully displayed. The trick is to select a decoy with lifelike detail, stunning colors and realistic feather detail. Forget jake or tom decoys that are simply standing and go with a gobbler in full strut with tail feathers fully fanned.

Don’t overlook the lifelike body posture and amazing feather detail of the DSD Strutter. Avian-X offers a strutter crafted of rugged Dura-Rubber which folds with ease. Some hunters like the Primos Killer B tom decoy with fan pull cord to make the tail move. Avian X sells a Lifeline 360 degrees pulley system that creates the kind of movement that brings gobblers running.

However, the problem is the Michigan DNR does not allow hunting wild turkey with “Mechanical, electronic or live decoys. Mechanical means any devise that by design or construction uses motion as a visual stimulus to attract a wild turkey. A wind sock or similar decoy body anchored at a fixed point into the ground and whose motion is derived exclusively by power of natural wind is legal.” In my opinion this is another ridiculous, antiquated law that has nothing to do with protecting the resource and is designed to dampen hunter success and the thrill of the hunt. I hope legislative leaders will soon strike it from the books and Turkey Digest.

If your goal is to decoy adult wary gobblers into easy range, use a decoy with full tail fan. They can be used with a flock or single receptive hen. Don’t overlook the Primos Chicken on a Stick that can be used with other decoys or when stalking wild birds.

Then again, our DNR has a sentence in the “Turkey Digest” that discriminates against hunters who use spot and stalk tactics. It says “Do not attempt to stalk a turkey. Your chances of success are poor and at best, you might get a glimpse of tail feathers. More importantly, that gobbler or hen you are stalking may turn out to be another hunter, a potentially dangerous situation.” This verbiage is discriminatory toward hunters and shows their lack of understanding regarding successful hunting techniques. This paragraph is a poor recommendation by the DNR, clearly outdated and illustrates they have little understanding of lethal modern wild turkey hunting techniques.

Don’t get me wrong, scouting can be the key to turkey hunting success. If you pattern wild birds, know their travel routes, daily routine and roosting locations it can be relatively simple to intercept a gobbler. But the problem is most hunters don’t have the time to spend hours scouting birds. If you set up in a gobbler rich environment your hunt could be short but most hunters rely on decoys and calling to bring birds into shooting range. Those who know the basics of calling and use full fan decoys can be assured gobblers will investigate their set up. In most cases it takes skill and patience to fill a turkey tag.

Most hunters use enticing calls to get the attention of wild birds but far too often smart gobblers move into distant cover rather than approaching hunters. The trick to get wild gobblers to commit and walk into your spread hinges on whether you understand the importance of gobbler decoys with tail feathers fully fanned. Few thrills in hunting can match a big adult gobbler walking directly at you, coming kissin’ close and the interesting courtship dance he performs around your decoys. Sometimes aggressive gobblers will charge a full fan decoy with a “come fight me” stare and immediately initiate a fight. Those sex crazed gobblers can be wild and crazy birds that provide endless entertainment.

My friends call me the “jolly green giant” during turkey season because I’m a perfectionist when it comes to complete camouflage. I wear a face mask, Bogs boots, gloves and complete camouflage outfit that is spray painted green. My goal is to perfectly match the brilliant green of spring grass and plants and the detailed outfit helps me when spot and stalking birds or when hiding outdoors while sitting over decoys. Sometimes I attach green leaves or grass to my clothing to make the camouflage complete. The idea is to hide my human outline from the sharp eyes of wary gobblers. But after years of chasing birds with telephoto lens, archery gear or gun I have discovered that my most valuable tool is a tom decoy with fully fanned tail feathers. Try one this spring and I guarantee you will be impressed.