The trick to decoying gobblers can be very simple, yet complex and requires you pay attention to details and use some savvy setup tricks if you want to fill your wild turkey tag…



When gobblers attack a decoy the act comes at lightning speed and is difficult to capture with still camera. Even though the decoy has been beaten to the ground this bird still kicks, spurs and batters the ugly decoy with its wings. Kenny Darwin photos


March 01, 2017

Forget those large spreads with multiple decoys, you are not decoying geese. Get rid of those old turkey decoys that are ugly, have faded paint, lack feather detail and have body positions like the statues outside art museums. Realism rules these days and modern decoys have realistic body positions, amazing feather detail, revolutionary no-flake paint and they are hard to distinguish from live turkeys. One or two decoys can be the ticket to fool those wary, old, hunt shy monster gobblers that spit at large decoy spreads with fake jakes and upright hens.

The last few years I’ve experimented with a variety of decoys and setup spreads that guarantee success. The results have been impressive and I’ve captured some interesting images on film. Listen up if you want to learn shortcuts to turkey decoying success.

I’d roosted three big Michigan gobblers without hens. Sweet deal and I was excited the next morning when I set out decoys on a grassy knoll, slipped back into the woods and waited for the threesome to gobble. At first light they lit up the forest with wake up calls which built into a loud gobbling match sending sound vibrations through the woods. I made a few hen wake up calls and a few soft yelps and they went silent. I listened and heard them fly down into the woods and the distinct rustling of leaves as all three pranced toward the setup. The lead bird had a trophy beard maybe 12-inches long and spurs long enough to whip a coyote. Just as he stepped into the clearing he got cold feet, switched directions and waddled away from the hen and fanned gobbler decoy. The other two toms approached the gobbler from the rear but when they got a close look at the open body and metal stake they ran away too. Oops! This setup went wrong and the only shot I got was with my camera that captured an image of the twin subordinates eyeballing my gobbler decoy. While the decoys attracted the birds, once they got a good look of the fake birds they did not stay, acted spooked and eventually ran away. So, what went wrong with my decoy setup?

I was using an Avian-X laydown hen which has worked on several previous sets. It is designed for the ultimate in turkey attraction, has detailed feathers, life-like head and body position that mimics a hot hen ready for breeding. In past setups I’ve had gobblers circle the hen decoy, get all juiced up, mount the decoy and attempt to breed it. Nope, it wasn’t the hen that spooked them. I was also using a Flextone Thunder Chicken half-body gobbler with cloth tail and it seems when the wise birds took a peek at the unnatural backside they got wise. Now, don’t get me wrong this decoy is outstanding when stalking hot gobblers but it failed my setup test and I moved on. After trying several other gobbler decoys what I discovered is realism is the key to success.

This fact was best described by my hunting pal, Brandon Conner from Ionia, who can call turkeys like a pro and he has settled on only using one important decoy, Killer B by Primos. When I described my experience he replied, “If you want gobblers to come running to your setup you need a full body gobbler decoy. Get rid of the fake tail and replace with real feathers from a wild bird and to increase the realism glue on wings and body feathers to make the decoy come alive.” Brandon has used this deadly strategy to limit out on turkeys the last few years and he has guided several hunters to instant success when the birds get a peek of the fully fanned gobbler look-alike and they come runnin’.

So, I got several full body gobbler decoys, replaced imitation tail feathers and my success soared. Hey, I’m so impressed with single full body gobbler decoys that I’m convinced you need no others. Forget those whimpy looking jakes; sell those hen decoys on eBay. Don’t make the mistake of spending hard earned cash on decoys that lack realism and there is no need to buy jake decoys, feeding decoys, hen decoys or gobbler decoys with tail feathers down. Here’s why.

There is a painting in the Chippewa History Center of two braves hiding behind wild turkey fans while hunting. It never dawned on me that the secret to turkey hunting success has nothing to do with calling, decoys, camouflage but everything to do with a fanned tail. Hey, those Chippewa braves understood it is the fully fanned tail of an adult gobbler that brings other birds running like no other tactic. If you use a gobbler full body decoy with full fan you can fill your tag with ease. Sure calling helps. I agree that being hidden from view with camouflage or in a blind is a must, but I’ve had gobblers charge when I did no calling and was dressed in a black photographer’s vest with blue jeans.

You got it baby, the whole trick to getting a gobbler in your lap at lightning speed hinges on a simple fanned tail, period. In the world of wild turkeys the full fan is a common sight because toms will fan year round to show dominance. But come spring breeding a full fan means a hot hen is near and love sick gobblers turn on the afterburners and come running. A fully fanned tail signals a green light to normally wary wild birds that they have a green light to approach maybe push out subordinate gobblers and perhaps steal a hot receptive hen. But there is more than simply staking out a decoy, here’s why. Fully fanned strutting tom decoys attract birds from far and near.

If you want turkeys kissin’ close than I suggest you cover decoys with real feathers. There is no synthetic product, no rubber, and no fabric that can fool the sharp eyes of an adult gobbler. Real feathers are the deal, period. One reason is because they have the exact color and hold sunlight like only feathers can. Perhaps the biggest advantage of real feathers is they catch the wind, cause stake decoys to move, making the setup come to life. But I’ve shot plenty of birds on calm days with no wind and the realism of real feathers was the draw. To sweeten the pie get a cheap glue gun and attach wing feathers colored black and white striped, wing guards that are purple and more body feathers on the back and sides. Don’t overlook the most important part of the decoy, its butt. Hunting success can be increased if you make the butt look real by gluing on those long anal feathers that wave in the wind. The awesome beckoning power of real feathers attached to a gobbler decoy will clinch the deal. Get ready to fill your tag.

Savvy hunters save feathers from a kill to decorate decoys. Family and friends can also donate feathers and soon you can customize a decoy and make it look 100% real. Don’t make the mistake of picking up road kill for feathers because the DNR could write you a ticket for illegal possession of a wild turkey or turkey parts.

While the Primos Killer B is still my favorite decoy I’ve had excellent success with Avian-X Strutter, Dave Smith Decoys Strutter, and Flambeau King Strut, but don’t overlook the Carry Lite Bob’N Tail with true to life body contours and the new Peep’N Tom.

One word of advice regarding turkey decoys. While they are sold throughout Michigan with pull cords or pulley systems, the DNR Law Division advises the use of pull cords is illegal. According to the 2016 Michigan Fall Turkey Digest “Mechanical decoy means any device that by design or construction uses motion as a visual stimulus to attract wild turkeys. Motion derived exclusively by power of the natural wind is legal. The use or possession of electronic devices that imitate wild turkey calls is illegal.” So, throughout Michigan, turkey decoys are sold with pull cords and just about every hunter carries a smart phone that has wild turkey calls. Sportsmen beware!

The solution to decoying gobblers running is to use a full strut decoy. Sure a lifelike breeding pair works like dynamite and ignites a mature tom’s instincts, making him jealous and very aggressive. Nothing brings in those monster long bears like a full strut decoy.

To sweeten the pie I take full strut decoys to a higher level. To make decoys even more visible, life-like and attractive I hand paint the heads using the brightest blue paint along with white and extremely bright red. When enhance decoy color with super bright paint schemes it ignites a visual breeding reflex and incoming birds get all geeked up, sexually excited and the bright colors take them to a higher level of aggression. Just take a peek at store bought decoys and compare the heads to my custom models and you can see a big difference. Well, this translates into birds charging the decoy, more gobblers running into easy range and some get all pissed off and attack the decoy. I’ve got one Killer B with paint scratched and spurred off the forehead and busted up tail feathers from full frontal attacks made by wild gobblers.

But wait; enter the ugliest decoy on planet earth called Funky ‘Lil Jake made by Flextone. For some strange unexplained reason big adult gobblers simply kick the crap out of this decoy like no other. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I first setup the ugly Funky’Lil Jake to the side of my most productive full strut gobbler with beautiful huge real tail feathers, waving body feathers, customized real feather wings and custom painted head. Adult gobblers appeared in the swampy bottomland headed toward my seductive hen yelps. When they saw the big full strut realistic decoy they came running but at the last moment turned abruptly right and charged the stupid looking Funky Jake. That’s when they began to circle the skinny, weakling-looking decoy, making fighting growls and chirping insults. They puffed up their feathers, heads turned bright red as all hell broke loose and they attacked the skinny decoy. Not once but several times they spurred the decoy, hit it with their wings, jumped on it and eventually pounded it to the ground. They pecked the custom bright paint off the head, bent the metal stake and even when the sickling decoy was lying face down they still circled ranting insults and delivering power spur punches. I’ve never witnessed such a violent attack by turkeys.

After repainting and repairing the skinny decoy I took it on several more outings and the results were impressive. Wild birds were attracted by my full strut decoy, but once they got close they would switch directions toward the Funky’Lil Jake, get eye to eye with the weakling decoy and break into full attack mode. On one occasion I set the geek decoy close to my blind and after it got beat to the ground I got out, straightened the stake and set it back up. 40 minutes later the same angry gobbler came charging the setup and once again beat the heck out of the funky Jake until its bill was in the dirt. Kind of interesting that adult healthy wild gobblers attack decoys that appear like social outcasts.

So, if you seek a big gobbler at lightning speed my recommendation is to use a full strut gobbler decoy. To bring them running I suggest you spend some time adding real full fan tail feathers along with wing, body and anal feathers. The idea is to create a lifelike decoy that wild gobblers simply cannot resist. If you want to get the most out of your hunt and be fully entertained you might want to include a Funky’Lil Jake decoy for laughs.