April 16, 2021
I am new to bowhunting turkeys and want to use decoys to improve my odds. What decoys work best, and does it matter how I set them up? — T. Sweeney, via e-mail
Bowhunting turkeys and using decoys go hand in hand. Any decoy can work in the right situation, especially when the toms are really fired-up. But that is the exception rather than the norm.
Decoys have evolved over time, and there are so many available options these days, it can be downright overwhelming, especially for newbies. Hen and jake dekes are the norm, but strutting tom decoys, and those that mount to your bow, have become the rage in recent years.
My decoy setup has adapted over time, and it will vary throughout the season. Which brand you use is a personal preference, but there are particular decoy styles and postures that have worked best for me.
My number-one setup when hunting out of a ground blind or tucked into cover is a submissive jake decoy with one to three hens. I have used this combination for as long as I can remember; from the early days over foam-style decoys to the realistic molded decoys of today. The ultra-realistic decoys do have a heftier price tag, so I refrained from splurging on them for quite some time. But once I spent the money, I was glad I did, because my success rate since doing so has never been better. They look so real that turkeys readily accept them.
I prefer a more submissive/subordinate posture of whatever jake decoy I’m using. It triggers a response from toms that I rarely experienced with my cheaper decoys. Once they commit, there is no hesitation, and you may even get to enjoy watching a longbeard give the submissive jake decoy a good flogging (if you’re patient enough), before you shoot the aggressive tom.
Later in the season, I will lose the jake and go with just a single hen. After confrontations all spring, male birds can become shy to any competition, but they will still investigate a lone hen. Also, the more aggressive birds will come running to a lonely hen. I typically use an upright-posture, molded-plastic hen decoy that is very realistic.
How you position your decoys is equally important, if not more so, than the brand/style of decoy itself. Regardless of whether you’re hunting out of a commercial ground blind or from a natural hide, set your decoys close to you. I set my decoys facing me, and less than 10 yards from my blind. If cover is limited in a natural hide, setting them farther out may be necessary, but I would refrain from going past 15 yards. Turkeys have a small vital area, so the closer they are, the better your odds of making that perfect shot. Also, cautious birds have a tendency not to commit fully to the decoys. If you position them close, the tom will hopefully still be within your range, even if he hangs up short.
A relatively new concept involves a bow-mounted strutting tom decoy. Basically, the goal is to use this type decoy to pick a fight with another strutting tom. This run-and-bow style of hunting can be a lot of fun and yield some amazing encounters. For best results, use topography to maneuver in close before the tom sees the intruding decoy. If the bird doesn’t get aggressive and charge in, you can continue to crawl toward him to provoke a fight. I have had loads of success using this tactic.
I recently started experimenting with a bow-mounted decoy in conjunction with other decoys. The bow deke serves as my “blind,” and I position the other decoys accordingly. It is the best of both worlds, because you don’t have to carry a heavy blind around, and you can set up virtually anywhere. I intend to continue playing around with this setup a lot more this spring! Also, it goes without saying, that safety should be your first concern with bow-mounted decoys. Make sure there are no other hunters around.
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