April 08, 2016
There are some places where hunting pressure is low and the turkeys are, well, dumb. Those places are a lot of fun to hunt. In many areas, where turkey hunting has been popular for three or four decades now, the gobblers don't seem nearly as suicidal.
They may still be dumb as far as turkeys are concerned, but they aren't risk takers.
This becomes evident when you spend a day in a blind watching birds skirt your ambush site at 60 or 70 yards. They'll gobble in your direction, show of their strutting style, but simply won't commit. Some of this has to do with blind-shy birds. I know hunters who say that's not a thing and that turkeys don't care about blinds, but you couldn't prove that by some of the birds I hunt.
Ditto for Decoys
I can remember my first years as a turkey hunter when I was a teenager. I carried a foam hen decoy around that looked like the Gumby version of a female wild turkey. The birds didn't care, however, even though at that time I was content to shoot them in the faces with a shotgun.
When I started to really get into bowhunting turkeys, I realized that Mrs. Gumby wouldn't cut it. A good turkey bowhunt really boils down to the birds working the decoys like you want them to. If they are cagey or lock up outside of bow range, then the whole deal goes down the drain. This isn't a big deal when you're toting a 12-gauge, but when you're looking to lop off a head or run a big mechanical through the small vitals of a longbeard, it's important.
What Really Matters In A Fake
Nearly every jake decoy on the market is a half-strutter right now, which is no accident. The first company to settle on this pose was Dave Smith Decoys, so I went straight to the man himself to ask why and he said, "The idea is to portray a jake who is feeling slightly brazen when it comes to breeding hens or his position in the hierarchy. This elicits a response in toms that are both dominant and submissive. It took a lot of experimenting to learn the exact pose that was not too aggressive, but aggressive enough."
Smith then went on to say that the jake went through 11 iterations before being finished, half of which focused solely on the head position alone.
If you take a look at all of the DSD turkey decoys. you'll see that they come in various poses, all of which are meant to say something to live turkeys. Smith gave me a rundown on this by saying, "Our Feeding Hen gets criticized a lot by people until they look at real birds and see how closely our decoy looks to the real thing. Our Submissive Hen often gets called a breeding hen, but she's not - she is submissive. There is a subtle difference in the wing position, which we found to be the most effective at drawing in toms."
"Our Leading Hen depicts a bird in full stride, with the idea that it will create a sense of urgency for a tom to hurry up and get in front of her. This decoy also draws in hens better than any of our other decoys, so she pulls double-duty." Body posture is certainly important, but most hunters walk into their local Cabela's store and decide to buy a decoy that simply looks good.
Smith explained how they ensure his decoys catch your eye as well by breaking down the look of his Strutter. "We made this decoy to replace a full-body mount tom. We used a spectrophotometer to match live birds, so it looks perfect in the field."
A Question Of Dollars
The real question for many of us on buying decoys is whether the high-dollar fakes are worth it. I didn't think so, until I got frustrated after a Nebraska hunt where the public-land birds I was hunting simply wouldn't commit. With a shotgun I'd have cleaned house, but I wasn't toting a shotgun. I needed the birds to work the decoys, and they wouldn't.
I ordered a flock of DSDs after that hunt and have never looked back. There are quite a few options on the market that will produce quality hunts for you, but make sure they are designed to last, sport perfect posture, and look like the real thing.
It might be tough to stomach the cost at first, but it doesn't take long to forget that and realize you're hunting has gotten a lot more enjoyable.