Guide to Turkey Decoys

Decoys Attracting a Turkey

Modern turkey decoys present a variety of benefits to the turkey hunter. Their lifelike appearance—aptly described as the “absolute pinnacle of realism”--  has evolved to the point that turkeys interact with decoys in much the same way they react to actual turkeys.

The incredible realism of decoys not only results in a better harvest rate for hunters but has enriched the internet with a flood of videos showing toms fighting decoys and coyotes and hawks trying to eat them. For proof of just how realistic decoys have become, take a picture of a turkey standing next to one and ask your buddy to pick out which is the turkey and which is not.

Benefits of Using Turkey Decoys

When correctly deployed, modern turkey decoys provide a number of advantages. Understanding these benefits provides a foundation for creating a decoy strategy that works for your situation. At a high level, here are a few of the most fundamental advantages of using turkey decoys.

Decoys complete the circle. For the advancing gobbler, decoys connect the sound of the call to an actual “turkey.” This not only attracts more birds but can make those that you attract more comfortable.

Turkeys fixate on the decoys, not the source of the call. With the advancing gobbler focusing on the decoys rather than where the call is coming from, the hunter can adjust shooting position and aim. This not only makes for a more relaxed gobbler but can produce better shots and cleaner kills.

Decoys expand ability to hunt large fields and open areas. The combination of calling and a spread of decoys can attract turkeys from great distances—especially in large open areas.

Decoys direct turkeys where to go—setting up the right shot for you. When used correctly, decoys can help set up the right shot. They can influence a gobbler’s direction of travel and ultimate destination, while creating the right shot for a clean harvest.

Types of Decoys

Avian-X HDR Jake and Hen Turkey Decoy Combo RedHead Foam Turkey Decoy 3-Pack Avian-X LCD Lookout Hen Turkey Decoy
Avian-X HDR Jake Hen Combo Redhead Foam Turkey Decoy  Avian-X LCD Lookout Hen Turkey Decoy

Turkey decoys come in collapsible and hard body options. Hard body decoys are more realistic and though they can’t be as easily stored and transported as the collapsible models, their realism and the responses they generate can make it worth trekking them around the woods.

Perhaps the most universal turkey decoy is the upright hen. Were you to just use one decoy, you can’t go wrong with this one.

The combination of a jake and a hen has also proven itself to be widely effective. To the gobbler that you are trying to call in, the jake represents a non-threatening male intruder who appears to be trying to sneak in and get lucky on the tom’s territory. At certain times in the season, this scenario is not one to be taken lightly…

Hen decoys come in a variety of poses. Upright, lay down, feeding and breeder position (like an upright hen, with a lower head position) are the most common. Each variety broadcasts its own specific message to incoming turkeys.

Jake and tom decoys come in a variety of struts. There are up right (non-strutting) jakes, 1/4 strut, 1/2 strut, 3/4 strut and full strut. Though there are certainly exceptions, generally a speaking a full strut gobbler decoy might scare off immature birds.

Turkey Decoy Safety

Always be cautious when using jake or tom decoys. We do not recommend using them on public land.

Even if you are hunting private ground, be sure that you know who is in the woods with you. Stories of hunters coming in on turkey callers and shooting decoys illustrates the dangers of setting out a tom or gobbler decoy.

Turkey Decoy Setup

When properly deployed—and everything comes together— decoys can not only bring a gobbler into range but position him for a clean kill. If you’re hunting with a bow, you’ll want your decoys within 10 yards. If you’re shooting a shotgun, the decoys will be in the range of 20—25 yards or further.

For shotguns, the first step lies in patterning your gun. Once you get a handle on the sweet spot—where the pattern is wide enough to cover area but condensed enough for impact, you’ll want to split the distance with your decoys.

You’ll want your decoys far enough away that you’ll be able to kill a turkey that comes between you and your spread. Remember, if your target is too close your pattern will be tight and you run the risk of missing.

Man Setting Up Decoy For Hunt

You’ll also want your decoys close enough that you can kill a turkey that comes in beyond them. If your shot is too far, your pattern could be too wide—resulting in a lost bird or one whose feathers and breast are mangled.

Not only can decoys influence the range of the shot, but the shot placement as well. Tom turkeys typically approach hens from the back and jakes and toms from the front.  Position your decoys accordingly to create the shot you’re after.

When it comes time to close the deal, wait for a stationary head. Trying to shoot a tom as it ducks, jukes and dodges it head while fighting a decoy can be a difficult proposition.

Stay down on your gun (if you peak over the top, you’ll almost always shoot high). Wait for a clear shot on a single turkey.

If possible, wait for the turkey to periscope its head. When in strut, a gobbler’s head will be tucked into its body. Wait for him to stop strutting (you might even give him a chirp or whistle) to make him stop and stick out his head.

Turkey Decoy Tips

As turkey season begins, the birds find themselves in large winter flocks. Attempting to decoy and call big groups of turkeys can be difficult. Your best bet when hunting birds in this scenario often might be positioning yourself in a location that intersects their travel.

Man watching his decoy

The next phase of turkey season involves the birds fighting to establish the year’s new pecking order. As the large winter flocks break into smaller groups, turkeys fight to establish dominance.

At this stage of the season, when male turkeys are fighting regularly, deploying a jake or tom decoy might be more of a hindrance than a help. If you find turkeys shying away from coming into your spread, try deploying hen decoys unaccompanied by male escorts.

As the season progresses, however—and the number of receptive hens decreases—adding a jake or tom to your spread of decoys can pay dividends. At this stage, toms will sometimes charge in to the decoys, ready to fight for love. This can happen fast—especially when multiple toms come into to your calling at the same time.