Turkey Decoy Tips and Strategies for Bowhunters
Do turkey decoys really work? Fred Zink from Port Clinton, Ohio, says they do.
Zink has bowhunted turkeys on and off for the past 32 years. He’s the founder of Avian-X decoys and Zink calls, and is also the media director for Plano Synergy, the company that manufactures, designs and develops Avian-X decoys. He said the turkey decoys available when he started hunting were of poor quality and not very realistic, but modern decoys are really impressive and effective. Now he carries and uses decoys 100% of the time he bowhunts turkeys.
“Decoys change the game,” he said. “They make things a lot easier.”
Zink said many gun hunters use the run-and-gun strategy, which entails staying on the move and calling occasionally until a gobbler responds. When they get a response and locate a bird, they hunker down and call the bird to around 30 or 40 yards away before taking their shot.
Unfortunately, this strategy is more difficult for bowhunters, largely because it’s so difficult to draw a bow without spooking turkeys, because of their incredible eyesight. And if a gobbler doesn’t notice your draw, it’s tough to get him to stand still long enough within bow range for an ethical shot.
But realistic turkey decoys can help. Bowhunters can set up in a pop-up blind, or create a natural blind, at the edge of an open field and use decoys and calling to lure turkeys from 200 to 300 yards away. And if you prefer to move around when you hunt, decoys set in the woods or in a field can help fix a turkey’s attention long enough for a you to draw and aim — though it’s still extremely difficult!
Zink explained how hunters choose which decoys to use. He also shared two of his favorite decoy setups and several other tips to help you find success.
Before heading afield, you need to determine which decoys to use. To do that, you must consider the phase (early, middle or late) of the season you’re hunting and what turkey you’re after, since subordinate gobblers and dominant gobblers can react differently to different styles and poses of decoys.
Zink said turkeys are usually flocked up in the early season, so you can use multiple decoys to best mimic what’s happening in nature. A strutting tom also works well at that time to attract a dominant gobbler that’s ready to fight to preserve the pecking order.
In the mid-to-late season, turkey flocks disperse, and fewer birds travel together. Both gobblers and hens have established their pecking order, and the dominant birds breed regularly. It’s common for gobblers to spend most of their days with small groups of hens or even solo hens. They often strut and breed early in the morning, and then the hens usually leave gobblers later in the day to lay and incubate eggs. Knowing the intricate details of how turkeys interact and behave throughout the season will help you pick a realistic, suitable decoy setup.
Early-season strategy: Use multiple hen decoys and a single tom or jake in a quarter- or half-strut position.
When you’re hunting from a blind, you want to carry in several decoys, including a male, a lookout hen and a few feeding hens, and then set them up in a small area a few feet away from each other. Zink said this actually gives bowhunters in a blind an advantage because the decoy flock looks realistic for the time of year.
Using a tom or jake in a quarter- or half-strut position will also attract a dominant gobbler looking to show your decoy who’s boss.
Late-season strategy: Use a breeding-style hen decoy and a Jake.
A breeding hen decoy is basically a turkey sitting on the ground as it would sit on a nest. Zink likes to put out one of these decoys and position a jake 5 to 6 feet behind it like it’s going to breed the hen.
“A jake decoy, nine out of 10 times, will be more effective because you’re able to attract almost every male turkey in the woods,” Zink said. A full-strut tom decoy, meanwhile, is great for dominant gobblers, but it can intimidate subordinate birds in the middle or at the bottom of the pecking order.
- Pay attention to orientation.
Zink said the direction you face your male turkey decoy is important. A decoy that faces away from the direction another turkey would come from shows it’s subdominant. A decoy that faces toward an opposing turkey shows it’s dominant – or thinks it is – and ready to fight. If you’re using a tom decoy, position the head toward the direction a turkey is likely to come from. If you’re using a jake, face the head away.
- Position the decoys 10 yards away from your blind.
Use the decoys as a landmark. Set them up at 10 yards so you know when the bird is within bow range.
- Make the setup as realistic and natural as possible.
Turkeys get wise to decoy setups as the season progresses, so you must use lifelike decoys and organize them in convincing setups.
- Be patient.
If turkeys are in the area, Zink said, it’s just a matter of time before one sees your decoy and heads your way. Hunters often get impatient while waiting and leave too soon. He’s arrowed many gobblers between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., which is when most hunters leave their blind for lunch. Don’t miss your opportunity. Instead, pack a lunch and stick with it.
Always be careful when transporting turkey decoys. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, you should never transport decoys uncovered, since other hunters could mistake them for live turkeys as you’re carrying them through the woods. Instead, carry them in a duffle bag or the cargo bag of your vest so they’re hidden. If you can’t do that, wrap them in blaze orange when you’re on the move.