Decoying Spring Turkeys

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 7, 2010

not to spook the birds you plan to hunt. When scouting, get to your spot well before first light, sit down and wait for the morning routine to start. Don’t call to toms. It is exciting to have gobblers answer your calls, but your calling might pull them off their morning routine. Worse, you could call them in and spook them.

Most scouting trips take little more than an hour. Listen to toms gobble from the roost. When they pitch to the ground, track their movements by their gobbling and note the route they take to get to the field they are using as a strutting area. Then leave the area in a direction that minimizes the chance of toms seeing you and spooking.

Again, your focus in scouting the week before the season is patterning how a tom is getting to a field, so you will know where best to set your decoys. If you know where along a field edge a gobbler has been entering, you can place your decoys in the field exactly where you would like the gobbler to stand when you are ready to take your shot.

Decoy Placement

The ideal range for a clean shot on a gobbler with most 12-gauge, full-choke shotguns is 25 yards. At this distance, a shot pattern is dense enough for a clean shot, but the pattern will have expanded enough to catch a tom if your aim is less than true. To establish this range, set up to call 5 yards off the field in the woods, and place the decoys 20 yards out in the field.

Make sure you have a clear field of fire. Use hand trimmers to clear a shooting lane to your decoys. Not too much, though. Cut brush down to 12 inches high in your shooting lane. That will still leave a screen of brush to hide your form.

Try to set up so that you are in the shadows. If the sun shines directly on you, you’ll have a hard time seeing birds, and they’ll be more likely to spot you.

Be an Early Bird

When hunting fields, make sure you set up your decoys early. Get to the field well before you see even a hint of dawn breaking in the east. Your scouting will have given you an idea of when it gets light. Get there earlier when the skies are clear.

An early arrival allows turkeys time to forget any sounds you’ve made while setting up. Frequently, gobblers roost close to field edges, and the unnatural sounds of stake against decoy and the rustling of decoys can alert toms, even in the dark. Given time, and the cover of darkness to mask the source, they will forget the unnatural sounds by daybreak.


Maybe you have read about running and gunning for gobblers—covering lots of ground and calling in an attempt to make a turkey gobble. It works sometimes, but more often than not it spooks turkeys. It’s best to stay put, even if you don’t hear toms gobbling. The longer you sit, the longer you give a gobbler a chance to approach your decoy spread.

Call every 20 minutes or so. To help you stay put, bring food and drink. Bring a book to read. Doze. Do whatever it takes to remain at your decoy setup. You’ve done your scouting. You know toms have been using your area. What have you to gain by leaving your decoy setup and walking around?

If a tom enters your field, snubs your decoys and walks off in the opposite direction, it might work to try to circle and set up in front of him, particularly if the terrain is in your favor. Often, however, you’ll just spook the tom, plus you might miss out on a silent tom approaching your position. Turkey decoys are great hunting tools, but they do require patience.

What to Buy

Major outdoor equipment retailers usually carry a variety of turkey decoys. Foldable models are easiest to carry afield, and decoy sets that consist of two hens and a jake are most versatile. Though a decoy spread may cost more than $50, the effectiveness of the decoys makes them well worth the price, especially since you can use them over and over.

The Jake/Hen Combo

A few years back, some hunters discovered that setting out a jake decoy, along with a hen decoy or two, works better than just hen decoys alone. The jake decoy pulls on a gobbler’s sense of dominance in his area and often brings him in when hens alone wouldn’t.

Put the jake decoy close to where you want a gobbler to stand just before you squeeze the trigger, for a gobbler will often approach to within inches—face to face—of a jake decoy.

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