Updated: Apr 18
All of a sudden it seems to be spring again bringing along all its changes. There is that brief lull between waterfowl, upland, and small game until it is time to chase turkeys. I started hunting turkeys a few years ago and have quickly become obsessed. I think I have at least 15 different turkey calls, mainly because I like to keep a few in my car for those spontaneous after work hunting trips.
In Colorado we have Merriam, Rio Grande, and hybrid turkey varieties. Turkeys are one of the most fun animals to hunt, in my opinion. Hunts are often both rewarding and frustrating in the same day.
In the spring, tom turkeys are rutting which makes the process of luring one in much easier. Hunters can use a combination of decoys and calls. Each of these techniques is an art of its own.
There is an appropriate time and place for decoys. I have learned that the most important part of turkey hunting is paying attention to the birds in your area on the exact day you are hunting. Despite often being called a dumb bird, they are quite intelligent. Turkeys are known to exhibit problem solving behavior…a big problem for many turkey hunters. There is no single consistent high success method for bagging your target tom.
Many people use one tom with a few hens in their decoy setup. I have had this work amazingly and fail. This is a great early season setup when the toms are ready to strut. I have had many toms and hens come in to hang out with my new flock of turkeys. This entices the other males to come in and quite literally strut their stuff. You could have a tom or a jake come in to this scenario. I have, however, also had a nice jake run away from my tom decoy.
A few years ago, I received some decoys to try and the shipment included a jake. As I had a jake run away from my tom decoy once, I concluded that this would be an awesome strategy. I figured a monster tom would come in and beat up the jake decoy, end of story. Anyone who has spent a significant amount time hunting turkeys would know that this could be a bad strategy depending on the rafter you are hunting. When I harvested my tom last year, we had a gang of 8 jakes that were chasing the lone toms away. I watched them for hours and they attacked my tom (after it was dead) right next to the blind I was sitting in for about an hour.
Jake decoys can be great if you do not have a gang of jakes in your hunting area.
Just using hen decoys can be successful as a tom can come in to impress them. There is no competition, so the males running away out of fear is less of a problem. If you are new to an area or don’t have a good deal of time for scouting, using just hens is the way I would go. This usually only works if they do not already have many other turkeys to keep them busy. I once sat 200 yards from 15 toms strutting, while they were showing interest in my setup, 3 hens were not enough to entice them away from the large group.
No decoys at all can work well. Part of the problem-solving nature of turkeys is that they want to see where that call is coming from. When I harvested my tom last year, it was starting the second week of the season. We set up the blind along their typical path, then my tom came in going toward some hens just like clockwork. It worked so well that I got pinned down in my blind for about 6 hours as I had 8 toms bed down 90 yards from my blind while about 20 hens and some jakes milled around. The neighbor was watching, and I earned the name of turkey herder.
There are 3 important things to consider when decoying turkey.
Make sure you set them up so that the other birds can see them. This can be a challenge if you are in tall grass or other vegetation.
Make sure that you have movement in your decoys. Turkeys can see very well and they are smart. If you have spent much time watching turkeys, you know that they are very rarely still.
Most importantly, be flexible. The patterns and behavior can change greatly both between locations and from day to day.
For specific decoys, I use a combination of the Primos Gobstopper Jake and Hen Combination ($52) the Flambeau Mad Shady Baby Feeding Hen ($45), an unfortunately discontinued Flambeau upright jake and the fan from a Scoot N Shoot ($ 79). I like the Primos Combo as a good starter set for anyone; I have found them to work just as well as the more expensive decoys and they come in a convenient carrying bag.