A guide gathers decoys after no turkeys came to his calls. Michael Pearce/Wichita Eagle/MCT

The topic of turkey decoys often raises questions, like when, where, how and even if you should use them.

They’re bulky, adding weight and taking up space in your vest. Furthermore, they can sometimes have the opposite effect from what’s intended, scaring birds off instead of luring them in. There are times when decoys do what they’re designed for, and results can be enhanced if they’re properly deployed.

The simplest spread is a single hen used as a confidence decoy. The hunter calls, and if he’s in the right mood, a tom will come to investigate. Turkeys aren’t wise, but they are wary, and if the bird doesn’t see what he hears, he may not come closer. This is especially true when hunting open areas like fields, where turkeys can see farther. In the woods, you may be better off abandoning the decoy and making the real thing find you.

Sometimes, a pair of decoys – male and female – can be more effective. Spring is mating season, and while the male’s urge to breed is strong, the instinct to drive off potential rivals can be stronger, and a male decoy represents a challenge. Still, there are a couple things to keep in mind.

The pecking order among males has usually been sorted out by hunting season. A dominant bird will be more inclined to approach a pair of decoys if he’s not in the company of hens. A subordinate male might be more reluctant, unless your male decoy is a jake. Even the most timid tom can’t pass up the chance to pummel a juvenile.

Positioning is also important, and this applies to most multiple-decoy situations. Nine times out of 10, a tom will approach the male decoy first. He wants to drive off his rival before attending to the hen. Place the jake decoy closer, and in a position that offers a clear, open shot. It’s also a good idea to put that decoy off to one side rather than directly in front of you so an approaching bird won’t also be looking directly at you.


If you decide to add more decoys, add hens. That simulates a more natural scenario where a male has assembled a harem of hens. It also might be more attractive to a rival intent on cutting a stray away from the group. Three is the usual number, but you can add more if circumstances dictate.

This might be the case if you’re hunting a larger flock. They’re conditioned to the group, and the safety in numbers. Even subordinate males might follow the group from a distance. However, they might view another, smaller group as a fresh opportunity to find a mate without challenging the boss.

Above are some of the basics. There are plenty more intricacies to decoy deployment, like if and when to use an adult male, and whether it should be relaxed or in full strut. You might also wonder just how realistic they need to be. I’ve had toms approach some pretty sorry-looking decoys, and flee from ones that were works of art.

I’ve used a lot of hedge words like maybe and sometimes because you can never predict what a turkey will do. It’s a gamble, and if you play your cards – or in this case, your decoys – right, you could hit the jackpot, or go home with empty pockets.

Fortunately, you get to keep playing. Old Tom only gets to lose once.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: bob@bobhumphrey.com

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