Lightweight, compact and, most-of all, lifelike, the modern-day decoy is a must-have weapon that should have a place in any serious turkey hunter's arsenal. Today's fakes are so realistic they turn the heads of hunters, turkeys and even the occasional predator, thanks to an impressive array of features, including taxidermy heads, glass eyes and options to add real feathers and fans.
Even the number of decoy styles available is staggering. Once, hunters had two decoy options—hen or jake, with the only real difference being the jake's red spray-painted head. Now there are half- and full-strut jakes; breeding, feeding and sentry hens; and full-bodied gobblers that can bring dominant toms in on the run.
One of the things to consider when choosing your dekes is timing. Early in the year, when toms are still running together, it's possible to call in a bunch of bachelor 2-year-olds aiming for a fight. This is a great time for a strutter decoy. Midway into the season, you might actually be calling to a raspy boss mama in hopes she'll pull the tom that's with her into range. Here, an alert hen decoy will fake out the flock matriarch as she comes to see what all the commotion is about. A hen/jake combo is also great from mid- to late season, as lonely toms roam the woods searching for a hen to breed.
No matter what type of decoy you decide to go with, don't forget that where you put your decoys matters as well. If you've located a gobbling tom, don't put the decoy directly between you and the direction you expect him to approach from. You want that gobbler to key in on the fake, not on the man-shaped blob quivering just behind it. Also, make sure your decoy is well within range of your shotgun or bow. A wary tom might stop just short of the decoy to survey the situation.
Whether you're new to the game or an old vet, if you haven't hunted over a modern turkey decoy—like one of these featured here—you're missing out on an advantage. And when you're playing the game against a wily, wary tom, you need every edge you can get.
There are probably no two people more responsible for the turkey decoy revolution than Harold Knight and David Hale. The duo behind Knight & Hale Game Calls not only knows turkey vocalizations, but they were also the first guys to realize the effectiveness a full-strut tom decoy could have in the woods. Through their connection with Carry-Lite, they designed and developed the first portable, realistic strutting tom decoy to come to market: the Pretty Boy. Word—and video—of the decoy's effectiveness spread like wildfire, creating a whole new niche in the world of turkey hunting. The Pretty Boy is available in a combo kit, paired up with a lifelike hen decoy set in a breeding position to drive jealous toms wild.
The X-Treme Hen and X-Treme Jake dekes are constructed of a new EVA blend plastic, making them virtually indestructible. In addition, the paint retention is superb if the paint falls or flakes off, Dakota Decoy will replace it! The X-Treme Jake has a slight backward head tilt that drives gobblers fighting mad. Turkey killing machine Brooks Johnson (above), co-inventor of the Double Bull archery blind and host of Arrow Affliction TV, stated: "Spend enough days in the turkey woods and you eventually learn their body language. Capture and harness that language and you will kill more turkeys. Dakota Decoys X-Treme Jakehas perfectly replicated the semi-strut pose of an immature gobbler. It's the best turkey decoy on the market."
DAVE SMITH DECOYS
If you're looking for made-in-the-USA decoys featuring supreme realism, look no further than Dave Smith Decoys (DSD). Made with A.C.E. (Advanced Crosslink Elastomer) Technology, the flexible and soft dekes are lightweight and ultra durable. They are always the perfect shape and ready to set up quickly without having to inflate or work out wrinkles. DSD turkey decoys are available in five unique, carefully designed poses: Strutter, Jake, Upright Hen, Feeding Hen and Submissive Hen. Many die hard turkey hunters (including some of the best guides and outfitters in the United States) rely on DSD turkey decoys to close the deal on wary gobblers. These decoys are expensive ($119.95 each for the hens, the Jake is $159.95, and the Strutter will set you back $199.95), but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for
This venerable decoy maker has taken a couple of cues from its waterfowl division to differentiate their turkey fakes from the rest of the flock. They offer several models, including the King Strut tom and Jester half-strut decoy, with flocked exteriors that eliminate the unnatural shine common among soft-bodied plastic dekes. The soft look more closely mimics the appearance of feathers, and, as an added benefit, keeps the paint job from flaking. Speaking of paint, that's where the second waterfowl-related feature comes into play on the King Strut tom and hard-bodied Shady Lady hen decoy. Like ducks and geese, turkeys are sensitive to the ultra-violet color spectrum, so Flambeau coats these flocked decoys with patented UVision paints to accurately depict real birds' UV reflectance. Unique to Flambeau, the King Strut and Jester also feature grommets in the bodies that allow you to attach turkey wings, and adjustable beards that can be replaced with a real beard and can be adapted to fit actual turkey fans. Other flocked turkey decoys from Flambeau include an Aggressive Jake, Three-Position Hen and Breeding Flock, which is made up of an Upright Hen, Feeding Hen and Intruder Jake.
What do you get when you combine the experience of the Hunter's Specialties pro staff with the leading designers at Delta targets? Well, you get some of the most lifelike hard- and soft-bodied decoys available. H.S. pro staffers worked with Delta to create realistic poses meant to raise the hackles of big, dominant toms, bringing them into your set on a string. The hard-bodied series includes Woody, a sub-dominant jake with the bright white and red head of a bird ready to breed. The realistic deke is sculpted from durable polycarbonate and features hand-painted head and wing detail, along with glass taxidermy eyes for a lifelike appearance. In the soft-bodied line, the Hottie Hen and Sneaky Pete decoys feature the same realistic sculpting and true-life posturing in collapsible polyethylene body that packs down for true run-and-gun turkey hunting. And like their hard-bodied counterparts, they also have hand-painted heads, wings and tails, as well as glass eye inserts. For the price-conscious consumer, Delta and H.S. are also offering Sweet Sally and Jimmy Jake, two soft-bodied, hand-painted poly dekes that can be had for about $15 each.
In Big Sky country, as well as in other wide-open spaces, run and- gun is the turkey hunting strategy most hunters turn to, so it's no surprise the most portable full-strut gobbler decoy comes out of Montana. Where most tom turkey decoys call themselves portable, only Montana Decoys' Papa Strut three-dimensional, full-bodied decoy packs down small enough for turkey hunters who find themselves constantly on the move. Like the company's innovative silhouette turkey decoys, the Papa Strut is screen-printed with a photo of an actual live turkey for maximum realism. And, the two-piece design collapses into a package about the size of a Frisbee. The slightest breeze sets the photo-realistic decoys to waving, adding lifelike movement to these already deadly dekes. The secret is a combination of lightweight fabric, flexible aluminum frames and four high-strength magnets that hold the 3D body and lifelike tail section together. If 2-year-old toms and other sub-dominant birds shy away from Papa Strut's bad attitude, consider the Punk Jake, a half-strut yearling bird that will goad any tom into a fight. Other options include a new-for-2014 Dinner Belle feeding hen decoy or the Spring Fling, set in a tempting ready-to-breed pose.
A few years ago, Primos helped revolutionize turkey hunting by introducing one of the first commercially available full-strut tom turkey decoys: the B-Mobile. As good as ol' "B-Mo" was, however, there's always room for improvement. After getting a few seasons of use out of the original, the folks at Primos tweaked some details and came up with the second-generation version of a full strut gobbler decoy: the Killer B. This traitorous tom featured a smaller body molded in an aggressive hunchback pose—a deadly combination that drives dominant birds crazy. Not content to sit on their motion-decoy laurels, Primos has again stepped up the game with their Dirty B, an innovative motion turkey decoy designed to replicate an injured tom. Pull the string, and the Dirty B flaps its wings and raises its tail, causing dominant toms to come running to finish off their wounded rival. And like the original, the Dirty B comes with a silk fan, as well as a collapsible fan frame that accommodates turkey feathers for a realistic look. Primos also offers a full flock of decoy options, including the She-Mobile Hen, Swingin' Hen and Upright Jake decoys.
Several years ago, waterfowl caller turned decoy wizard Fred Zink extended his Avian-X line of realistic waterfowl dekes into the turkey world with great success. The series includes a Strutter and Quarter-Strut Jake, which like all Avian-X dekes, feature the unique LCD (Lifelike Collapsible Decoy) construction that combines the ultra-realistic sculpted body of a hard-sided decoy in an ultra-portable, inflatable design. The rugged rubber construction in durable with a no-flake paint that stands up to season after season of hard use. New for spring 2014 are three new hens; they're a tad smaller and lighter than the original lineup, and each one has longer and more convincing legs. The head-high, upright position of the new Lookout hen decoy shows dominance, which drives dominant hens crazy. A hen marches in to confront the Lookout and brings Mr. Henned-Up Tom right into your sights. The head-low Feeder works great anywhere wild turkeys are likely to feed, and the Breeder hen, with its forward-stretching body position and dropped wings, is deadly on love-struck gobblers.