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Decoying Spring Turkeys

By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors

Before dawn I'd set up a flock of Feather Flex turkey decoys just off the corner of an old fence line between a field and the woods. Then I'd propped myself up in front of an elm tree and waited. About a half-hour before sunrise I tree yelped softly on my Haydel's Split Reed Hen in Heat mouth diaphragm. A tom turkey thundered a gobble in response. The birds were roosted in a group of white oaks on the about 75 yards behind me, right where I'd left them. Last night I'd driven to the field and parked the Suburban on the county road a quarter mile from the trees just before sundown. Although I hadn't seen the birds, or heard them fly up, I did get them to "shock gobble" in response to the call of a Barred Owl. Knowing where the birds were roosted and where they flew down from watching them for the last two weeks I planned a hunt for the next morning.

Now that I knew they were still in the oak trees, I let loose with a flying cackle; and used a Lohman's Wing Thing to make the sounds of a bird flying down and waited. Shortly before sunrise I heard the birds fly down., then I saw them land in the field about 50 yards away. I gave them a few minutes to settle down, then I blew a series of soft yelps. Ten minutes later one of the toms saw the hen decoys and the strutting jake decoy and came in to investigate. If I hadn't wanted my son Dallas to get some good pictures the tom probably wouldn't have lived another five minutes.

The idea of attracting animals to you is to give the illusion that there is a real animal near you. You want the animal you are hunting to react to the stimulus of the Sight, Scent and Sound you create. If you recreate the proper stimulus then you can fool the game into thinking there is another animal in the vicinity. One of the problems hunters have when turkey hunting is that turkeys have a habit of "hanging up" out of range where they can't be shot. The birds hear the sound of a turkey when the hunter calls but they don't see a turkey. Turkeys rely to a great extent on their sight in surveying their surroundings. Because they are susceptible to predation from predators turkeys are keenly aware of everything on the ground, when a turkey hears another turkey it expects to see another turkey.

Many hunters don't use a turkey decoy because the old hard-body decoys were just another piece of bulky, unwieldy equipment to haul around. But, with the new collapsible decoys that easily fit into a turkey vest or day pack the problem has been eliminated. I have used hen decoys and brought in birds, I have used jake decoys and had excellent success "positioning" toms for a shot. I have seen the effectiveness of using a strutting decoy to get a dominant bird to come in and challenge the intruder. There is no question that turkey decoys work, but there is a right time and place for every type of decoy.

Because I thoroughly scout the area I hunt and "pattern" the birds I know where they roost, travel, feed and strut. I try to be in an area that is used regularly by the birds. On my first hunts in an area I am conservative, I use a turkey flock from Feather Flex. I place the two hens where they can be seen by approaching birds and make sure that I have a suitable place for myself and my hunters to sit, preferably brush or large trees to break up our outlines. Any shooting position I choose must have a good view of the area, must be within fifteen yards of the decoys and offer concealment. Next I position the jake decoy in the "shooting lane" so that the hunter has a clear shot. I position the jake so that it is attracting the tom while it is distracting attention from myself and the hunter. This is easily accomplished by placing the jake away from the shooting position, not in a line from the bird to the hunter. Any movement the hunter makes while getting ready or making a shot will go undetected.

Early in the season before the birds have been "educated," or if I am hunting that part of the season when there are few hens around, a few well-performed calls and the flock of decoys is all that I need. Once the birds get smart, or if I am after a particularly wary, dominant tom I might switch to a semi-strut jake or full strut jake. These decoys should be reserved as a last ditch effort. Like gobbling, strutting can drive away a jake or non-dominant bird. When I have been working a tom that will not come in to my regular setup I use the hens with the semi-strut jake first, if that doesn't work I use the full strut decoy. Because I seldom hunt without a client I use the most conservative methods before trying special techniques.

I pattern the bird and set up in an area he frequents. I put out as many as four hens and one semi-strut jake to get the tom to think that an impertinent jake is with a flock of hens. Most toms won't allow a jake to get near any hen in their area. They usually attack and drive off the jake before attempting to mate with the hens. Once I'm setup I start with conservative yelps, clucks, purrs, whines and the soft sounds of a feeding flock. If I don't get a response I try louder calls; fast cutting, maybe a fighting purr, and as a last ditch a gobble if I am sure no other hunters are going to sneak up on my position.

The "fast cutt" is the sound of one turkey telling another if they are going to get together the other bird will have to do the walking, it works well to bring in reluctant toms. Fighting purrs often bring in any bird in the area because they are curious. They want to see which birds are fighting and if there will be a change in dominance in the flock. A gobble works to get the attention of any dominant tom in the area. It tells him another bird is in "his" area and he may come in to investigate.

The easiest way to get a turkey to come to you is by being in a spot the turkey is used to, comfortable with, and is going to anyway. If you create the illusion of other birds in the area, and appeal to a tom's breeding instinct, or it's impulse to exert dominance, there is a good chance that it will come in. But, if you don't put in some time and effort and use the right decoys and calls you may go home empty handed.

If you are interested in more turkey hunting tips, or more turkey biology and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com. If you have questions about turkeys and turkey hunting log on to the T.R.'s Tips message board. To find out when the rut starts, peaks and ends in your area click on Whitetail Rut Dates Chart.

This article is an excerpt from the Turkey Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products catalog.

T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His latest products are Hunting the Whitetail Rut Phases, the Complete Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2005 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the 2005 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual. For a catalog of books and other hunting products contact: T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, E-mail: TRMichels@yahoo.com , Web Site:

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