Spring Turkey Hunting 101 | Bring on the Flop
It doesn’t matter where you live in the country. The flop is coming to a field or woodlot near you. You’ve probably been seeing the #cantstoptheflop2016 campaign winging its way around the internet the last few weeks. That can mean only one thing: turkey season is coming. To celebrate this wonderful time of year, we want to explore some turkey hunting decoy strategies that are proven to work time and time again. While calling and camouflage are very important pieces of the puzzle too, effectively using decoys can make or break your day in the woods. There’s no doubt that turkeys are easier to call in when they see a “live” turkey near the commotion. By utilizing this turkey hunting guide, you too can experience the flop.
Turkey Hunting Seasons and Locations
First, let’s recognize that turkey seasons occur over a very wide time period across our nation. While folks down in Georgia are placing their best turkey decoys and sitting in a ground blind, hunters up in the northern Midwest states could still be out ice fishing. As a result, there’s a lot of timing variability between them. But you can still implement the turkey decoy techniques outlined here whenever your particular turkey season arrives.
The other thing to note is that turkey populations have exploded in recent years. Northern states that historically had very few, if any, turkeys have now seen dramatic increases in numbers. This opens up a new and exciting type of hunting for more hunters across our nation, who might not be familiar with turkey tactics. Use online resources to key in on your local sub-species of turkeys. Each region is a little different, so knowing the key differences could make a big impact on your success as a hunter. Now let’s discuss one of the most important turkey hunting tips for beginners: decoys!
Turkey Hunting Decoys
Many of us probably grew up with minimal use of decoys. That’s probably because older turkey decoys were simply not available or not very realistic. Fortunately, that is strictly a thing of the past. Today, you’ll find all types and styles of decoys for sale, including toms, jakes, and hens of almost any configuration you can imagine. There are full-body foam turkey decoys that are budget-oriented and would only fool a tom from far across a field. There are also collapsible plastic or rubber ones that are so lifelike with feathers and eyes that you might have to watch out for other hunters! There’s virtually no end to the creative decoys you can find to maximize your success in the field. Even if you opt for the cheap side, you can spruce up some budget decoys by adding actual turkey feathers, beards, or fans, or by using fishing line as a pull cord to give you decoys more lifelike action.
Tom Turkey Decoys
No turkey decoy collection would be complete without at least one tom turkey. Within this group of decoys, you’ll find all kinds of options; anything from full strutting toms to a simple turkey fan decoy. All of them have their place. If you want to get a wary bird in close though, buy the most realistic turkey decoys you can find, which will help close the gap between you and him. Reserve full strutting tom decoys for when you know there is a mature and dominant tom hanging around your area; otherwise, you may frighten passive toms from coming into range.
Jake Turkey Decoys
In more cases than not, you’ll want to use a less intimidating bird in your decoy strategy, which is where the jake turkey decoy comes in. A jake is a young male turkey that may be ready to breed a hen biologically, but dominant toms won’t usually stand for it. They’ll often have much shorter beards and will appear a little lankier than a fully mature tom.
While an aggressive tom or group of jakes might come in to challenge another male decoy, they will almost always come in to a hen decoy during the spring breeding season. As such, they are probably the best turkey decoys to use for spring hunts. You’ll find hen decoys in different postures, including standing, feeding, or a submissive breeding position that drives toms wild. You can also find them in different color variations, including a smoky white color combination that really sticks out. Hard Core Decoys makes an excellent hen decoy for all scenarios, the Hard Core Widow Maker.
You don’t need all that many decoys to have an effective turkey setup either. It’s not like duck or goose hunting where numbers make a big difference. In some early spring cases and for fall turkey hunting, the birds might be on a winter flock pattern, which is the only time you’d want a large group of decoys. The rest of the spring hunting season, even a simple hen paired with a male (tom or jake) will do the trick.
Best Turkey Hunting Strategies
There are a thousand different ways to set up your decoys that could bring turkeys into shooting range. But there are also a few tried and true methods that will help you more times than not. Regardless of which arrangement you choose, don’t put the decoys up at the outer edge of your Beretta shotgun range. If a wary bird hangs up past your decoys, it will be out of range. Instead, set them up closer to you (i.e. 20 yards) so that you can still get a shot even if they stall. Or set them up past you so that a gobbler would have to walk right by your location, bringing them well within range. It may help to do some trail camera scouting before you set up, so you know exactly where the birds usually enter the field you’re hunting.
The following decoy sets are listed in increasing order of aggression and urgency that they elicit from a tom turkey. If there are mostly two-year old jakes hanging around your place, the sets at the beginning of the list would work well for you. If you have a lot of dominant toms on your land, the turkey decoy strategies towards the end of the list may work better. You should experiment and observe how the birds react to your decoys.
The least intimidating decoy setup is to appeal to a bird’s stomach at as well as his heart. Stake a feeding (i.e., head down) hen turkey decoy or two in a food plot, agricultural field, or forest opening diagonally facing your blind, with a jake turkey behind them looking your way. Set them up so that a tom entering the field would approach them head-on. This is a very common sight in spring that could bring a tom in quickly to interrupt the fake jake’s intentions.
This option is meant to look like some birds are leaving the food plot or field opening and heading back into the forest or brush. Once a tom turkey sees this, it will want to rush in so it doesn’t lose track of a potential mate. Assuming you are concealed on the edge of the opening, position a few walking hen decoys facing the woods near the edge of the wood line, with a jake turkey decoy in hot pursuit.
Use the spring hormones against a gobbler by drawing out its fighting side. Position a tom and jake turkey decoy facing each other as if they are establishing the pecking order. Scatter one or two feeding or upright hen decoys around the duo. Then rely on fighting purrs and wing thrashes to draw a battle-ready gobbler into range. But you’ve been warned: this may scare less aggressive birds off.
Of course, the most aggressive and urgent display is an actual breeding attempt. Position a submissive hen decoy directly on the ground and immediately in front of a jake turkey decoy. Face the duo to your left or right, towards wherever you anticipate a turkey to approach. Generally an aggressive tom will rush in and try to circle the pair, putting him right in harm’s way.
Make sure to prepare your turkey hunting gear before you even begin to set up decoys. Get very comfortable with your Hoyt bow grouping over the winter months and make any fine-tuning adjustments sooner than later. Turkeys have very unforgiving eyesight for bow hunters, so you’ll need to capitalize on an opportunity quickly. Make sure you do enough scouting to know there are birds present before you just set up in a field. It helps to use locator calls to roost gobblers the night before a hunt. But don’t rule out using your Bushnell trail cameras to establish patterns and find high-percentage spots.
Make sure to not forget your turkey decoy stake to hold decoys in place, especially in windy weather. Also practice your calling well in advance of your hunt, so you actually sound like a turkey and not a wounded rabbit. Knight & Hale Game Calls makes numerous turkey calls and instructional videos on how to call and hunt turkeys. Unless you’ll be moving from house to field in the span of a couple hundred yards, you need to take some precautions to protect your best turkey hunting decoys. Especially if you invested in a quality set, you don’t want to let them get beat up in the back of your truck. Keep them in a quality camouflaged canvas bag to avoid getting scratched and dented.
It’s tough not to love spring turkey hunting. After a winter spent mostly indoors, getting back out into the woods to watch plants and animals come alive is just addicting. Once you get a boss tom to gobble back in response to your call in the dim dawn hours, you’ll feel instincts and nerves come alive in yourself too. Using these decoy tips and strategies, you’ll have a better chance at putting one in the back of the truck at the end of the day. All the effort will be more than worth it.
When you are successful, print the campaign banner below (click banner to enlarge, right click on banner and click “save image as” to print). Get creative, and use the campaign banner in your turkey hunting pictures and get ready to submit on our Facebook Page to win some CSTF2016 prizes!