An effective turkey decoy setup helps bring toms into range while diverting attention from the hunter
By Sammy Bruce
Wild turkeys have some of the best eyes in the woods. The old adage rings true: “If they could smell like a deer, turkeys would be impossible to kill.” They’re just that good.
It’s estimated that turkeys see about three times better than humans with 20/20 vision. In addition, there’s no such thing as a “blind spot” in the gobbler’s world. They view a 270-degree field continuously, and a slight turn of the head can show them a full 360.
Thankfully, turkey hunters can take steps to maintain the upper hand. Modern camouflage options offer incredible concealment in any terrain. In addition, many turkey hunters now choose lightweight, easy-to-operate ground blinds for the ultimate hiding place. But the best method to fool a wary gobbler by far is to never have him look your way.
One piece of equipment reigns above all others in successfully keeping the eyes of a turkey off of the hunter: the turkey decoy. In fact, without decoys, our modern turkey hunting methods would be counter-productive. Think about it. We call these extremely keen animals toward us, and then try to hide from them.
Just as a duck hunter would never attempt to call ducks into range without the use of decoys, modern turkey hunters now use similar methods. The plan? Attract the birds with seductive calling, bring them in close, and give them something to get excited about once they look around.
Terence Williamson is no stranger to the use of decoys when hunting turkeys. A veteran gobbler-chaser for over 25 years, Williamson spends four or more days a week hunting in his home state of Alabama, and often extends his season by pursuing turkeys in several other locales. A State and National calling champ, Williamson is quick to point out the advantages of using decoys. And while most view decoys as tools for attraction, Williamson is quick to advocate for their powers of distraction.
“I’ve been guiding for the last eight years, help out frequently in youth hunts, and have been involved in filming Avian-X TV for the last four seasons,” Williamson states. “While guiding and filming, decoys really help to take focus off of kids, clients, and cameras and help make for successful hunts while drawing birds into range.”
Williamson’s decoy strategies evolve throughout the season. “I use decoys all spring, and start the season using a hen and a jake together,” says Williamson, who is a strong believer in this particular combo, claiming that the sight of a jake around a hen angers toms. “They become so focused on fighting with the jake, it gives you a chance to get on the bird and make the shot before he can detect you,” our expert says. His point is that attraction is only part of the game when utilizing turkey decoys. Diverting and controlling his attention is often just as important.
Williamson once utilized a breeder hen decoy for this method, but now chooses the Avian-X LCD Laydown Hen. In fact, Williamson was the first hunter to kill a turkey using the new breakthrough decoy while helping develop the prototype.
The Laydown’s relaxed posture perfectly mimics that of a content hen turkey in a receptive breeding position. The sight of this decoy alone is enough to bring a tom running, but pairing her with a jake can trigger his rage and further fix his attention. Like other Avian-X LCD decoys, the new Laydown Hen is made of a Dura-Rubber material that is not only ultra-lifelike, but also collapsible.
Such lifelike looks are imperative in turkey decoys, not only in posture, but also in color and detail. Turkeys have six cones in their eyes to detect color, compared to four in ours. In addition, it’s believed turkeys can view color spectrums not seen by humans, including UVA. Remember, these incredible eyes focus on the decoy in the hunting scenario, so perfection is required if you want that old long-beard to believe what he’s seeing.
As the turkey season progresses and strutting activity increases, Williamson advises setting up a spread to match the behavior. Here, he chooses the Avian-X LCD Strutter. More incredible attention to detail, an Avian-X trademark, places this decoy above all other gobblers on the market. In addition, the Stutter isn’t overly large. This slight under-sizing is deliberate. Not only is the decoy easier to pack in and out of the field, it tells incoming gobblers it’s a fight they can win.
Old wives tales pervade in all forms of hunting, and turkey hunting is no exception. One popular rumor is that turkeys can’t see in 3-D, thus rendering ultra-realistic decoys overkill.
To be truthful, many bird species can’t see in 3-D the way human eyes do. The placement of eyes on the side of the head prevents true binocular vision – observing an object through both eyes at the same time and, thus, creating depth perception. But turkeys overcome this by frequently bobbing and rotating their heads while viewing to give them a different kind of depth perception. Combine this with their supreme visual acuity and advanced color detection, and more than a few turkey hunters should be reconsidering their current decoys… and their camouflage.
Williamson feels good about his, but only because he conceals himself head to toe, including gloves and facemask, in Mossy Oak’s best. Then, of course, he uses the best available decoys for distraction. Only then does he feel comfortable trying to fool the sharpest eyes in the woods.
When setting up, Williamson tries to pick an area that’s relatively clear, but admits that’s not always possible. Clearings, fields and logging roads are ideal, but Williamson is just as content to place decoys in small openings in the woods. The key, he says, is getting approaching birds to see the decoys while maintaining adequate shooting lanes. “You rarely know where the perfect location is, because unpredictable gobblers are likely to approach the setup from any possible angle, not necessarily the path of least resistance. I just try to make sure that my decoys can be seen from as many angles as possible, and my hunters and I have a clear line of sight to shoot at, and around, the decoy location.’”
Sometimes, fooling a turkey can be easy. The right spot combined with a hot bird occasionally leads to a quick hunt. More often, however, wise gobblers must be coaxed into range with the right combination of calling and visual stimulation. Even then, wary toms may close the distance, only to “hang up” out of range. Decoys can help remedy this possibility as well. If a stubborn old tom thinks your hen decoy can see him, his ego may want her to come to him. So when possible, position your decoys facing away from the most likely approach for incoming birds.
If you’ve done much turkey hunting, you already know that nothing seals the deal like a decoy. But are your decoys really helping you as much as they could be? This spring, take the advice of our expert, and start thinking about turkey decoys as distractors as much or more than they are attractors. After all, it’s you against them, and they’ve got some really formidable tools. Up the reality factor of your decoys, and start tipping the odds in your favor.