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The right turkey decoy spread can mean the difference between a tom strutting in to 20 yards and hanging up at the edge of shotgun range. Sure, turkeys aren’t especially smart, but a lazily set up or unconvincing spread can make them think twice about moving in. Here are six deke tips to ensure that your ruse is believable and that it’ll bring toms in close all spring long.
Keep It Real
Hyperrealism is all the rage with decoys right now, and for good reason. More and more hunters have realized that detailed, lifelike decoys dupe more gobblers than those that are less realistic. A quality spread starts with quality dekes, so ditch the foam cutouts and invest in good decoys. And it’s not just about the paint job; it’s important that fakes have natural posture, too.
Pick Your Fights
The best decoy on the market is a half- or quarter-strut jake positioned over an amenable hen. Until it isn’t. Some birds—especially jakes and two-year-olds—are lovers, not fighters. Seasonal timing also comes into play: For the first few weeks of the season, a jake with a hen is ideal. After that, pay close attention to how birds react to your lovers’ setup. If toms hang up with a jake out, try a 100-percent hen spread. Few longbeards, especially during the first half of the season, wouldn’t want to wander into a mess of vocal ladies without competition. So the more hens the merrier. As May winds down, though, pare back your setup to a single hen—and call away. As a bonus, you might draw in a real hen, which is never a bad thing.
Think Like a Team
A wandering flock of turkeys may seem as though it lacks cohesion, but the birds are not as haphazard as they look: Turkeys do tend to move together in the same direction. With that in mind, when setting up your decoys, make sure that the flock faces the same way, giving the impression that they’re on the same page. This solidarity will help pull more toms into the spread.
Make a Move
Finding the right amount of decoy movement demands a balance. If a decoy moves too much, a turkey will sense that something is off—and when that happens, it’s all over. But not enough movement can trigger the same result. Play it safe by propping a couple of sticks on each side of a decoy’s tail. This way, the decoy can bounce back and forth a few inches, but not break out into full spin-dry mode. Remember: A little movement goes a long way.
Turkeys have short legs, so for a deke to rest at a natural height, make sure it’s staked deep, but not too deep, into earth. A foot or so off the ground is about right. Though this may seem trivial, remember: toms see hens every day of their lives, and not once do they run into one that happens to be three times taller than all the rest. What’s more, real birds don’t stand crooked or lopsided, so ensure that your fakes remain straight and upright.
Know Your Distance
The distance from your decoys to your ambush will often determine whether you bag a gobbler or eat a tag. For bowhunters, decoys set at seven to 10 yards are ideal. For shotgun hunters, the sweet spot is at about twice that. Regardless of your weapon, your spread should be close enough so that you can tag a bird that comes in but doesn’t fully commit.