The Truth about Decoys

 

MARQSCOUTSponsored by: The Archery Hall of Fame

By: M.R. James

“The three lusty toms topped the hardwood ridge to my left and instantly spotted Jezebel, my mounted hen turkey decoy. They gobbled and made a beeline for the faux female while early morning sunshine glistened off their iridescent plumage. Mere seconds later the strutting Romeos were dragging their wingtips in the dead leaves and greening grass not 15 yards from my camouflaged ground blind…”

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“I still don’t know where the rutty eight-pointer came from. I hadn’t heard any rustling in the frost-curled leaves littering the forest floor. Yet suddenly he was there, a gray/white apparition ghosting toward my buck decoy standing near a mock scrape I’d made not 20 yards away. Ears back, neck hair bristling, he was totally focused on an interloper, walking that stiff-legged strut of a pissed off whitetail ready to kick a rival’s butt …”

            DEER AND TURKEY DECOYS have long been a key part of my annual strategy for filling each year’s buck and gobbler tags. Their main selling point is they can and do work, repeatedly, season after season, when properly placed at times when they’re most beneficial.

My mounted hen, Jezebel, has tempted and lured a good many gobblers to their doom. Here she’s standing over an Illinois longbeard that couldn’t resist her looks and my seductive turkey talk.

Admittedly, they are not magical never-fail tools of the hunting trade. However, they can be the perfect complement to savvy turkey and deer hunters who utilize them for the best possible results. Following are a few facts and tips you should know about decoys, whether you’re simply considering adding them to your hunting repertoire or already have made an investment of time and money in acquiring these readily available enticements.

There’s great satisfaction to be found in heading back from the field with a turkey over your shoulder.

FACT – Deer and turkey decoys are readily available in every imaginable body position and price range. My all-time favorite and most effective turkey deke is Jezebel, the product of a taxidermist’s artistry. She simply stands wherever I place her and lures love-smitten toms to their deaths simply by looking like the real thing, which of course she is. I bought her at an auction for a pittance and she’s since proved to be worth every penny. I also frequently use a three-decoy setup consisting of Jezebel, a feeding hen, and a jake or displaying gobbler with a real or fake fan. I sometimes tie lightweight fishing line to a feeding hen decoy to make it bob like a feeding bird when I tug the line. I also like the lightweight decoys that a breeze causes to move and turn on a single metal rod.

Young toms can be easy to call in, finding the sweet sounds of hen talk and the sight of a decoy spread irresistible.

Tip: I favor a portable ground blind while turkey hunting. It keeps eagle-eyed gobblers from seeing me move when I draw my bow. I typically place the jake or gobbler decoy facing me at under 20 yards. Approaching toms often move in to face their rival and a broadhead driven lengthwise into the gobbler at the base of his fan can put a big bird down in a hurry. For broadside shots at puffed up strutters, remember the adage, “Hit ‘em high, watch ‘em die. Hit ‘em low, watch ‘em go.” Hold for the softball size heart/lung area in the upper body.

I tagged this Mississippi gobbler from a ground blind using a hen and jake decoy. He responded to soft clucks and purrs and walked into my arrow at 20 yards.

My favorite whitetail decoy is a Flambeau Boss Buck model that cost about $150. I’ve pulled more Illinois and Indiana deer within good bow range using it than any other deke I’ve tried. It’s realistic, comes apart for easy transport with its legs, head, and detachable ears and antlers all fitting in the hollow body. Total weight is about 20 pounds. Its main drawback is a tendency to blow over on windy days. Regardless, there are other good three-dimensional dekes out there in the same price range. Some have heads and tails that move for additional realism. Check ‘em out online or in person at a Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, or other sporting goods store.

While hard-hunted deer may shun or run from decoys, many react calmly and walk or feed within easy bow range.

Tip: Include rattling sequences, buck grunts, and doe bleats with your decoy set. I try to avoid touching the deke with my bare hands and either splash or squirt some buck scent on the hocks and tail. I’ll also spread doe-in-heat urine on nearby brush and leaves. I favor hunting with decoys from treestands located 20 to 30 yards away, but I’ve taken bucks from ground blinds at closer distances by sending an arrow through shoot-through mesh covering the blind’s windows. Remember, when a buck’s focus is on the decoy, he’s less likely to catch your movements as you come to full draw. Also, when the rut is peaking, a buck decoy standing over a bedded doe decoy can attract a real antlered Romeo.

During the rut, the mere sight of a rival — either fake or real — can result in a nose to nose confrontation. Moments after I snapped this photo, the aggressive young buck hooked my deke and scared the bejabbers out of himself. Had he been a “shooter,” I had ample time and opportunity to release at arrow.

FACT – You should always check state and local game laws to avoid breaking some regulation pertaining to the use of decoys. Ditto for ground blinds. Here in Indiana hunters in ground pop-up blinds are required to display 144 square inches of blaze orange on each side of the blinds for safety reasons when hunters with firearms are also in the woods.

FACT – Timing matters. When gobblers are sounding off to locate hens, seductive hen talk can tempt even wary longbeards to check out foam and fiberglass ladies. The sight of a faux tom in the mix can make the difference by stirring up aggression in even a wary ol’ gobbler. Personally, once I have a tom interested and close by, I usually play it coy and keep turkey talk to a minimum.

Here’s a boss gobbler I tagged on our Indiana farm with the help of my mounted hen decoy, Jezebel.

Tip: I rarely break out my deer decoys until the early stages of the annual rut, but on occasion may use a doe deke in a feeding area that deer frequent. Social animals, other does or even bucks may walk over to check out the newcomer to their neighborhood. Keep that in mind when you have a doe tag to fill.

This aggressive buck responded to a rattling sequence near a mock scrape in early November. He faced and then circled my decoy. I passed up the shot, waiting on a larger whitetail. Regardless, watching the confrontation made it all worthwhile.

FACT – Pressured and unpressured deer and turkeys react differently to decoys. Where birds and animals are hunted hard through the season, calls and dekes may actually alarm toms and bucks. However, where there’s light to normal pressure without constant calling and decoying, decoys can be downright deadly. Believe it!  

Sponsored by:  The Archery Hall of Fame

For more please go to: Thoughts and Tips with M.R. James

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