Decoys can help convince a turkey that it is safe to approach, and aids them in pinpointing where the calls (which you are generating) are coming from.
Part one and two of this series covered calls and camouflage, both of which I would consider a force multiplier in turkey hunting. A force multiplier refers to something (equipment, training, etc.) that makes a unit more effective than it would be without it. Another great force multiplier used for turkey hunting is the use of decoys. A decoy can help convince a turkey that it is safe to approach, and aids them in pinpointing where the calls (which you are generating) are coming from.
The first thing you need to consider with turkey decoys is the type of turkeys you are hunting and the timing of the season. In Washington State, spring season is restricted to male turkeys and turkeys with visible beards only. Knowing that information and considering the time of year, I would use a couple of hen decoys with a jake (a younger male). Turkeys are still establishing their rank at this time of year and can be eager to fight each other.
Conversely, during mid-season, when mating is at its highest, using a male turkey decoy can actual scare other males away. During that time of year, I would go with one or two hens. You need to be flexible during your seasons. Legislators may have ‘established’ when each season is, but that doesn’t mean that the turkeys will have progressed in their mating cycle.
There are probably more turkey decoys on the market then there are actually turkeys in the wild. They range from 2D silhouettes, stuffers (actual stuffed turkeys), and 3D collapsible/inflatable decoys. Some have the ability to move with the wind (similar to a bobble-head doll) and others hold stone still. As mentioned earlier, addressing the particular needs of your season is the goal. There is no need to create an overly large flock of turkeys; this can be intimidating to a turkey in the wild. Instead, try to create a scene that is appealing to what you are hunting and is appropriate to the timing of the season.
Placing your decoys in the field is going to take some practice. The more you see turkeys in the wild, the better you will be at replicating their habits with your decoys. I typically place turkeys facing the direction that I want them to go. I make sure that, when placed, the decoy can be seen from a reasonable distance. (It won’t matter if the turkeys cannot see your decoy.) Finally, I try to keep the decoys within 20 yards of my shooting position. If a turkey gets within 10 yards of my decoy, that is still a 30-yard shot. If you place the decoy too far away and the bird gets nervous, you may not get a shot.
You need to remember that decoys are exceptionally lifelike and can convince other hunters as much as turkeys. If you see another hunter move into your area, make your presence known and stop using any calls. Additionally, break down your decoys completely while packing them in and out of your hunting area. If you are carrying one on your shoulder while walking up a hill, there may be a hunter at the top who could engage you as he sees the turkey cresting. Although not required for me, I wear blaze orange when walking in and out of my hunting areas.
(Featured image courtesy of realtree.com)