Turkey Hunting: Are Decoys Hindering Hunters?

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Each spring, my college buddies organize a turkey hunting contest in south Alabama's river swamps known as the Butterball Invitational.  It is without a doubt the one weekend I clear everything out on my schedule and look forward to for weeks.  It combines hunting on some awesome properties, fellowship amongst friends, and a crawfish boil.

Two man teams hunt their own properties and meet up at a designated time at the base camp to score their turkeys.  The winning team wins a prize packet and a frozen domestic turkey as the symbolic trophy.  The marquee event is the "turkey tales" time, in which teams that either killed a turkey or had a great hunt will describe in great detail the morning's events.

This past year, there was one team whose account of their hunt struck me.  This team was comprised of two self-proclaimed rookies, and they seemed surprised that they had killed a bird that morning.  By their account, they had tricked the bird by simply placing a strutting decoy in a cow pasture and waiting for the envious gobbler to run in to whip the fake.  They admitted that they had not made the first call when the wily hook-spurred longbeard came in to their set up.

While I was excited for them, as their enthusiasm for the sport grew after that morning's hunt, I couldn't help but wonder if they felt deep inside that they had really "earned" their turkey.

The use of decoys, and in particular those of the strutting variety, is at an all time high.  The fakes that are on the market today look remarkable, and could fool even the most experienced hunter in the heat of the moment as to which turkey is truly the real deal.  Yet despite their popularity, many hunters question the level of dependency those that use them have developed.

I cut my teeth hunting in Alabama in an age when decoys were not legal.  I learned how to kill turkeys without them, and when decoys were legalized in the early 2000's, made a personal decision to refrain from using them.  It is simply not my cup of tea; I feel decoys would take away from my experience and sense of accomplishment.  When I am in the woods, I am taking on the role of the hen, and prefer to have a turkey approach looking for the hen instead of a piece of plastic.

I hate to judge my fellow turkey hunters for using a tool that leads to their success in the field.  My main argument is that many hunters, such as the two described above, have become so reliant on them that they have forgotten, or never made the attempt to learn, the tried and true principles of stealth, woodsmanship, and wit.  They would rather plop a decoy down in a field and wait.

Decoys definitely have a role in certain situations.  Because they take the attention off the hunter, they are a must when bowhunting and needed when hunting with youth.  Decoys even the odds when hunting turkeys in large fields, cutovers, and the like.  Due to the open spaces of the Midwest and western states, their popularity in those regions almost comes out of necessity.  Even though many turkeys are beginning to wise up to the fakes, according to reports from fellow hunters, they are still very effective in some situations.

My question is this: if decoys were outlawed across the country, how many hunters would be lost without them?  Would they be as effective or would they struggle mightily to fill their tag?  I know several hunters who could not buy an Alabama turkey several years ago that began killing three and four a year when decoys were legalized.

Maybe I am being an elitist on this matter.  It is a sensitive subject, and five hunters will have five different opinions on decoys.  I know some incredible turkey hunters who use decoys as a part of their arsenal.  However, they use them as needed and do not base their strategy around the decoy.

With that being said, my advice is to use decoys if you so choose, but learn how to hunt and kill turkeys without them.  It will enhance your use of them, as you will see the "big picture" of the hunt and will not rely on decoys alone as your means for success, but rather as another weapon in your arsenal.
Wild Turkey Report Staff
Wild Turkey Report is the internet's new destination for information on the sport of turkey hunting. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wildturkeyreport and on Twitter @wildturkeyreprt!
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