Decoy Phases with Alex Rutledge

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Alex Rutledge has been in The Outdoor Industry for 29 yrs. He is the founder of Bloodline TV and Radio, a member of the Legends of The Outdoors National Hall of Fame and he is very dedicated to sharing his Faith and knowledge of the Outdoors at Church Events, at Major Retail stores, and Schools

Decoys have become an important part of the modern day turkey hunters’ arsenal. Here at Wild Turkey Report we’ve covered some generalities behind styles of decoys and where and how to setup. However; WHEN and WHY to use decoys is still up for discussion. From the beginning to the end of the Spring turkey season, turkeys are making changes in their patterns and behaviors. With that being said, it would seem that there could definitely be reasoning behind using different decoys for different phases of the season. I caught up with Bloodline TV Host and avid turkey hunter, Alex Rutledge, and he offered viable information on proper decoy selection for the different phases of spring turkey season.  
“When using decoys, set them up where they can be seen at least 100 yards of every direction In case of an approaching hunter,” said Alex. “If you see an approaching hunter, vocally let them know that you are a hunter. Always carry hunter orange with you when moving location to location and packing out your gobbler. Safety is crucial in every hunting situation.”

Alex refers to the first phase as the “Pecking Order Phase”. This is the beginning of turkey season. “In the Pecking Order Phase, the birds are breaking up from large flocks to smaller flocks.” He recommends using gobbler decoys during this time. “During the Pecking Order Phase gobblers are establishing their hierarchy and they are thinking more about battle than they are about mating.” Wild turkeys are establishing pecking orders long before maturity. Even as poults, young gobblers will challenge one another. Perhaps ultimately preparing for this time in their life, this is the perfect time to play to that aspect of their biology. Alex insists that a setup including a strutter and a jake can be crucial during this period. “So, when you create a gobbler fight in your calling setup, they are expecting to see gobblers. When they see a strutter and a standing jake it can create a spark to gang up on the strutter. This tactic will also work in the fall.”

The second phase is the “Pre-Mating Phase”.  This is when flocks have started to break up. Dominant gobblers are claiming their harems at this point. “I would use a lot of gobbler decoys in both the Pecking Order and Pre Mating Phases.” Gobbler decoys, jakes especially, are a sure fire way to get a gobbler going. Alex advises, “The Pre-Mating Phase is a great phase to use an upright jake decoy with hens. In conjunction with aggressive hen yelping, cutting will lure a gobbler to seek out your location. Upon seeing the decoys, the jake can spark a reaction from the gobbler that he can take over the harem for the jake decoy is not showing any dominance.”
He refers to the third phase as the “Peak Mating Phase”. At this point, toms have one thing on their mind. This is when the volume gets turned down and time in the woods gets turned up.

“As gobblers get with hens, gobbling activity starts slowing down,”  said Rutledge.  “A mature gobbler will have plenty of hens.”  Gobblers are now at a point where they are no longer interested in fighting or other hens, so a particular decoy to spark their interest is virtually non-existent. However; playing to the hens can be the ticket. Alex told how using a hen with a full strut decoy can be effective.  “When hens see another hen with a gobbler, they will come in to the setup and that gobbler will come right in behind them.”  Hens get jealous too. The same tactic of calling to hens can be used with decoys as well.

The fourth and final stage is the “Post-Mating Phase”. The majority of hens have been bred. “After the peak phase, when hens go to setting, gobbling activity picks up again,”  according to Alex.  He makes a great case when he points out, “The more a turkey gobbles, the more susceptible he is to being called in.” That last statement coincides with how well they will decoy too. The more vulnerable he is….the more vulnerable he is-to calling or decoys.  Alex said that using a quarter strut jake or strutter decoy with a hen during this phase can be very deadly. Toms that are desperately seeking to breed one of the last receptive hens can lose their temper by laying eyes on what seems to be an intruder with a hen in his area. He also points out how placing a hen on the ground in a breeding position under a gobbler decoy can really send toms into a frenzy.  

“The combination of a hen and strutting decoy will work for dominant, aggressive gobblers.”
Hunting with decoys can be very rewarding. In some cases it can make or break a hunt. We as turkey hunters have seen gobblers hang up on a hen decoy and some gobblers shy away from a jake or tom decoy. These things, in most cases, may not be fully explained. But, I believe Alex Rutledge has shed some light on our decoy woes. By providing some information on when and why, it’s a good foundation for a hunter entering any phase of the spring turkey season. 
Sage Morris
Sage Morris was born and raised in south Alabama. He has always had a passion for the outdoors and became very fond of turkey hunting at a young age. He runs a small scale guide service and is a 365 day a year addict when it comes to turkeys and turkey hunting. Follow Sage on twitter: @SEeasterns
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