Turkey Hunting Strategy Without Decoys | Pros & Cons of Turkey Hunting With Decoys
By: Beau Martonik
Spring turkey hunting with decoys has gained popularity over the years. Avian X decoys and others like it are looking incredibly realistic to where it’s difficult to tell the difference between a real turkey and a decoy. I am a fan of using decoys in many scenarios, and when used properly, they can increase your odds of success. Turkey decoys give visual confirmation to gobblers of another turkey in the area; they provide a visual point of where the calling is coming from (taking the attention off you as the hunter) and can pull the gobbler into gun range in a large open area.
Disadvantages of Using Decoys
With that being said, using decoys can have its disadvantages.
In high pressured public land hunting situations, old Toms have probably had a negative experience with a decoy in the past, causing them to become wearier of committing to your turkey calls.
It’s easy to become too reliant on decoys to “pull” gobblers into a field and struggle to get opportunities when the turkeys are in the woods or somewhere else where using a decoy is more complicated.
Take this following statement with a grain of salt, as I am not one to hate on decoys or those who use them. I use decoys occasionally but find myself becoming lazy on my setups, hoping that the decoy will pull them into where I need to get a shot.
Most decoys create extra bulk and something extra to carry in. For run and gun style turkey hunters, this can be annoying to have to carry something twice the size of your turkey vest. If you’re walking a few hundred yards, this might not be a problem for you, but if you are covering 8-10 miles over varying terrain, it gets old in a hurry.
In high pressured states, like my home state of Pennsylvania, decoys increase the risk of being shot by another hunter. To combat that, make sure you don’t set the decoy directly in front of you. First of all, the turkey has a better chance of seeing you if you are directly behind the decoy, and secondly, you could be in the line of sight of another hunter.
Lastly, a good, realistic-looking decoy isn’t cheap. For young hunters, they may be out of reach.
Turkey hunting without decoys can result in just as many successful hunts. The number one reason that I don’t carry turkey decoys often is due to being as mobile as possible. When you are moving into position on a gobbler, decoys can get caught on things, make noise, and are just in the way at the most inconvenient times.
I have mentioned many disadvantages of decoys, so what can you do to increase your odds of success without decoys?
Understanding the Terrain and Vegetation
Without decoys, knowing where terrain and vegetation breaks are will help you close in but stay out of sight of the turkeys. When you are calling without a decoy, it’s always important to be able to shoot to the next terrain or vegetation break because that is the most likely place for them to hang up. For example, in a scenario where the gobbler is located just below you, the trick is to set up within shooting distance of the crest of the hill so as soon as he comes over the edge, you are ready to shoot.
By using the Spartan Forge app, you can turn on the “hybrid” layer to see the terrain and vegetation overlaid on one screen. I can think of many examples of using topographic maps on my phone has allowed me to slip in close on a bird I located. A few years ago, I found a gobbler on the ridge point on the opposite side of the valley. I couldn’t make a play on him that morning, but that night I relocated him roosting in the exact location. The following day, I went to that ridge without ever stepping foot in there before, looked at the maps to determine where I thought the gobbler was roosted and where I could set up to close the deal. I found a terrain break roughly 300 yards from the point I thought he was perching on and killed him that morning with a 20-yard shot as he came over the terrain break.
By leaving the decoys at home, your exact setups are much more critical. Turkeys have incredible vision and are wary birds, primarily when they’ve been hunted repeatedly. When they feel like they can see where the calling is coming from and don’t see another turkey standing there, it’s an immediate red flag to high-tail it out of there or pitch across the valley, leaving you frustrated. I can’t stress enough to think before you sit down. We’ve all been in the situation when you call and realize the gobbler is much closer than you anticipated. This leaves you in panic mode to hurry up and find a tree to set up. Although responding quickly can be critical, you usually have more time than you think. Try to assess the situation for what it is and move to the nearest location that gives you the best chance of getting a shot opportunity.
Pattern The Turkeys
I don’t know of very many people that hunt turkeys in farm fields that don’t use decoys, as they are even more advantageous in these areas. With that being said, field turkeys are much easier to pattern than their big woods friends. If you spend the time glassing from afar and watching where the birds enter the field every morning or every couple of mornings - you can start to look for an ambush point to set up. This will work in the big woods, but with a slightly different tactic. Since you can’t see very far with the heavy timber, using your ears to listen for gobblers in the evenings and mornings will teach you patterns.
For example, in one area, I learned that this particular group of turkeys would roost in the same few trees every four days. They would make a big circle, moving to different areas, but always found their way back to a particular ridge. By knowing this, I could go in and set up close to the roost trees. This led to my tag being filled minutes after legal shooting light. We often use patterning deer and can do the same with turkeys when the situation is right.
Once you are consistent with being able to kill gobblers without the use of decoys, you feel as if you can hunt them anywhere with confidence.