To Decoy Or Not On Woodland Turkey Hunts

Dan Ladd

To Decoy Or Not On Woodland Turkey Hunts

It takes nearly an hour to drive from my home in the southeastern Adirondacks to get to the oak-laden ridge where I’ve spent many mornings chasing spring gobblers. I had hunted here on opening day, and although I didn’t get a gobbler that day, I returned a little more than a week later with a good plan, or so I thought.

While walking to a pre-chosen spot in the early morning darkness, my plan abruptly changed when a gobbler sounded off from a tree that I would later measure to be only 60 yards away. I froze in the trail, spotted a big pine tree nearby with a stump right next to it, and as quietly as I could I cleared some leaves and settled in. Concerned about busting (spooking) the tom, I kept the hen and jake decoys in my vest. 

This gobbler was fired up and gobbled at least two or three times a minute for the next half hour. I managed to fumble a slate call and striker from my vest and scratch off a few tree calls. That triggered an even more intense response. Soon, I spotted him in another pine tree and unfortunately a hen was also roosted just a few trees away. With my gun across my knees and the slate call in my hands, I answered when she started to yelp and could only hope he would fly down before she did.

That’s exactly what happened. As soon as he hit the ground down over the hill from me, I picked up the pace and the volume for a series of five or six yelps. He answered vigorously and I got ready, hoping he’d come before that hen flew down. I also remember fretting about not having decoys out. 

It didn’t matter. Five minutes later I saw the tom’s head pop over the hill. He was looking for me, and when he got into a shooting lane about 35 yards out, the hunt was over. It was only 5:45 a.m.

Fast forward a few years to just last spring. On another mountain hunt closer to home, I found myself surrounded by a half-dozen gobblers (two mature toms and four jakes) and a lone hen. The hen came straight to my lone hen decoy not long after flying down, but all of the toms kept their distance and eventually followed her off into the woods. I got lucky later that morning when the two big gobblers answered my call when I was changing locations. Again, without a decoy, I was able to lure them in and one of them went home in my truck.

I immediately began to question whether or not to use decoys on woodland hunts such as those where there are no farm fields or any other type of clearings around. Obviously this type of terrain is quite typical for Adirondack turkey hunters.

The logic of not using a decoy, however, was tested just a week later when I went back with my cousin to try to call in that other gobbler for him.  With no decoys out, I worked him in to about 50 yards where he hung up after looking all around in our direction. I’m not sure if one of us moved or he was expecting to see a turkey, but he got out of there without a shot being fired.

And so the question came up again as to the role of decoys in woodland turkey hunts. To help decipher this question I asked a few hunters who I consider to be experts. One of those is Ernie Calandrelli, who is the Director of P/R & Advertising for Quaker Boy Inc., which is based in Orchard Park, New York. “When I use decoys in the woods, there are a few other factors to consider,” Calandrelli replied. “The turkeys cannot usually see as far in the woods. You cannot usually see as far in the woods. You have to pay more attention to what is going on around you while set up in the woods as opposed to a field.”

Calandrelli pointed out how gobblers often come in silently and will also clam up once they spot a jake decoy. Silent gobblers can be a real challenge so he sets two hens and one jake up regularly, both in the fields and in the woods, and looks for high grounds in doing so. He also likes at least one decoy to have movement.  He said, “I set my hen decoys 30 to 35 yards out from my position for the best visibility. My jake is 20 to 25 yards out where I expect to make the kill. The gobbler will come straight to the jake 99 times out of 100, woods or field. You can get away with murder if you use a blind.”

Another avid turkey hunter I spoke with was T.J. Jordan of Saratoga County who is the president of the Saratoga Strutters chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and owns a small call-making company called Dirt Nap Calls.

“Woods turkey hunting is obviously way different than farm country,” said Jordan. “For me, it’s more cutting and running where the key is to get a bird to gobble. It might happen so quickly that you don’t even use a decoy. But, if I do use a decoy, I’m not going to use just a hen but a jake decoy with it.

“If you use just a hen decoy and a bird comes into hardwoods and he can see maybe 100 yards, if he sees the hen decoy, you’re in trouble,” Jordan continued. “He’s going to sit there and throttle (gobble) because he wants the hen to come to him. So, I’m not going to use a solo hen. I use a traveling pair, a hen decoy and jake decoy pointing the same way with the jake in front of the hen with their heads up. So, I’m either using a jake and a hen or I’m using nothing.”

Safety is always a factor in turkey hunting, and some woods hunters refrain from using decoys at all in the woods. Others, as Jordan mentioned, are run-and-gun hunters who may not want to carry a vest full of decoys or simply don’t make it part of their strategy.

Whether a hunter uses decoys or not on a spring mountain hunt is up to them. Perhaps the aforementioned situations and suggestions from Jordan and Calandrelli will be worth considering this spring. Good luck.   

Dan Ladd is an outdoor writer and vice president of the NYS Outdoor Writer’s Association who contributes regular columns to the “Plattsburgh Press Republican” and the “Glen Falls Chronicle.”  He is a freelance contributor to “NY Outdoor News,” “Lake Ontario Outdoors” and “Adirondac.”  He is the author and owner of the website and the author of the books Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks and Well Seasoned In the Adirondacks.  He is a recipient of the Bass Pro Shops and NYSOWA “Pass It On Award.”


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