Ok, right off the bat, there are two things I am not going to do in this article. The first and most important is I did not start this article off with ‘Let’s talk Turkey’. Secondly, we are not going to go off the assumption that people are familiar with turkey hunting. This article should be accessible to the beginner but informative enough for the seasoned hunter.
To that end, let’s talk a little about the types of decoys first and then get into some decent choices. Afterword, we will look at some basic strategies and tips for setting up decoys effectively.
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Top 5 Best Turkey Decoys (Summary)
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How to Pick the Best Turkey Decoys
Before we go into any depth with decoys, you need to understand why we use them. Though turkey have relatively good hearing, their vision is their main asset for sensing the world around them. They belong to a specific class of bird that is known to have the most advanced vision of any vertebrate.
This tells us two things: One, that turkey are going to use their vision to take cues on predators, food sources, and mating opportunities. Two, that turkey are going to be sensitive to things like color, texture, and overall realism. You may occasionally fool a turkey with a lower quality decoy but the better the decoy, the more likely it is to work.
A second quick note is to base your decoys around the time you hunt. In the fall, turkey will be mostly motivated by food, where in the spring they will be most motivated by mating opportunity.
Not all decoys are created equal. So, with that out of the way, here are some points to consider when choosing a decoy:
1. Sex, Age, and Posture
There are three decoys you should be familiar with as well as the response you will get from them. Which one you use will depend greatly on the turkey in your area, the season you are hunting, and what kind of reaction you are looking for.
- Toms – The big boys of the turkey world. Most tom turkey decoys are in full plumage with their tail fanned in a dominance display. The purpose of a big tom is to provoke another male turkey into challenging it for mating rights. This is the likely decoy to bring in other big toms for a fight.
- Jakes – Young males are an easy target for even the least assertive toms out there. They may come is several postures from mating to standing erect. A mating posture is a challenge while a standing or more nervous posture demonstrates less confidence and attracts challenge. These can be a good choice for bringing in just about any adult male.
- Hens – The whole point of a hen is to draw a male in to mate. They will usually bring in just about any male in the area with a side effect of putting them off guard. A hen has no challenge to a tom and he is likely to strut on up and start his display. Hens may come in several postures from laying prone to feeding. All are equally effective.
As noted above, turkey have amazing sight. Probably more amazing than you even realize. They see farther than a human in a broader range of colors. They can even see into the UV spectrum and that is where things get tricky.
It is hard to imagine what seeing UV would be like so we assume that the target looks the same to the turkey as it does to us but that isn’t the case. Cheaper plastic decoys may have a coating to protect the colors and paint while protecting it from UV light that can cause it to fade.
While this sounds good to us, to a turkey all you did is paint it blue. Yes, the turkey will see that anti-UV coating as a glowing blue bird and probably won’t be all that willing to approach it. Even though some of these targets do have some success, it will be limited. This makes selection of your targets very important!
Because turkey and many other birds are simple-minded, we tend to think they will ignore issues with our decoys and some will. Many won’t and the ones who will usually ignore decoys with obvious deficiencies are the bigger, smarter toms that have lived long enough to spot a trick.
When you look at a decoy, ask yourself how much the color matches the turkey in your area. Is it painted to look realistic? Though I have no statistical proof, anecdotally more people have given up on turkey hunting from ineffective decoys than any other reason.
3. Size and Weight
We want birds that are sized appropriately though turkey do have fairly poor 3D vision and aren’t the best at estimating size at a distance. You want your turkey to be a big healthy female or a weak, timid jake. Maybe you want a tom that is a threat but not one that scares away your trophy bird. Time after time, hunters that stick to decoys that are closer to a realistic size, they see more success.
The problem with larger decoys is getting them to your hunting location. If you are hiking in and have 4 full sized decoys, you are going to have some issues. Obviously, they will be heavier but they will also bump, scrape, and drag. This can make a lot of noise which is a bad thing no matter the time of day.
Typically, as hunters and outdoorsmen, we want some correlation between cost and durability. If it costs more, it should last for years or even decades. This works for many of our tools but is not appropriate for choosing a decoy. Many of the very best out there use materials and construction that is more fragile but greatly increases effectiveness.
There is a tradeoff here that you will have to decide on yourself. You can get birds that are cheap and will last a few years or you can get one expensive that will last just a few seasons. The expensive one may get your more birds overall than the cheap ones.
5. 2D & Inflatable Decoys
These are usually very affordable options and that draws a lot of attention to budget-minded hunters. They are also lighter and smaller than a 3D decoy which only adds to their appeal. However, they are probably best avoided.
Both types tend to have issues with how they reflect light. The 2D decoys only work from one precise angle and are completely ineffective if a bird starts to circle which is likely. Inflatables lack the definition of a true decoy and with their better vision, these decoys don’t stand up to the test.
Even if you do get a gobbler in on one of these decoys, more than likely he will destroy it by trying to fight with it or mate with it. Save your money and get a good 3D decoy. You will be much more satisfied and successful with it.
Since there are several different forms of decoys, we are going to mostly look at the brand over a specific product. In some cases, a company may only have one model that is worthwhile and that will be noted. Otherwise, assume that every product is of similar quality and effectiveness.
6 Best Turkey Decoys 2020
1. Dave Smith Decoys – Best of the Best
There are no more realistic decoys on the market than those designed and made at Dave Smith Decoys. They are pricey but well worth if you want a successful hunt. These are pro level, A-game equipment that will stand the test of time.
Not only are these durable but the paint on them is perfect. They look so realistic you better be on the lookout for other hunters shooting your decoys and that is no joke. On top of the vivid, realistic paint, they are colored in a way that they reflect UV light just like real feathers do. DSD is one of the only companies that does this.
- Very durable
- UV balanced
- Very expensive
2. Avian-X Decoys – Most Realistic Decoys
Avian-X is definitely one of the most popular brands out there and with sufficient reason. Their pant and quality are exceptional. They won’t throw false UV light and tend to last forever. With a number of models to choose from, you can customize your flock.
These are another decoy that you need to watch around other hunters or they could get an arrow through them. Most of their models are collapsible for easy transport and set up easily with a carbon stake. This keeps them light for longer treks and allows them to be more flexible and quieter as they move.
The superstar of the Avian-X decoys is the HDR Jake with its interchangeable heads and ultra-durability. A few other good options are the LCD Quarter-Strut Jake, LCD Laydown Hen, and LCD Feeder Hen. Their toms are quite nice with their folding tails but toms are overall less productive than jakes. If you know you want a tom decoy, go with the LCD Strutter and its very challenging stance to bring in the trophy gobblers.
- Very realistic
- Light and collapsible (LCD models)
- Durable (HDR models more so)
- Stakes weak on dense ground
3. Dakota Decoy Company X-Treme Decoys – Easy To Use Decoys
DDC Decoys are a carved by champion hunter Dave Constantine to have the perfect natural form that will drive a big tom out of his head when he sees them. You can almost see the change come over the tom at the sight of a LCD jake when his tail fans out, back ruffles, and that head starts a challenging bob. These are awesome decoys and for an amazing price.
One look at the stance and paint should tell you that you have a killer decoy on your hands. The colors are tone perfect and their body language almost screams their intent. The jakes challenge while the hens lure. That makes for a deadly combo so plan on getting a set to make them work to their best potential.
The Flock Backed Jake is the MVP of DDC’s decoys with its great paint combined with a flocking for a very realistic look and texture. There is nothing wrong with the regular X-treme Jake but it just doesn’t compare. Combine one of those with at least one of the Dual Purpose Hens or Feeding Hens to get a great setup that will last for years.
- Great posture
4. Montana Decoy Company – Easiest to Transport
In the beginning, Montana Decoys were restricted to the printed 2D models and weren’t all that worthy of notice. I am sure they helped bag a few birds but nowhere near as many as what you can get with their latest additions! These 3D targets are the best value on the market right now and will probably be some of the most popular this turkey season.
While there are a few products offered by Montana Decoys, the only ones we are worried about are the Miss Purr-Fect and Jake Purr-Fect. You can get these alone or as a pair which is the best way to get them by far. Their colors are quite good if not spot on and their stance is a natural mate-attracting stance. This makes them killer for big, dominant toms.
The feature that really sets these apart is how small they fold. You can easily fit one in a large cargo pocket or a whole flock in a backpack. This makes getting them in and out of the field as easy as possible. They use a printed surface augmented by paint to get the most realistic colors possible which adds to the rich texture of these fine decoys.
- Small fold
- Lifelike texture
- Less durable
5. Flextone Game Calls Decoys – Best Value Decoys
When it comes to sheer price and quality, these are some of my favorite decoys on the market. They are quite big and bulky to carry in and can make some noise but if you can get around that, these are a go-to for many serious hunters. Especially those that care about value.
These are a hard-bodied decoy but that just means they are durable. The paint is quite good and realistic. I do think the beard on the jake looks a little off but the turkey don’t seem to mind. They have a good overall posture and tend to bring in birds.
There are three models that are really worth getting. The Thunder Jake is a must have from this set and does best when matched with a Thunder Chick Upright or Thunder Chick Feeding. I prefer one of each but would choose the feeding model as I think the posture is better. If you want to save a few bucks, a couple of these will get you started.
- Very affordable
- Very durable
- Slightly less realistic
- Bulky to carry
6. Primos Gobstopper Jake & Hen – Best Beginner Set
We are going to wrap this up with a few options for sets of decoys that get you out in the field as easy as possible. The first of these are the Primos decoys. If anyone knows turkey, it should be Primos who makes many of the most popular calls on the market. Their decoys are quite good if not the best around.
The colors of these birds are pretty good if a little generic. This is more apparent on the Jake than the Hen with its brighter head colors. Still, they have managed to help tons of hunters bring in birds and get good kills. Being affiliated with Real Tree, you see these decoys used on many hunting shows.
The bodies of these birds are collapsible and they come with a mesh carry sack. They are easy to pack in, lightweight, and do a fine job. There are better choices above but for the price and ease, these should do any hunter well and are perfect for those new to the sport who don’t want to make a huge investment.
- Small collapse
- Reasonably lifelike
- Paint looks cheap
- Less durable
How to Set up Turkey Decoys
There are so many people who throw out a few haphazard decoys and hope for the best but you aren’t after ducks here. Turkey take a little more finesse. Use the turkey’s territorial and aggressive nature against them and you can be almost sure to have a better hunting season. Perhaps the best way to kick this off is with the types of decoys and their uses.
If there is one decoy that seems to capture most hunters, it’s the Tom in full plumage. Unfortunately, this is the least useful decoy you can buy and often the most expensive. This doesn’t mean it is useless but that its use is very specific.
A big tom can be intimidating to any smaller toms out there and actively keep them away from where you are set up. The only time you should use a tom is when there is another large, dominant bird in the area and you are after him. In which case, a tom decoy may be just what you are after and will draw him like a magnet.
This only applies to spring use. Fall use of toms is nearly pointless.
Jakes are just young males that are capable of breeding but lack the size and strength to be capable of winning a female. These are a great option for use in the spring to draw in any male that may be around. Whether they are a big tom or even the smallest, there is no way they are going to allow a jake to come on their turf and breed their hens.
In the fall, you can use a jake on a possible feeding plot to accomplish much the same thing. The larger males won’t want the food competition and will come after the young upstart. This makes the jake a very versatile decoy.
You may only have a single top or jake but you will likely want a couple of hens. Hen decoys are unique in the way they are posed. Other decoys may have subtle variations but a hen can be laying down in mating position, standing very erect, or even feeding. Having a variety of these is always handy to meet any conditions.
In the spring, a mating position hen can send a big tom running to her. In the fall, the feeding look signals food and will draw in every turkey around. Setting up several is a great way to lure in turkey without making them feel threatened by other males.
The foremost lesson to be learned about setting up decoys is to make it look natural. Use your scouting trips to see what the dynamics are in your area and set up in a similar fashion. The more you observe turkey the more you will understand what motivates them. Eventually, you will be able to adjust your decoys to make them simulate any situation you like accurately.
Until then, here are a few good tips to get you going:
A very awesome setup for any season is to set a couple of hens on a food pot and place an alert jake facing toward your blind angled slightly off to one side or the other. Most toms will approach a jake head on and usually won’t be paying much attention to anything else.
If you get the setup right and the turkey are there, you will get a good broadside shot at the approaching tom. This is one of the more effective setups you can use.
Setting a tom and a jake facing each other can simulate a conflict and draw other males in ready to take advantage. Use decoys with an aggressive, assertive posture and post up a small tom and a jake. If a big, angry tom catches sight of them you can almost bet he will come running.
Pay attention to feeding turkey and you will notice that it almost always seems while most of the birds are heads down, one will have his head up. This works in spring but absolutely slays in fall. Use a few hens with their heads down a couple with their heads up and throw a jake in for good measure.
If you get a tom coming in, he will most likely go for the jake so make that your focus.
Pick a spot between the wood line and a food plot and face a few hens towards the cover. This alone can be effective but if you add a strutting jake in pursuit, it will only add to the realism and put a rush on any excitable tom in sight range.
This is a good late morning and evening setup but can be effective most times. If you are setting up early in the morning, try reversing this just make sure you give yourself space away from the wood line to get a good shot.
If you get a setup of mating decoys, they can be very effective. The sight of an immature jake on a hen will fill a dominant tom with rage. If you do this, put them on the outskirts of any other decoys and make sure there are no other toms or jakes in your setup.
There are two common mistakes hunters use with decoys. The first we discussed above and that is the overuse of big tom decoys. This can actively prevent you from getting a shot at a turkey. For new hunters, you are much better off not even bothering with a tom decoy at all. Until you have some practice with how turkeys react, spend your money on jakes and hens.
The second mistake is using too many decoys. The most obvious mistake would be using multiple toms and jakes. The mantra should be only one male! If you do have two males, they will be confronting each other as discussed above. There will never be a time you need 3 male decoys and only 1 of those a tom.
When it comes to hens, keep it simple. You could put a dozen out there and it would be without reason but that puts a lot variation into how you may have to shoot. Most likely you will be concealed or in a blind. You want your shots in a narrow space so keep your decoy count down to a space you can cover well.
Starting out, a couple of hens and a jake will do all you need to do. I will usually take this setup with me and decide how I want to use them when I see my spot. Don’t let your decoys dictate your hunting zone, use your hunting zone to dictate your decoy setup.
These are the views of a single hunter but you know that every other hunter has their own preferences and can argue everything here. You have to find your own way and what works for you. This is a guide that should work for bow or shotgun in a variety of terrains with any species of turkey. Give them a shot and see if you are more successful this year.