“How many turkey decoys should I put out?” is a very common question. The question itself has no correct or incorrect answer, so let’s look at some of the most common turkey decoy set ups and why they are popular.
How many turkey decoys should I use in the early season?
To pick how many turkey decoys to use early season, let’s take a peek at what the birds themselves are doing. Early season finds the birds in groups of several hens for every tom. You may have 13 hens and two toms, or one tom and four hens. The birds are together for most of the day and are actively breeding every day. The group will remain together until the hens begin the egg-laying process and split from the group for a few hours each day to select a nest and begin the egg laying process. Gear your decoy selection to the reaction you are looking for.
I like to run a lone jake or tom decoy this time of year. The hens are dictating where the train goes, and they are not partial to having other ladies join their established group. They will come visit another male bird, and if they swing close enough the boss tom will often close on your fake and attack. If you do run a hen this time of year, a solid turkey decoy tactic is to mock the vocals of the lead hen in an effort to bring her in for a fight. The tactic works well, but you must be fairly proficient at wide range of turkey calls, and mock the cadence and call sequence of that lead hen as closely as possible.
As the season progresses, the dynamics of your flock will change, and the number of turkey decoys you set out has reasons to change as well.
How many turkey decoys should I use mid-season?
Mid-season finds the birds spending less and less time together. The hens have enough semen and developing eggs for the nesting season, and no longer need to breed. They will continue to breed off and on, but recognize how the group has changed socially, and change how many turkey decoys you use to create scenarios that illicit a response.
The toms spend a good portion of the day in specific strutting zones right now, strutting and gobbling to attract hens that are receptive to breeding. Scout hard and find these spots to set your decoys. How many turkey decoys you use here has a lot of variation, so make your decision based upon what you think the tom is thinking. I prefer to run a lone jake in this situation. I am placing a lesser bird in his kingdom, and I am hoping he will attack the jake decoy offering close shot. If you find your target tom shies away from the jake, try two or three hens a couple days later to see what happens. If one set fails, change with season and the demeanor of the birds for success. Don’t be afraid to mix up how many turkey decoys you use.
Late season we see another shift, and it’s time to rethink our sets again. The hens are rarely willing to breed and the toms are worn out from fighting and strutting all spring. Often late season is a time to scale back the aggressive nature of our set, as the toms become tired and less aggressive.
How many turkey decoys should I use in the late season?
Late season finds hens on the nest and toms on the prowl. Most are tired of fighting, but some will still welcome a brawl. I like to start with one or two hens this time of year, as the boys are searching for love and it is getting tough to find. If you are working a tom and he sees your hens but will not close, it is time to add a jake. Nature dictates that when the hens are ready to breed they come to the toms. Older toms learn this and often resist the urge to run toward every hen call they hear. They would rather sit tight and gobble and strut to draw willing hens to their side. A semi strut jake can draw these tough birds close.
How many turkey decoys you decide to use is a personal choice in the end, but try not to get stuck on one style of set. What works well this week may not perform next week, and having a little knowledge of the nature of the wild turkeys breeding season will help you change your plans. Good luck this spring, and let me know how many turkey decoys works best for you.
Images courtesy Brooks Johnson