Go to any sporting goods store and your likely to see a wide range of turkey decoys ranging from just a few bucks to some running over one-hundred dollars apiece. Often we find ourselves wondering what the difference is, and if the extra cost worth it. The answer is multi-faceted.
The cost of a decoy is always directly related to the expense involved of creating and painting a decoy to look realistic.
The most commonly found decoys are cheap, foam-bodied, collapsible models that lack realism. The painted on details only fool the youngest or most desperate toms. Given a little use the foam bodies start to have a memory that cause the bodies to stay concave instead of puffing out, or the seams come apart However, their light weight and compactness when stored make them desirable for hunting remote locations with lots of travel.
Do they fool turkeys? Yes. As a testament to their drawing power, during the Wisconsin spring 2016 season Earl Hilderbrant had his foam hen decoy set out and was trying to call in a love-sick tom. What he got was a hungry eagle. To his amazement, an eagle swooped down, snatched the decoy, and proceeded to rip it to shreds trying to get a free turkey dinner. Turkeys have the same vision as an eagle, so it’s hard to dispute the fact that cheap decoys do work.
Other cheap options are what some hunters jokingly call inflatable “blow up dolls”. For one low price an entire flock comes in a box. While this is an inexpensive option, the decoys can develop small leaks which cause the decoys to deflate and sag in a very unrealistic manner.
With a step up in cost, there are a multitude of mid-range decoys. They have more detail to add to the realism and they stand up to more abuse, but some brands still develop a tendency to not fully “pop” out when deployed.
While in the mid-range market, the new for 2017 Flextone Thunder series decoys’ realistic features rival more expensive decoys. (They are a sister company to Avian X.) If there is one decoy that run ‘n gun hunters should think about, it’s the Flextone Thunder Upright Hen with relaxed posture that will put pressured gobblers at ease. Unlike inflatable decoys, they can take a hit from stray shotgun pellets without catastrophic damage.
At the upper end of the price spectrum are Avian X, David Smith Decoys, and Deception Decoys. These brands have an avid, if not passionate following. Some may find that odd because of their expense, but they are also considered the most realistic decoys on the market, and that is extremely important to hunters like Derek Craig of New Day Outdoors.
“The huge advantage to an ultra-realistic decoy is obviously the drawing power, but even better is the HOLDING power. Turkeys lock in on them, come right in, and generally stay in the decoys. This is very valuable when bow hunting birds, videoing hunts, and exposing new hunters (especially kids) to turkey hunting. I have used every decoy you can imagine and nothing works as consistently as an ultra-realistic decoy, short of a real turkey mount.”
With each David Smith decoy retailing for well over a $100, some hunters balk at buying such an expensive decoy. Craig understands. “These decoys are not for everyone. Yes, they are expensive. But they’re a buy once, cry once purchase.”
The ultra-realistic decoys have another drawback. “Most don’t collapse like a “foamy”, so run and gun hunting can be tougher,” Craig explains, but he also has a warning. “Yes, they not only fool turkeys, but other hunters, so be sure of where you are hunting.”
Some hunters question the wisdom of using a tom decoy because they can intimidate younger toms and keep them from coming in. Almost every experienced hunter feels the best set up is to have a jake tending a receptive hen. Craig agrees. “My favorite spread is a DSD Jake and 2 or 3 DSD hens. I sometimes swap out my DSD strutter for the Jake decoy.
Of the dozens of hunters that were surveyed, most agreed that the more realistic decoys gave better results, even on skittish toms. “I have tons of videos on my YouTube channel that show the drawing and holding power of these decoys spreads, Craig offered. “There’s nothing better than watching a tom trash your spread at seven yards for ten minutes before you decide to shoot.”
Do you need expensive decoys to hunt turkeys? Ray Eye, a well-known turkey hunter and guide that has hunted all over the North American continent, says no. His catch-phrase is “Calling is everything!” meaning calling realistically is more important than decoys.
In fact many run n’ gun hunters don’t carry a decoy, or carry a hen decoy at most. In reality, the decoy is just a point of focus for the gobbler. Without the decoy the turkey would be searching for the hen and more aware of his surroundings. By using a decoy a hunter can get away with more movement.
So this goes back to the question, how lifelike does a decoy need to be? Many hunters feel the more realistic the decoy is, the better their chances of bagging their tom. At that point it boils down to the psychology of confidence. If a hunter has low confidence in their skills or gear, they are more likely to give up sooner or not try as hard. A hunter with higher confidence in their gear or abilities will tend to stay in the field longer, walk farther, and hunt harder. Those are key elements to success in any facet of life.