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Updated Mar 15, 2023 2:26 PM
To be honest, I don’t know how many turkeys I’d killed before I set my first turkey decoys; probably a dozen or more. The way I was taught, the hunter made the yelps and the clucks and the purrs, and then let the gobbler search me out. If everything went as planned, while he was snooping around looking for that pretty little hen he’d heard, 1-3/4 ounces of #6 shot ruined his morning. He was rewarded not with a mate, but a ride in the back of my Grandpa’s pickup truck.
But things, as they’re wont to do, have changed in the world of turkey hunting. Today, a decoy of some kind is almost as integral a part of the process as is our calls, shotguns, shotshells, and turkey vest. And, like each of these pieces of essential hunting gear, turkey decoys are practically without number and variation. Hard high-tech composition decoys. Foldable plastics. Inflatables. Stand-still. Motion. Ten dollars apiece, and ultra-realistic true-to-life faux hens costing $130 or more.
It can be a challenge, particularly should you be new to the sport, to answer the questions: Which decoy is best? What do I need? Well, Field & Stream provides insight as to some of the best turkey decoys available today, and answers those questions and then some.
How We Picked The Best Turkey Decoys
I tend to be very hard on gear, especially my turkey and waterfowl stuff. At the end of a six-week season, some of this gear is still in my vest. To ensure they stand up to rough use, these are the criteria I use when I’m looking to add another turkey decoy to my already existing flock:
- Price Point: Can I afford it, plain and simple? Is the price point in line with how I expect this turkey decoy to perform afield? And does the price reflect the years of service I should get out of it?
- Realism/Naturalism: Yes, I’ve killed turkeys over decoys that looked nothing like turkeys, or only vaguely so. Still, I’d really like a turkey decoy to appear as much like the real thing as possible given my financial parameters.
- Construction: Turkey decoys are like anything else crafted at the hands of Man. There’s good, and there’s not-so-good. Seams can split on foldable decoys. Stakes break. Paint flakes and chips. Nylon bristle ‘beards’ crumble. I look quite carefully at how a decoy is put together and ensure that the quality lives up to the price tag.
- Stake System: I don’t want to have to perform gymnastic movements to get a stake ready to use, stick said stake securely in the ground, and the decoy atop the stake. And once secured, I don’t wish to see my decoy blowing across the field. I want it simple, and I want it secure. And I want to be able to buy a second stake, just the stake, because I’m going to lose the first one.
- Motion vs. Stationary: I believe motion can clinch the deal when it comes to seducing a reluctant gobbler. However, it’s possible to have too much of this good thing. It’s also possible to have to rely on tugging a string, pushing a button, or carrying extra batteries to guarantee that motion. So, I’m looking at two things. Does the decoy move, and if so, how? Is it simple to operate? And if the decoy doesn’t move, can I modify it and make it move?
- Ease of Transportation: Decoys are often bulky, big, and awkward to carry. So, I gave points to those that are easy to pack into the field. I’m primarily a run and gun hunter, so I want my decoys to be very easy to take with me as I cover ground.
The Best Turkey Decoys: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Avian-X LCD Hen
Why It Made the Cut: This one has it all. It looks plum real. It can be folded up or carried ready to use. It’s durable and rugged. And it flat out fools turkeys.
- Taller profile works well in late season foliage
- Collapsible but inflates up in seconds
- Dura-Rubber construction is quiet
- Natural but not over-exaggerated motion
- Ultra-realistic feather and paint detail
- Smaller than a real hen, so it’s easy to carry
- Foldable one-piece lightweight carbon stake
- Durable enough to withstand a healthy dose of #5 shot
I’ve hunted over a lot of different turkey decoys. For the money, I don’t believe I’ve ever had any work as well, nor last as long, as have my Avian-X LCRs. Today, my ‘flock’ consists of four hens in various postures and a half-strut jake. That jake took a right nice pounding from my stepson’s Mossberg M835 at less than 25 yards several years ago. Oh, he still rattles all right, but there’s no problem with his functioning at all.
Legendary goose caller and carver, Fred Zink, was the mastermind behind the Avian-X line of decoys, waterfowl and turkeys both, and that becomes obvious once you’ve taken a good look at the LCD decoy. LCD, by the way, stands for Lifelike Collapsible Decoy, and its both lifelike and collapsible. Feather detail, body posture, paint scheme; it’s all there, and it’s all excellent. As for the collapsible part of the equation, each LCD decoy uses a small ‘pop’ valve under the tail to inflate/deflate. Pull it out, and the decoy can be compressed, folded, and secured with an included strap. In position, two or three breaths into the valve, push it closed, and she’s ready for action. Simple, and trust me, you won’t faint blowing it up.
Most Realistic: Dave Smith
Why It Made the Cut: I know the buzz is all about how much Dave Smith’s decoys cost, but these are, without question, the ’58 Corvette of turkey decoys. Real turkeys don’t look this good. Fact.
- Unmatched realism
- Advanced Crosslink Elastomer (ACE) technology construction is self-healing with minimal damage if shot with shotgun/bow
- Extremely quiet material retains its shape under wide range of temperature conditions
- Made in the USA
- Head up posture attracts gobblers as well as dominant hens
- Taller height shows up well in higher foliage
- Lightweight and easy to pack around
- Excellent customer service, the owners stand behind their products
Don’t confuse this with a shameless plug; I don’t own Dave Smith Decoys (DSD), but I’ve hunted over them many times over the years. Short of a taxidermy hen, you’re not going to find a more realistic looking turkey decoy. Yes, all this realism and technology and, I’ll guess, that DSD proof-mark come with a price, as in $140 for Smith’s upright hen and almost $600 for a four-pack (3 hens/half-strut jake). However, this is an investment, remember? You’re shooting a $1,000 shotgun with an $80 choke tube. And those tungsten super-shot shotshells? They cost $13 each! So, is this one-time investment really that much?
Best Jake: Avian X Half-Strut Jake
Why It Made the Cut: You have the best of both worlds here: submissive jake and full strut gobbler. From one of the most recognized names in the business, Avian-X.
- Collapsible design makes for easy transport
- Dura-Rubber construction is tough yet lightweight
- Excellent feather detail and paint with true-to-life short ‘jake’ beard
- Realistic body posture infuriates dominant gobblers
- Subdominant posture works on jakes and gobblers both
- Good staking system includes breakdown stake
- Big, yet easy to carry with quiet set up
- Excellent choice for archers and those sitting ground blinds
- Too much white on the head makes the decoy appear overly aggressive
- Expensive price
I’ve relied on Zink’s Avian-X half-strut jake since it was introduced over a decade ago. I can’t tell you how many longbeards have earned a ride in the back of my Grandpa’s pickup simply because they couldn’t resist trying to beat this young whippersnapper up. I’m convinced it works well if you run across the right gobbler. Try it with late season, tired adult birds, and you might encounter some reluctance. However, it’s a fantastic early season decoy almost anywhere in the country.
It’s big and bulky to carry (It’s a life-size jake, remember?), but the included tote bag makes things easier. The one point of order I noticed right out of the box was the amount of white on the head. This can make the jake appear ‘angry’ and aggressive, possibly causing adult subdominant toms to shy away. Julie, my wife, remedied this with a red marker, toning down the head roughly 50 percent. Problem solved.
As for the price, you’re making an investment. Buying a well-made, realistic turkey decoy should provide you with years of service, not to mention a long tally of gobblers.
Best Full-Strut Gobbler: Higdon TruStrutter
Why It Made the Cut: Realistic motion and incredible attention to detail make the TruStrutter excellent for those wishing a little gobbler-on-gobbler action.
- Side-to-side movement attracts/holds attention
- Magnetic fan mount is quick and easy, compatible with included synthetic or natural fans
- Raised feather detail and iridescent paint patterns with black flocking on back and rump
- Long-run life from Lithium-ion battery
- Side-to-side motion is eye-catching
- Ability to incorporate natural fan is a plus
- Convenient handle underneath tail makes carrying a breeze
- Battery operation affords round-the-clock motion, if desired
- Motion depends on battery operation and use of handheld remote
- Electronic decoys prohibited in some states
- High cost
There’s no denying the motion generated by a fake gobbler like Higdon’s TruStrutter can be the deciding factor when it comes to convincing that wary old longbeard to walk or sprint those final 50 yards into your set-up. Aside from the price tag, which is undeniably right up there, there’s not much bad that can be said about the TruStrutter.
The colors are right. The posture is right. The motion is there. The ability to swap out the included synthetic fan for a natural, i.e. real fan, is a definite winner. You will need to confirm electronic decoys are indeed allowed in your hunt-state prior to staking the TruStrutter out. Other than that, he can be a valuable asset.
You either love electronic decoys, or you hate electronic decoys. They have their place, I reckon. However, I’m of a mind that once you throw batteries into the equation, it creates the possibility of an entirely new segment of potential problems. That’s just me.
Best Budget: Primos Lil Gobstopper Jake/Hen Combo
Why It Made the Cut: Two good-looking decoys, jake and hen, that should do the job just fine. All for right around $50.
- Lightweight and easy to carry collapsible design with two-piece stake
- Raised feather detail with true-to-life duller finish
- Smaller size doesn’t promote jake-to-gobbler intimidation
- Product comes from a well-respected name in the industry
- Hen features two-hole design offering ‘head up’ and ‘feeder’ postures
- Excellent head coloration on jake decoy
- Quick and easy deployment afield
- Limited motion but it’s there; secure in windy conditions
- Metal stakes need to be carried separately for the sake of silence
- Two-part stake system is a touch cumbersome
- Collapsible but still a handful to carry when packing both jake and hen
I’ll be honest. I thought this trend of making turkey decoys, particularly jakes and half-strut jakes, smaller to not intimidate longbeards was just a clever marketing ploy. Today, though, I see it a little differently. Not only are smaller decoys more convenient to carry, but I do also believe there’s a lot of credence to the “Let’s pick on the small guy” theory. The only caveat with these downsized (20-percent smaller) decoys is visibility during the late season when vegetation can prove problematic. But in open fields, this wouldn’t be an issue.
Whether you’re a new turkey hunter or looking for something new, different, and portable this Primos jake-hen combo is a great buy. The overall coloration of both jake and hen isn’t overly brilliant or reflective, but it’s realistic. While I’d prefer a one-piece stake, Primos’ two-parter, seems secure enough with the upper being static to the decoy. And, it does allow for limited movement with a little wind.
Best for Reaping: MOJO Outdoors Scoot ‘N Shoot Gunner
Why It Made the Cut: For those who employ the ‘reaping’ or ‘fanning’ style of turkey hunting, MOJO’s Scoot ‘n Shoot Gunner takes the hassle out of both scooting and shooting.
- Completely conceals hunter without obstructing visibility
- Realistic looking wing and fan combination
- Aggressive (white) and contented (red) heads included
- Convenient to transport; fits easily in the back of a turkey vest
- Built-in bipod allows for steady rested shooting (when possible)
- Simple, easy to use design djusts to fit most single-barrel shotguns
- Artificial fan features see-thru mesh for good visibility while offering concealment
- Rapid deployment lets you hide in plain sight
- Hunter safety issues involved
- Can be unwieldy in some situations
- Difficult to shoot at running/flying bird with ‘fan’ attached
Let me get this out of the way first. If you decide to hide behind something that appears to be a full strut gobbler during turkey season, you need to take some mighty serious precautions so that someone isn’t going to misinterpret what they’re seeing as the real deal and create an issue. I would think this is a private land scenario, but it truly boils down to a case-by-case situation.
That said, fanning or reaping can be an effective tactic, particularly on stubborn henned-up gobblers. And Mojo Outdoors, a well-known name in the decoy trade, has put a lot of thought into making their Scoot ‘n Shoot Gunner as user-friendly as possible. It’s large enough to hide behind, but not so big and bulky as to make seeing and, hopefully shooting, a problem. If you do miss that first shot, I’m afraid putting a hit on a running/flying gobbler with the Gunner in place would indeed be an achievement.
The Scoot ‘n Shoot Gunner definitely falls under the ‘Pulling Out All the Stops’ category. But, with the right safety measures in place, it can help transform a fickle gobbler into Thanksgiving’s guest of honor in short order.
For more on reaping turkeys, check out our article filled with reaping tips. We also have some info on turkey reaping bans you should be aware of.
Things to Consider Before Buying The Best Turkey Decoys
Doesn’t really matter what you’re buying—new car, bowling ball, shotgun, or black lab pup—there are variables to be considered. Everything you purchase, turkey decoys included, is an investment of both time and money. Why buy a particular item if you’re basically ignorant of whether that item is going to serve your purposes? Or, if it’s going to work as intended.
So that’s where we’re at here with turkey decoys. What should you know before pulling your wallet out of your pocket?
The best turkey decoys on the planet do you no good if you can’t afford them. Before you shop, decide the low end, as well as the high end, of your price range. Are Dave Smith Decoys, incredible though they may be, out of your price range? Is $30 or $40 more in your ballpark? Face facts. Check your finances and get the best turkey decoys you can reasonably afford.
I’m not lying when I say there are turkey decoys on the market today that look more realistic than the real thing. And I believe realism does make a difference when it comes to getting a gobbler close and convincing him to stick around. A high level of realism often does come with a larger price tag, so it’s a balancing act. How real will your wallet allow?
Let’s face it. I don’t expect a $100 Pontiac Grand Am to give me 200,000 trouble-free miles. And I don’t expect a $15 turkey decoy to last 10 seasons. It might, but it likely won’t. Still, I want a decoy that, again based on the flexibility of my wallet, will provide me multiple years of service afield. Does it look durable? Does it feel rugged and dependable? Is it going to last?
One of the best turkey decoys I’ve ever owned was also one of the worst. Fully flocked and realistic as could be, but it was hard plastic and carried in the field like an unfolded hide-a-bed. Some are still like that; however, there are plenty of decoys on the market that list ‘portability’ as one of the main selling points. Do you want something that’s easy to carry? Foldable? Or do you not mind toting a couch? The bottom line is: how portable is it?
Simple is good. Lightweight and simple is even better. Lightweight, simple, and allowing for some degree of motion is best. Some stake systems are a separate unit; others are integrated into the decoy itself. Some are reminiscent of the television antennas of old. (GOOGLE an image!) The ability to stake the decoy quickly and securely can make-or-break the decision to purchase. Examine this variable closely.
A decoy that can “move,” per se, adds an entirely new dimension to the illusion you’re trying to create. However, too much motion, like a lightweight decoy that spins around madly like Linda Blair’s head in The Exorcist, can be a little intimidating to even the meanest gobbler. As for strings and batteries, they’re just another thing to go wrong, die, or otherwise prove problematic at the worst possible time. That all said, what type of motion, if any, is the decoy capable of?
If you are a beginning turkey hunter, or are just looking for some additional tips and tricks to help you this season, be sure to read the following articles. Check out our tips for finding overlooked turkey hunting spots. While there’s a lot of great info on hunting eastern gobblers, the west is often overlooked. Be sure to check out our article on how to hunt western turkeys if that’s where you’ll be hunting. If you also chase Toms in the autumn, take a look at our tips for hunting fall turkeys. And be sure to check out our roundup of the best new turkey hunting gear.
Q: Are decoys necessary for turkey hunting?
Absolutely not. I’ve killed plenty of gobblers without decoys over the past 30 years. However, decoys can be a useful addition to your turkey hunting toolbox when used correctly.
Decoys work by completing the illusion you’re trying to present with your turkey call. You’ve given him something to hear, now you’re giving him something to see. The scenario appears, to the gobbler, to be legitimate. Decoys can bring a hesitant tom closer, sometimes within feet of a ground blind, making them a great option for archers.
Q: How much do turkey decoys cost?
You can buy a foam hen decoy for as little as $10, and there’s a good chance it will work just fine. Or you can spend $150 for a single hen decoy, and she might work just fine, or not at all. Cheap doesn’t always mean poor quality; expensive isn’t always buying you the very best. A fair answer here would be $10 to $150 for a single hen turkey decoy, and anything in between.
Q: Do decoys scare turkeys?
Decoys can scare turkeys. A full-strut gobbler decoy can possibly intimidate a less dominant, albeit mature tom, causing him to scurry away at high speed. A jake decoy can frighten adult gobblers, if there happens to be a pack of mean-spirited jakes roaming your property and causing mayhem.
And yes, even hen decoys can create a problem should a longbeard low on the pecking order show up on-scene and be reluctant to approach the dominant bird’s ‘girl.’ Does this mean you shouldn’t use them? No, but the better you know the birds you’re hunting, the better prepared you’ll be to answer the question: Decoy, or no decoy?
Final Thoughts on the Best Turkey Decoys
Any time I step into the spring woods in search of that next willing gobbler, I have at least one hen decoy with me. Often, it’s two hens and a jake. If you’re searching for your next fake turkey, be it gobbler or hen, you really can’t go wrong with any from the list above. Happy hunting.
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