Still have a turkey tag or two come the last week of the season? Never fear, with the right tactics, you can go out and get a gobbler in the dense spring foliage. One of the most important things you should calibrate to the late season specifically is your decoy setup. Here are six of the best ways to do that.
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Factors Affecting Late Season Turkey Decoy Setup
Perhaps the most important and unique aspect of hunting in the late season is that the spring foliage will grow in. In fact, it can come in surprising quickly. One weekend you can see to the horizon while the next weekend you only have 10 yards of visibility.
The increased foliage in the late season really changes the decoy game. Specifically, it means you’ll have to play around with your setup and position to get maximum visibility.
Weary, Wary Toms
Also very relevant to your setup, toms, even the toughest, most dominant ones, are worn out by the time the late season comes around. They’ve been fighting for weeks and have probably come out of a few scuffles worse for wear. Most of the hens have already been bred anyway, so they’re less likely to risk their neck fighting another big tom.
The toms’ increased risk aversion really limits the kinds of decoy setups you can use.
A factor that many hunters overlook in the late season is the change in hen behavior. Later in the season they get a bit tired of the whole mating thing and start venturing out on their own to find food. When using hens with your decoy setup, you need to imitate this behavior.
6 Tips for Late Season Turkey Decoy Setup
The things all turkey hunters agree on are few and far between, but I’ve found that one of them is that you should leave the tom decoys at home during the late season. Since toms are so tired of fighting by the late season, they won’t be drawn in by a hen with a tom. Quite the opposite, they’ll keep moving along. The fight isn’t worth the risk.
A jake is another story. If a tom sees a jake with a hen, he may get jealous and still be confident he can win the fight with little effort. Therefore, I recommend a late season decoy setup consisting of a jake and hen.
If you prefer, you can also use a lone hen. This fits hen behavior anyway since they tend to venture out on their own in the late season.
The Illusion of Leaving
One way to prompt a feeling of urgency in and overcome the wariness of nearby toms is to make it seem like your decoys are on the move. Place a hen and jake in a straight line so that it looks like the jake is chasing the hen out of an open area into the thick of the woods. Seeing this, a tom will feel the need to make a quick decision, giving him less time to become suspicious of the decoy or decide the hen isn’t worth the fight.
Close the Distance
Due to the thicker foliage in the late season, you won’t be able to hunt as wide an area. There’s not much way around it. If you put your decoy too far away from you, a tom might come near it but still be hidden by foliage.
Aside from trying to find as open an area as possible to place your decoys, your best bet is to keep them within 10 to 20 yards of your turkey hunting chair. Try to make sure this also gives you another 10 to 20 yards of at least semi-visibility around the decoy as well.
Monkey in the Middle
An advanced tactic is to solve the foliage issue by actually sitting between the decoy and where you expect toms to come from. This means they’re more likely to come in range and may even walk right past you.
Of course, this turkey hunting tip isn’t really for newbies. Your camo and scent-killing games need to be on point. Plus, you have to be skilled at holding still and steady, even when aiming. You need to keep your rifle, crossbow or bow in a position that requires little movement to aim.
Call Without a Decoy
Another decoy setup tip… is to just not use a decoy at all. The idea here is to use the foliage to your advantage and create a scenario where nearby toms think there’s a hen close but can’t seem to find it.
To do this, leave the decoys at home and instead use confident but infrequent calling. When you hear a gobbler getting close, cut down the calling to almost nothing. The frustrated tom will start adopting riskier behavior to find the source of the call… like walking into your sights.
The biggest issue with the late season is that gobbler behavior is much less predictable. This means that you can’t stick to just one decoy strategy. I definitely recommend experimenting with different setups to see what works.
Similarly, don’t get too frustrated if a decoy setup doesn’t work. There’s a certain amount of luck involved in late season turkey hunting, so have fun with it.