Author out-decoyed by his own decoys

If you, like me, still are waiting for your 2017 spring longbeard turkey to show up, head and neck silhouetted above your shotgun bead, make a note to self: Details, details, details.

I blew a golden opportunity on a nice, fat gobbler opening morning because I ignored my own advice. I had accounted for almost everything, but at the critical moment I was betrayed by my decoy. Here’s the story, and the lesson:

I was hunting on the farm of my good buddy, Chip Hart, of Cincinnati travel-sport-vacation-boat show fame, and 700WLW outdoors radio host. It is an annual rite — we are serious about enjoying time together afield, but neither of us goes home in a snit if we do not kill turkeys. Still…

Opening morning, after being out in the beautifully maintained (for wildlife) acres of Chip’s rolling woods and fields since before dawn, we finally heard some staccato gobbling that drew us stealthily to a pasture/cedars fenceline. A band of five jakes was strutting around, but we could not get into a position to connect. Too many nervous eyes and ears. Presently, the jakes moved off, we moved in, and set up a couple of decoys – the lightweight, foam/fold-up kind that perch on pointed stakes.

Flaky Jake and Henny Penny, as I call them, work fine. Except in a breeze. Then they tend to spin and sway unnaturally back and forth on their stakes when the wind blows. And I knew this. The herky-jerky shortcoming has cost me before by signaling to an incoming bird that something is not right. My bad. But I never bothered to try to remedy the shortcoming in the design, though I otherwise am quite pleased with these portable fakers. Indeed, my bad.

So, about 11:15 a.m., a hen calls hard, twice, in our neighborhood. Immediately, a gobbler responds. I grab my trusty box call, which has a hard, loud voice when I work it well. The bird gobbled immediately to my call, apparently thinking I was the real hen nearby. He swooped in.

I could see the longbeard, just 10 yards away, but silhouetted heavily by a thick red cedar tree. He came right in the old trail on which I had set one of my decoys. Right where I wanted him. Two more steps and he was mine. The bird had not detected me — I was frozen in shooting pose, ready to squeeze. That’s when an errant but stout breeze decided to blow and the decoy started shucking and jiving in a most unturkey-like way. The gobbler was not having any of it.

He turned and moved off, suddenly his back in my sights. But I was not about to take a low-percentage shot. I quickly called back to him and he immediately gobbled back. But he would not turn. I was outdecoyed by my own decoy.

That night in the farmhouse, I used some camo tape to reduce the size of the stake-entry holes in my decoys’ bellies, this to make it necessary to force the mounting stake through. And I increased the diameter of the stakes at the belly lines with thick, sloppy wraps of tape. It was a field fix, but it worked just fine – if too late for the opening morning longbeard.

Next day, neither decoy moved a muscle in the errant zephyrs. Sadly for me, no longbeards slipped into gun range, either. A hard lesson learned. Details, details, details. So I get to hunt the last two weeks of the season — with decoys that do not shuck and jive in the wind.

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