Decoys are effective on gobblers, but let’s use them safely
Last week was pretty quiet in the turkey woods. Five days without hearing a gobble was beginning to make me wonder what I was doing there. I knew better than to quit because despite the silence, tracks in the mud and fresh turkey droppings indicated the birds were there – somewhere.
It was another quiet Friday when I decided better days were ahead, so by 11 a.m. I decided to head back to my truck. The easiest way out was along an old logging road that wound through the woods. Trekking up a slight grade and rounding a turn in the road, my heart nearly stopped when I saw a mature gobbler and hen standing on the road in front of me. The sight made me freeze in my tracks, and as I eased the gun from my shoulder, it took just another second to realize I had been fooled.
Sometime after my predawn arrival, another hunter, a neighbor, decided to hunt these same woods and set up a realistic gobbler and hen decoy on the road. I’ve hunted turkeys in the spring time ever since Pennsylvania and New York initiated a spring hunting season in the late ’60s and early 1970s and I’ve learned turkey hunters by nature blend in with their surroundings. The decoys fooled me, and as I eased the gun back over my shoulder, I spotted the hunter sitting against a large beech tree about 30 yards away. It was late and, despite my intrusion, the hunt wasn’t ruined for either of us, but it could have been.
Safety has always been a priority for me, especially when turkey hunting because hunters using decoys have become more prevalent every year. This means every person going into the spring woods must be extra careful so as not to cause or be the victim of a shooting incident.
The simple reason decoys are popular with many turkey hunters is that they work, and if they can fool a real turkey they can fool a hunter. Personally, I don’t use decoys because I get more satisfaction by bringing a gobbler in to my call rather than by sitting in a blind with a spread of decoys in front of me waiting for one to show up. That being said, I take no issue with anyone who prefers to hunt over a realistic decoy setup because they are highly effective and account for the demise of thousands of gobblers every spring.
On the way home that morning, I thought about the safety aspect of using a decoy and wondered how careful the hunter I encountered was when he transported his decoys through the woods. Did he transport them in a carry bag or backpack? Perhaps he should have had a blaze orange flag or rag near the setup to warn other hunters like myself.
When using a decoy setup in an area where another hunter might be encountered, it’s beyond wise to play it safe. If you see another hunter stalking your decoy setup, call out in a loud, clear voice to warn them, and never wave or make a turkey sound to get their attention. Finally, before getting up to move, carefully scan the area in case another hunter is stalking your setup. While not specifically banned in New York, for safety reasons, the DEC recommends hunters not stalk turkeys. New York hunters should be advised it’s illegal to hunt turkeys in neighboring Pennsylvania by stalking them. Hunting is by calling only.
By following a few common sense safety rules, we can ensure a safe season for all of us.