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Creating illusion in the turkey woods leads to success

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
Bill Bassinger demonstrates the three-bird setup he uses when hunting turkeys — a sitting and a standing hen out front with a jake a few feet behind — Friday, April 26, 2013, at his Boggs Township home.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Bill Bassinger demonstrates the three-bird setup he uses when hunting turkeys — a sitting and a standing hen out front with a jake a few feet behind — Friday, April 26, 2013, at his Boggs Township home.

When Bill Bassinger talks to kids about what it takes to be a successful turkey hunter, he offers three pieces of advice.

The first is, don't move. The second is, don't move. The third? Don't move.

Violate any of the three rules and a gobbler likely will spot you and be gone long before you can draw a bead on him, said the Kittanning man.

“Their heads just never stop, and their eyesight is just unbelievable,” Bassinger said. “They're on a swivel all the time, just looking.”

Bassinger combats that by giving suspicious gobblers something else to look for besides himself. He hunts often, if not always, with a turkey decoy or three.

He's far from being alone that way.

There was a time when turkey decoys were unheard of. That's changed in more recent times, to the point now that many consider them as essential as their calls. That will be obvious again in the coming weeks — turkey season opened Saturday and continues through May 31 — when fake birds will fill the woods.

“If turkey hunters have an empty pocket in their turkey vest, they've got to fill it with something. Decoys are another tool that some hunters swear by,” said Kristen Giger, a project biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation based in Warren.

They're growing more popular because they work, said Tad Brown, a Missouri turkey hunter and product developer for Flambeau Outdoors.

A former guide, he and his brother made their first turkey decoy more than 25 years ago. It was a plywood silhouette of a bird, with Styrofoam glued to the sides to give the body shape and real turkey wing feathers wired to it for color.

Today, hunters can buy any and all manner of decoys, from those mimicking hens to others meant to look like jakes and mature gobblers. They come in all manner of poses, from standing to feeding to even breeding. Some are meant to elicit an aggressive or jealous response from male birds; others are meant to attract hens that might pull in a trailing gobbler.

All work best if they make birds feel comfortable, Brown said.

“A decoy paints a more realistic picture of what's going on. It makes a situation look right,” Brown said. “And the better job you can do creating the illusion that everything is good, the better your chances of success.”

How realistic a decoy looks is not the most important thing, Giger said.

“The idea is not for a gobbler to come in and check the decoy out too closely, though we've all seen video of birds attacking or trying to mate with decoys,” she said. “The idea is to bring a gobbler within gun range. The hope is that by the time he gets close to the decoy, you're ready to pull the trigger.”

There are tricks to making that happen.

Bassinger prefers using two hens and a jake, with the idea that a mature gobbler will see that kind of mini-flock and try to take over.

“When a longbeard gobbler comes in, he sees that jake and maybe gets mad, then he'll come in to fight. That's when I surprise him with a load from my shotgun,” Bassinger said. “I've done that many times.”

Brown's ideal setup involves putting out four decoys — after dark the night before a hunt if possible — with one being a hen looking ready to be bred, another a combination gobbler/hen in the midst of breeding, and a couple of feeding hens.

He always positions the birds so that they're partially concealed and facing toward him, too.

“If a gobbler thinks a hen is looking at him and pointed in his direction, he may think, ‘I'll just wait for her to come to me.' If the hen's pointed away from him and toward me, though, and it looks like they're walking away from him, he's got to hurry and catch up if he wants to meet her,” Brown said.

“That brings him right in to where you are waiting.”

Of course, decoys aren't foolproof turkey getters. Some, like Bassinger, think turkeys shot at and missed over time become decoy shy. Others, like Brown, doubt the birds make the connection between decoys and danger.

Both, though, agree they're often worth using.

“Being able to call a bird into you, that's the fun of the sport. That's why it's my passion,” Bassinger said. “But a decoy can really help sometimes. The combination of the two, calling and a decoy, it's worth the while.”

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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