By Gabby Zaldumbide
Wisconsin in early April is not known for its comfortable climate. Usually, that’s the dead middle of the season midwesterners coined “Second Winter.” Instead of budding daffodils and the first of many tank top-donned days, there’s ice storms, below-freezing forecasts, and bleak skies. I nervously gripped my hot coffee between my mittens; I was on my first turkey hunt, and Second Winter was unrelenting.
I was participating in an educational Learn to Hunt Turkeys weekend hosted by my college’s hunting club. Prior to being paired with a hunting mentor, we spent an afternoon in a barn learning turkey hunting strategies. Several other classmates and I listened to lectures on turkey natural history, shotgun chokes, and how a combination of calling and strategically-placed decoys can be a lethal setup. I was putting all of that new knowledge to good use while I snuggled into the tall grass, concealing myself on the edge of a private cornfield with my mentor, Lucas.
Participants learning how to clean a turkey.
Lucas did most of the work that Sunday morning. Beforehand, he asked permission to hunt the spot, scouted the property, and patterned the birds. On the morning of, he brought the shotgun, camouflage, turkey decoys, shotgun shells, and calls. He even walked back to the truck in the dark to retrieve those very shotgun shells after I had forgotten to put them in my pocket. Once he returned, we got ourselves set up in the tall grasses. He walked out into the cornfield about 30 yards in front of us and placed his three decoys: two jakes and a hen. Before long, we heard the turkeys gobbling as they flew down from their roost. Game on.
Sunlight crept along the edges of the horizon. I could see the tips of the tree branches sharp against the dawn sky. Red-winged blackbirds called nearby while the songs of cardinals whistled in the woods. Lucas started yelping on his slate call. Several turkeys gobbled back. He waited a while before yelping again. This time, the turkeys gobbled back even faster. He told me to get ready.
“Practice lining up the shotgun’s bead sight on the decoys,” said Lucas. I raised the 12 gauge and propped it up on my knee, shaking slightly from both the cold and my nerves. However, I felt that I could hold the bead steady. Lucas yelped again.
This time, the gobbles were closer. The turkeys were actually moving toward us. My breathing quickened and my heart raced. My shaking got worse. Gobble gobble gobble! Three toms were now in sight at the far end of the field and they were coming in fast.
“Get ready, Gabby. Be sure to only take a shot when you feel comfortable and when one of them goes a bit off by themselves,” Lucas whispered. I readied the shotgun and tried to get my shaking under control. The toms were closing in on the decoys, barreling their large bodies across the field. I sat in the grass, unmoving, watching as the toms attacked one decoy and pecked another. They circled them several times, puffed up and gobbling, likely wondering, how could these jakes possibly have this hen with them? After a minute, one tom stepped off to the side.
“Shoot! Shoot! No, now don’t shoot! Wait! Okay, shoot!” my mentor whisper-yelled. I waited for the tom to take a few more steps away from the group, shaking terribly, my heart in my throat, and lined up the bead sight. I took a deep breath, paused, and pulled the trigger.
Pow! Feathers were everywhere. The two other toms were wandering around nearby, confused. My tom flopped on the ground as his nerves reacted to the deadly shot. Lucas ran up to the turkey as fast as he could and put his foot on the bird’s head.
“In my experience, this has kept them from destroying their tail feathers or getting attacked by the other birds,” said Lucas. After the bird stopped twitching, its wings hit the ground in one final whumph, and we began to celebrate.
I gingerly examined my first turkey. I had never seen one up close before. The snood was cool and leathery in my hand, his neck and head prickly with tiny feathers. I picked up some body feathers, their iridescence shimmering in the early morning light. I fanned out his tail for a photo, spreading the wings in front of me to show off every detail. He was beautiful.
Before that hunt, I had no understanding of how essential decoys are for turkey hunting. After moving out west, I learned how to use decoys for archery elk and pronghorn hunting, too. I’ve never been on a waterfowl hunt, but I’ve seen photos of those brown Canadian cornfields decked out in hundreds of white bags with black beaks, magnificently imitating a feeding flock of snow geese. For some types of hunting, decoys make or break the experience.
In my opinion, the more realistic a decoy can be, the better. From my wildlife biology background, I know that different types of animals have different levels of eyesight. Birds have four cones in their eyes, allowing them to see ultraviolet light. Basically, they see and understand color in more ways we can even imagine. This is not limited to turkeys; ducks, quail, grouse, and many other types of game birds see this way. Birds also have fantastic depth perception, especially predatory ones. This is why hunters don’t wear blaze orange to turkey hunt and use blinds to hunt in. However, deer are completely different. Deer only have two cones, so they see fewer colors than we can, primarily blue and green. However, they have better nighttime vision and can likely see ultraviolet light, too. Pro tip: don’t hunt in blue jeans.
I take these kinds of factors into account when I’m shopping for decoys. I want the decoy to look realistic: show fine detail, have the right colors, be the right size. On the other hand, I understand that no decoy is perfect and wildlife consider many other factors when deciding on whether a decoy is “real” enough to fool them or not. Luckily, I found what I was looking for when I discovered Montana Decoys.
Their turkey decoys are extremely realistic. They have incredible detail and their Wiley Tom decoy even has slots to insert a real tail fan and wing feathers. To me, this is ideal. Using real feathers makes your decoy better because birds can see the ultraviolet details reflected off of them in the sunlight. The size is accurate, so a big tom won’t be thrown off by a huge decoy or a tiny one. They’re lightweight and foldable, allowing hunters to stick them in a pack and hike into a spot and for easy storage at home (I know someone who keeps shelves in their garage solely for storing un-foldable turkey decoys). As far as turkey decoys go, this is exactly what I want.
Montana Decoy offers several types of turkey decoys. They offer single hen decoys as well as jakes, or small toms. You can get a hen and jake combo, and even a small flock consisting of a hen, jake, and tom, for great deals on effective setups, too. And turkey decoys aren’t the only items available. Elk, whitetail, waterfowl, pronghorn, moose, and predator hunters can find decoys for their hunts on , too.
Decoys are what sealed the deal on my first-ever hunt. Watching three mature toms sprint full-speed at fake birds will be a memory I will always cherish. And now, as I learn to hunt Merriams in the mountains of Colorado, I can apply the decoy-deploying skills I learned in Wisconsin to try and have a successful turkey season out west, too. Thankfully, I already know which decoys I am going to use.