Friday, September 18, 2009

WHY FULL-MOUNT DECOYS WORK

I try to preface any talk about using full-mount decoys with a disclaimer - I don't think you need full-mount decoys, or any decoys at all for that matter, to kill turkeys with regularity.
So why go to the trouble of mounting a turkey (or buying one) to use as a decoy? Because the interaction between a live turkey and a well-made full-mount gives the hunter a look into turkey behavior that he/she will likely never see otherwise. Full-mounts bring out the dominance behavior inherent in pecking order oriented turkeys - both male and females.




But it's more than that. Full-mounts fool turkeys so completely that turkey-decoy interactions last much longer than the average hunter has ever experienced. For a few years I used a plastic full-strut tom with a real tail fan. He was great at getting toms to come in, but if they touched him the gig was up. They quickly realized the plastic bird as unnatural, and would leave - often without presenting a good shot. Full-mounts don't only have tremendous drawing power, but the all-important holding power.





So why do full-mounts actually work? Well, the most obvious reason is that they look real. But there are a couple of less obvious reasons we should cover. Let's look at the obvious factor first.

No paint scheme on any plastic bird will ever out-mimic real feathers! And real feathers move when the wind blows, giving the bird further realism. Freeze-dried or cast heads (we use cast heads for their durability), when airbrushed correctly, are so realistic that the untrained eye can't tell live birds from decoys captured on video. Combine life-like heads with real capes and the combination is unbeatable.




So what else is involved? The first thing that comes to mind, and has already been briefly mentioned, is feel. When turkeys rub against full-mounts, which happens VERY frequently, they feel what seems to them to be a real turkey pushing back. This doesn't scare them, it encourages them. Our decoys are made in such a way that when they're placed in firm ground, they stay put. When toms peck at the heads of our tom decoys, or flog (wing-beat and spur) our deeks, the decoys hold fast. Think of it as a playground bully pushing on the nerdy kid. He expects the kid to run, and if he doesn't, he gets doubly mad! And when toms do the breeding preparatory chest rub over the back of our hen decoys, the fact that the she stands ready gives him the consent he's looking for.


Shape is also an important factor. Our decoys not only stand their ground, but are built in a way that encourages toms to mount them. Notice our tom decoys aren't full-struts, but tail down semi-strutters instead. Video footage proves time and again that male birds will mount, and attempt to breed, our male decoys. At first we thought this was a fluke. But now we see this behavior so often that we've given it the tongue-in-cheek name, prison whipping.



Finally, our decoys work because they aren't sex-specific. As you'd expect, wild toms are drawn to both hen and tom full-mount decoys. But arguably just as important, live hens rarely pass up a chance to check out a full-mount hen decoy. And when hens come in, they're often towing longbeards along behind them.

And I suppose there are a number of other reasons why full-mounts work so well that I haven't yet thought of. Combine those I've mentioned with those I haven't and one word keeps coming to mind - REALISM. Short of using a live turkey as a stool pigeon, you're probably never going to beat a good full-mount decoy.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

ONCE UPON A TIME.....

Every now and then I get asked why I started building turkey decoys. If this sort of thing interests you, keep reading...............

"Real", or full-mount decoys aren't new to turkey hunting. My brother and a taxidermist friend were building prototypes back in the mid 1990's, and it's not like they came up with the idea all by themselves. Today it's turned into a fairly big business for some, with world champion taxidermist Cally Morris (Hazel Creek Decoys) leading the world in full-mount decoy sales.


My start in decoy building came about from a mistake I made following a short nap on a morning Tennessee turkey hunt in 2004. I was dealing with a sore back, brought on by too many hours sitting against trees in the spring woods. So late in the morning I decided to stretch out on the ground to save my back a little wear-and-tear. Next thing I knew, I was dreaming of turkeys, lots of turkeys, making lots of turkey noises. When my conscious mind reconciled that the noises weren't coming from deep in my sleep-addled memory banks, but from the decoys 20 yards away, I snapped to.

What I saw, through squinted eyes, was a gobbler and about a dozen hens causing a ruckus. I did my best to right myself without spooking turkeys, and when the birds separated enough for me to shoot the one sporting the beard, I pulled the trigger. But when the tom flew away I began to worry that I'd accidentally killed a hen. Well, I had actually, but one with an 8-inch beard!  Tennessee law allows the taking of bearded hens, but it wasn't something I'd have done had I been fully aware - uh, awake.  (Note to self - Don't shoot guns when you're half asleep.)

So during the stern talking to I had with myself on the way back to the truck (it was a 1-sided conversation), I reconciled that this hen was going to become a decoy if I had to mount her myself. Turns out, that's exactly what happened. As soon as I got back to Indiana, and with guidance from local taxidermist Craig Browning, I made a respectable facsimile of a real hen turkey. In 2 weeks I was back in Tennessee, and proceeded to kill my biggest longbeard in years using "Susie".

And it all got rolling from there. Susie only lasted that season and the next, because we revelled in watching hens attack her and jakes and toms attempt to breed her. Admittedly, she wasn't the most durable decoy. But when, in the winter of '05 I tried to find a commercial replacement, I quickly realized that I was either going to have to spend $400 (or more), or do without. Unless...........


Having made 1 effective decoy already, I decided I could make lightning strike twice. So I invested my $400 in taxidermy equipment and domestic hen turkeys. By the time the spring season rolled around in 2006, I had 4 new decoys to field test. And boy did they ever produce!


Now, 4 years later, with the help of family and friends willing to test and comment, we've made some refinements and arrived at a product that can be reproduced consistently, and that works like a charm. I started this venture just to make decoys for me and my brother, but enough friends wanted their own that I had to do something!



So that's where Thrill Kill Decoys got its start. And the name came to me at the end of a successful hunt, when I told myself just how thrilled that particular gobbler was right before he got himself killed. As I now like to say, "Anyone can kill turkeys, but can you Thrill Kill them?".


In an upcoming blog I'll show the decoys in more detail. I won't reveal trade secrets, but I will show you a little about how we build and use them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

HANK JUNIOR WOULD BE PROUD

During the 2008 Indiana turkey season, my good friend Wally Palmer hinted that he wouldn't turn down a chance to hunt over real decoys. Always looking to make a convert, I was more than willing to take Wally on a hunt. I even pulled out all the stops, taking 4 Thrill Kill decoys along (1 tom, 1 jake, and 2 hens).

When our first-light set-up produced no gobbling and only a couple of hens in the decoys, I offered to take Wally to a field that routinely holds birds at mid-day. It was fairly hot, definitely windy, and the thought of baking ourselves inside a Double Bull blind in a wide-open cut cornfield all afternoon wasn't exactly appealing, but it was turkey season after all, so we agreed to give it a go. We weren't disappointed!

We hadn't been in the blind for 20 minutes when a bruiser longbeard came to the field, but ignored us to go strut on the far north end of the field (you can actually see him in some of the video). And it wasn't another 15 minutes before a group of 4 longbeards, all 2-year olds, stepped out. A little fighting purring was all it took to get them to amble our way, and the video from that point on more or less speaks for itself.

Our hunt was shaping up to be a classic "pick the bird you want" done-deal, but while we were enjoying having multiple longbeards in the decoys at 10 yards, Wally's cell phone started to ring. His ring tone? Hank Jr.'s "A Country Boy Can Survive". Apparently tom turkeys aren't big fans of country music, because they started laying down tracks in a hurry. Watch the video to see how well Wally handles going from spectator to shooter, in about 3 seconds!

And as follow-up, I turned Wally's 2-year old tom into a decoy, and he used it to kill a bearded hen in the spring, 2009. She's now in the freezer, and will ad realism to his Thrill Kill decoy spread for many years to come!

Oh - some might wonder whatever happened to the big tom strutting on the north end of the field? Keep an eye on this blog - in the next few days I'll post the video we took in the minutes following Wally's Thrill Kill! More exciting turkey hunting footage is hard to find!
video