Troy Ruiz views his B-Mobile gobbler decoy like some folks view their American Express card.
"I never leave home without it," he quips. "I don't kid myself into thinking it works every time, but when it does -- and it does more often than not -- there's no more exciting way to decoy a gobbler. I swear sometimes I could stand up and yell at the turkey in front of it. When a gobbler comes to B-Mobile, he's committed."
The B-Mobile, in case you don't own one or have missed the action on the latest Primos videos, is a gobbler decoy that can be adapted to imitate a tom in full strut. The concept is a departure from CTHW (Conventional Turkey Hunting Wisdom), which holds that, if you want to decoy a longbeard, you take one of two approaches:
1. Appeal to his passion and stake out a hen.
2. Yank his dominance chain by showing him a jake.
But Ruiz and the folks at Primos have learned that in many instances, a big, black, blown-up gobbler is deadly medicine on even difficult turkeys.
"We've been experimenting with the concept for years." Ruiz notes. "And it's solid. I can't count the number of birds that literally ran to B-Mobile last spring alone."
Ruiz and the Primos team are not alone. Carry Lite has its own version of a gobbler deke, the "Pretty Boy," and this spring Flambeau will debut its "King Strut" deke. Makers of easy-to-transport, collapsible, silhouette decoys have also added full-strut gobbler models to their lineups.
Though our sport is steeped in tradition, the very untraditional gobbler decoy may be this spring's hottest ticket. To provide more insight into this phenomenon, and for advice on the how, when, where and why of decoying gobblers with one of their own, I interviewed Primos' Ruiz and Flambeau product designer Tad Brown.
Why the Tom?
Because most hunters are attempting to lure in a gobbler (as opposed to a jake), staking out a gobbler decoy seems counter-intuitive, if not downright risky. As noted above, a decoy that punches a tom's love buttons -- a hen -- seems the most logical choice. But the growing popularity of jake decoys has proven that gobblers are motivated by far more than just lust, even in spring. Jake dekes are famous for provoking fits of jealousy in toms, and have long ago proven their worth. Full-strut decoys take the concept a step further and, in many instances, might prove more versatile than a simple jake.
Brown offered this explanation: "Sometimes seeing another tom -- especially a strutter -- makes a tom jealous and he wants to come over to assert his dominance. I believe strongly that most turkeys in an area recognize each other by sight, so the presence of a strange gobbler can really mess with the heads of other toms. They see him standing there and think 'Well, who's this guy?' They may run over to sort out the pecking order, or just to check him out." Brown also pointed out that a strutting tom is obviously displaying for hens, so a gobbler that spots that strutter will get curious, wanting to know where those hens are and if he can have any for himself.
"I've found that using the full strut decoy with some hen decoys nearby can really be deadly," he says. "I compare that setup to coming home and seeing a guy standing in your yard, talking to your wife. You want to get right in there and make sure he knows that gal is yours."
Brown notes that full-strut decoys fulfill other important needs for the decoying hunter. "Number one in my book is they're just more visible than most decoys," he says. "Turkeys can't react to a decoy until they see it, and a strutting decoy is bigger and easier for them to spot. Another factor is that a strutting turkey is a relaxed turkey. A hen decoy or two with their heads straight up can make another turkey nervous, because a turkey in that position is an alert, and maybe even alarmed, turkey. I believe that makes an approaching gobbler nervous."
One thing that can certainly be said about the current full-strut decoys is that they can look almost scary real.
"We spent at least two full years figuring out how to make the B-Mobile look more like a real bird, because realism is critical in decoying, especially on tougher, mature gobblers," Ruiz says. "We used a silk-like material for his fan that captures sunlight very well, and if you want to take off that synthetic fan and replace it with an actual tail, you can do that too."
The tail of the decoy is also highly adjustable, which allows the user to adapt it to a variety of situations.
"If you want to make the decoy look like a submissive tom, you can collapse the tail some and lay it back," Ruiz notes. "It's also possible to trim the material to resemble a jake tail. And you might want to switch back and forth between a real tail and the synthetic. For example, we've found that a real fan catches sunlight much better than the synthetic, but the synthetic looks better on a rainy day, when a real fan can look ratty and terrible." Ruiz says B-Mobile's beard is also adjustable, allowing a hunter to suggest dominance scenarios.
Brown says the King Strut takes realism potential a step further, with grommets inside the body that can be used to attach a pair of real turkey wings to the decoy's flanks. Combine the life-like painting on the head with a pair of wings and an actual tail and beard, and you're looking at a decoy that seems ready to gobble when you yelp.
"I can't tell you how many times I've had that decoy in front of me and done a double-take after shifting my vision for a second," Brown says. "And when you've got an actual gobbler in the spread, it's worse. One of the great things about the realism on these gobbler decoys is they let a hunter buy a near-taxidermy mount for a fraction of the price."
Obviously, when your decoy mimics a real bird so closely, safety is an issue. "You should always hunt defensively by keeping a broad tree at your back and the decoy off to one side of you so that you can spot an approaching hunter," Ruiz stresses. "And when I'm carrying it, I collapse it and tuck it in a pack or put orange on it if I feel a need to. And know the property you're hunting and whether other hunters have access to it."
Setups and Scenarios
Both hunters have experimented with many different setups employing their strut decoys. "My favorite setup is to face the B-Mobile away from the direction you think a gobbler will approach," Ruiz says. "Our experience has been that most gobblers like to walk right up to the decoy from behind, like they want to keep an eye on him before they commit. But once they commit, they strut right in. The B-Mobile is not a huge-bodied decoy, and that was intentional. We wanted him to look like an adult, but not so large that he intimidated most birds. And again, if you're worried about the decoy looking too dominant, you can adjust the tail and beard."
Ruiz also uses hen decoys in conjunction with B-Mobile. "This spring we're introducing She-Mobile, B-Mobile's companion," he says. "She's a submissive hen that you can lay right on the ground in front of him to suggest a breeding scenario. Obviously I'm yelping to gobblers, but I also like to use a gobble tube when I've got B-Mobile out. Of course, you have to be careful about other hunters in your area, and not gobble if you're at all worried about safety."
For hunters using guns with extra-tight choke tubes, Ruiz recommends placing the decoy set about 30 yards away. "I like to see them in close as much as anyone," he says. "but at any distance under 20 yards, your pattern is just tiny and missing is easy. I also like to have the decoys screened partially by grass or brush. I'd rather have an incoming tom see pieces and parts, rather than the whole decoy. It's the old 'curiosity killed the cat' thing." Brown agrees with many of Ruiz's thoughts, but takes a slightly different approach.
"In my mind, the biggest challenge is getting a turkey to see the decoy, so I put him in as open a setting as I can," he says. "If I'm hunting a field I put him on a rise. If I'm in grass or CRP I tramp down the area around the decoy. When I'm in the timber I want an opening. In fact, when I set up on a gobbler, I choose my spot based more on decoy placement than my ability to shoot.
"In most situations, I also face my strutting decoy in the direction I expect a gobbler to come from," he says. "Especially when I'm hunting the dominant turkey in an area. I want him to feel there's an intruder that's not afraid of him and he needs to come and have a discussion about the pecking order.
"But hunters also need to know that an aggressive turkey doesn't need to be old," Brown continues. "You get a wad of jakes together, and they'll run off most gobblers they see. And two or three younger adults can rule an area. I have that situation on my property in Missouri. The oldest turkey there is a huge tom I call 'Banana Beard.' But he is ruled by a pair of 3-year-olds. When they show up, he goes the other direction. So a full-strut decoy could really pull in those two birds.
"And some hunters are content to shoot a jake. In many situations I don't think a strutting decoy would hurt their chances much."
Brown and Ruiz do concur that strutting decoys are no silver bullet.
"I think a lot of a gobbler's reaction depends on the phase of the season," Ruiz notes. "We saw this last spring when we hunted Iowa. Gobblers would look at the decoy and barely react, kind of a ho-hum attitude. A few days later we dropped down into Missouri, and those birds just ran to it.
"One of the most dramatic examples I had was when I set up in the dark on some turkeys -- two gobblers and some hens -- roosted near a field. I staked B-Mobile in the field so they could see him from the roost. At fly-down the hens and one gobbler pitched the opposite direction, but the other gobbler sailed out of his tree and landed 20 yards from the decoy. Experiences like that are what make that decoy the one I won't hunt without."