In the spring, the countryside is waking up from a long winters nap and hunters who have long since put away their bows and guns start to get the itch to go looking for this years Thanksgiving dinner. This time of year, you are likely to run into hoards of camo clad men checking out the new turkey hunting gear at your local sporting goods store and without fail, the aisle that draws the most attention and the most arguing is the aisle that holds this years newest decoys. The top manufactures in the business display their newest products in fancy boxes whose contents are not only guaranteed to draw a mature Tom into gun range, but also whose packaging is designed to draw in buyers.
In fact, most turkey hunters look at the decoys they use as a necessity that is as important to the hunt as their box-call or their shotgun. Also, there are countless styles of decoys and all of the companies claim they make the best or most realistic decoy on the market. Thus, unless it is illegal, (and in some states it is) just about every turkey hunter you encounter will be carrying a deek or two.
Some hunters prefer to use lone Hen decoys and others prefer flocks of the foam impersonators. Consequently, there are scores of companies that produce realistic Hen, Jake, and even strutting Tom decoys and they use everything from foam bodies to real feathers to help the lowly woodsmen entice a Long Beard into gun range and, although the style and number of decoys used in any given set up is up to the hunter, one or two will usually do the trick. In addition, there is something to be said about not only the realism of a decoy, but its packability and durability as well. So when you choose a decoy, make sure you take these things into consideration.
Also, I think that when used properly, hen decoys can be very effective, as long as the situation allows for ease of set up and there is a slight breeze to give the decoy some movement. Like in duck hunting, the lack of movement in your decoy or spread of decoys can send up red flags and alert any savvy Long Beard to imminent danger. But, when used in conjunction with other hen decoys, a flock set up can be extremely effective at luring Toms into gun range and these types of setups are especially successful in open country where the flock can be seen at a distance. In fact, for some real hot action, try using a small Jake decoy as part of your hen flock set up. Dominant and even subordinate satellite toms detest the sight of jakes in the midst of a rafter of hens. Thus, a great deal of the time, approaching Toms will ignore all the Hen decoys in a flock and proceed directly to the lone Jake in the setup. For this reason, it is paramount to place the Jake decoy closer to the hunter than all the other decoys. (However, there is one caveat to hunting over a Jake or Tom decoy. Don't use either decoy on public ground! Its just too dangerous!!!)
In addition, the introduction of full strut tom decoys a couple of years ago really revolutionized turkey hunting. There were scores of DVDs and outdoor shows playing clips of toms flogging and destroying these strutting decoys mere feet from hunters and camera men. This exciting, in your face action, made for some great tv. It produced the results the decoy manufactures wanted. The sale of full body strutting decoys skyrocketed, but it didn't do the average turkey hunter any justice. The reason that I say this is that it has been my experience that the use of full strut Tom decoys scares more birds and causes them to turn tail and scat than bring them closer. They work great when there is one or two dominant birds in an area and you can set up on those specific birds, but more often than not, those birds are tending their harems and not that easy to find. The satellite toms (2 year old birds that hang out around flocks of hens, but are not the dominant bird) are the turkeys that most hunters take during the hunting season. These birds will come to calls more readily than a dominant bird that already has a harem of hens. They are easily spooked by the strutting decoys because the decoys are displayed in a dominant fashion with their tails up and their wings down. Having gotten their tail feathers ruffed up more than once during the spring mating season, these subordinate birds usually shy away from a fight and will leave your strutting decoy and you alone. Therefore, I come from the school of thought where the deployment of decoys is not needed.
However, regardless of your opinion on the use of turkey decoys, they are not going anywhere anytime soon. Just remember that every decoy has a time and a place that makes it most effective. So, do your homework next time you're faced with the choice of purchasing a new decoy and decide how you will use it and if you really need it.