The best turkey decoy is a turkey
By Babe Winkelman

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[May 29, 2014]  Ever wonder why turkeys sometimes hang up when they see your plastic decoy? It could be in their eyes. Not the decoy's eyes. The TURKEY's eyes! Here's the thing: turkeys and other birds don't see things the same way we do. They have different rods and cones in their peepers than what we have. It's scientific. But what it means is that birds can see within the UV spectrum, and we can't. It's reflective light that our measly human eyes can't detect.

So, even though a painted plastic decoy might look really realistic to us... to a turkey it might not look real at all - because of the way it reflects UV light (which means Ultra Violet). That old deke could have the most perfect shape, size and posture, but if the feathers aren't resembling real feathers to a turkey's eyes, then he's going to scratch his head and say "man, there's something about that bird over there that just ain't right!"

So, to prevent this sort of impostor recognition from happening, why not use the real thing for your decoy? I'm not saying use a live turkey. And I'm not saying to take your precious full-body mount out into the field and beat it up. But what I AM saying is to make use of those feathers from turkeys you harvest that are NOT going to the taxidermist.

Instead, become a taxidermist yourself!

Here's what you do: First, kill a turkey. Second, when cleaning the bird, take his hide. Start at the base of the tail with your knife and make an incision all the way up to the underside of his beak. Then skin him out. Don't worry too much about being surgical here. If you make some mistakes, no big deal. Just skin him out as best you can. And if it makes things easier, cut his wings off before you start skinning. But don't throw them away! You'll need them. Fold them into themselves and set 'em aside.

After you have your turkey skinned, stretch it out on a big sheet of thick cardboard and pin all the edges down with, well, pins. This is the whole bird skin we're talking about now. Head and all (minus the beak, because you can't skin a beak). If your end result is a Tom decoy, fan the tail feathers out for the tanning process. If you're after a hen impostor, leave the tail in the closed position.

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Once the skin (skin side up) is stretched out and while it's still wet, sprinkle it very liberally with 20 Mule Team Borax. In a cool, dark place, let it dry (re-sprinkling it with Borax from time to time). The drying process takes 2-3 weeks, so be patient.

Once the hide has sufficiently cured and tanned, then go grab your ordinary plastic turkey decoy. That will be your "form." Consider yourself the most basic taxidermist who ever lived. Apply contact cement liberally on your decoy, then wrap your turkey skin over it. Make it look as good as you can, and don't beat yourself up if it's not perfect. The live turkeys won't care. It's the authentic quality of the feathers they're after. After you have the form all wrapped in the feathery hide, then you can pin and glue on your wings on it. Boom, you're done.

If you think it's a crazy notion building your own turkey decoy this way, think again. Those real feathers will do their magic out there in the field, much better than any painted replica will do. Remember, savvy duck hunters have used the hides of ducks and geese as decoys since man developed the wits to hunt with decoys! It's not fancy, but it works.

Plus here's an added bonus... when you build something to help you harvest fish or game - whether it's a dry fly for trout, a tree stand for deer, or a turkey decoy for your next Tom - there's a unique fulfillment to that. A real sense of accomplishment! Give it a try. Because really, what have you got to lose except maybe that Tom who goes running because he saw your plastic decoy and thought "something about those feathers weren't quite right..."


Babe Winkelman hosts "Good Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets," the most-watched fishing and hunting programs on television. Tune in on NBC Sports Network, Destination America, Velocity, Time Warner Sports Texas & New York, and many local broadcast channels. Visit Winkelman.com for airtimes and more information. Follow Babe Winkelman on Facebook and Twitter.

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