A Brief History of Animated Turkey Decoys, told in Patents

written by Roy Rosser, Ph.D., Patent Agent

A Brief History of Animated Turkey Decoys, told in Patents

Yes, it’s that time of year again, already. Time to man up, load the 12 gauge and shoot yourself a turkey.

Having cleaned the shotgun and ironed my freshly washed camo outfit, I was sorting through my extensive collection of turkey decoys, trying to decide which would suit tomorrow’s weather best, when it struck me. No one has ever done a definitive, comprehensive review of the turkey decoy through history. Well, this short monologue isn’t it, but at least it’s a start in the right direction.

Surprisingly, it was 1989 before the first patent on a remote controlled turkey decoy was granted (4,965,953, Richard McKinney, Iowa). More surprisingly, the motion – the head moving to simulate feeding – was activated by a control line. How quaintly primitive that seems in the age of the i-phone 5!

Within a few years, a cunning New Yorker (5,289,654, Arthur Denny) realized that with a couple of remote controlled motors, a decoy could be made to both peck and rotate its head, which is, apparently, even more convincing to hungry wild turkeys. Denny also envisaged a deluxe embodiment in which the motion was automatically activated in response to the sound of a turkey call, real or faked.

This deluxe version may have been the result of realizing that controlling both “peck” and “rotate” motions may not only be taxing on the brain, but it doesn’t leave any fingers free to pull the trigger.

A paradigm shift occurred at the turn of the millennium when Cornell, (6,408,558, Richard Cornell, Jr.) a South Carolinian, decided that horizontal motion along a rail may be a more effective lure and devised a system based on remotely controlled electric motors.

Van Loughman, from Pennsylvania, (6,487,810, R.D. Van Loughman) took a different direction, reckoning that better results would be obtained by simulating a full-strut gobbler tail movement. His two piece lure was activated by a pull line – a step back towards more authentic hunting, perhaps?. (The invention was intended to lure turkeys, not balding dodos, as the drawing (above right) may suggest).

In 2004, Raymond Montalta and Von E. Summers (6,708,440, Summers et al) produced a grand unification of both these approaches in a remote controlled, self-propelled robotic frame that could accommodate a variety of flexible decoy covers, including that of a turkey, and imbue them with motions such as, but not limited to, horizontal motion, pecking, flapping, full-strut gobbler tail movement, or any combination thereof.

This may have remained the ultimate in animated turkey decoy – except for one crucial oversight.

In birds, as with humans, sex appears to be a stronger motivator than food. In 2012, Glen Dunaway (8,230,638, Dunaway) was awarded a patent for an animated decoy that can realistically imitate the mating behavior of a turkey.

While the patent doesn’t show the actual choreography of a mating turkey, it does open up new frontiers for animated decoys.   How long before inventors figure out a way to use fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to lure turkeys online to real world assignations?

Whatever the next development in animated turkey decoys, the real point of the hunt will always remain the same. To simply be an opportunity to fire your gun as many times as possible. That way, when you return home to your supermarket-bought, spouse-cooked, turkey, your pent up frustration at Thanksgiving will have been released in the woods – not on the rest of your dear, but weird and annoying, extended families that you have to endure for the entire, seemingly endless, meal.

So good hunting – and, in case you are interested – I have decided to once again go with the reliable old string pulled, pecking model. Call me old fashioned – because I am.

Happy Thanksgiving!