Since early man first put a string on a piece of wood and used it to cast a little spear called an arrow, we have been trying to get close enough to harvest animals with a bow. When I am hunting, I often think to myself how almost every tactic we use today has been used before.
Early man used scents, elevated hunting positions, built blinds, used skins to camouflage themselves as well as ash or paint, understood the importance of wind direction, and used decoys.
Most hunters today use many if not all of these same tactics. We buy manufactured scents. Most of us hunt from treestands or ground blinds. Most of us use either face paint or a headnet. We all have a favorite brand of camouflage clothing.
And most of us use decoys, especially for turkeys.
Evidence that early man used decoys to hunt has been found dating back as far as 1,000 B.C. For some reason, we seemed to have lost the art of decoying and are now seeing a resurgence in using them to hunt. I am starting to get a little gray, and I remember the first manufactured turkey decoy I ever saw. I also remember when the first deer decoy hit the market.
As a bowhunter, I try to take advantage of every ethical tactic I can find to get an animal a few steps closer to me. For traditional bowhunters, those few steps closer can mean the difference between success and failure. For those traditional bowhunters who have used decoys for turkey hunting, it is doubtful you will ever go without one. In fact, I don't know many bowhunters who don't use them to lure a bird into bow range.
With all the success I have had in the past with decoying turkeys, I decided to take my decoying to the next level. I have been using them for everything including predators, deer, antelope, and even elk with great results.
The key is timing and how they are used.
While I don't consider myself an expert by any means, I will share what I have learned about decoying in hopes it helps other traditional hunters steal those few extra yards to get closer to their quarry.
Just last month I was deer hunting in Illinois. I had set up a Montana Decoy "Estrus Betty" peeing doe a few yards from the base of my elevated position in a wooden shooting box a friend of mine had built. My plan that morning was to watch deer movements from my friend's shooting box and then set up a stand that afternoon based on my observations.
I placed the decoy, hoping I would see a deer react to it, but I really wasn't expecting the decoy to pull anything all the way to the stand from the fields I was watching.
The morning started off slow, and I had not seen a deer until 7:30 a.m. when a small buck came out of some brush about 200 yards away. The buck looked my way, spotted the decoy, and then ran across the field to it. I shot the buck about five yards from the decoy. Without a decoy that morning, I feel certain I would not have killed that buck.
I have used decoys on multiple occasions with success on both whitetails and mule deer. In my opinion, the best time to use decoys for deer is during the rut. I have also had limited success using decoys as a confidence builder later in the season.
When I do use a deer decoy in the late season, I like to set the decoy up in a field because I believe it encourages other deer to come out earlier, and almost inevitably they will come over to check out the "deer" in the field.
Besides deer, I have also found using a decoy to bring elk in close is incredibly fun and exciting. I have used elk decoys for years when guiding clients and for my own hunting. My most recent example of elk decoying fun occurred just this past September.
My cameraman and I were hunting in southeast Colorado when I spotted a bull off in the distance. We set up quickly in a relatively open area of cedar, juniper, and pinion trees. I placed a Montana Decoy elk decoy right by me, and my cameraman set one up at his position 20 yards behind me.
Our cow calls brought the bull in, but as luck would have it, the bull came in by the one tree where I didn't have a shot. As he circled the area, he spotted my decoy and then approached to within five yards of me.
My heart was pounding in my ears and I was shaking a bit when he finally whirled after catching my scent a mere one step from where I could have shot him. Although I didn't take that bull, he was one of eight bulls we decoyed to within 25 yards of us.
Antelope are another animal I have had great luck with decoying, especially during the rut. In the wide-open country that antelope call home, it is easy to use a decoy because antelope can see it from a long ways off in the open prairie.
The biggest key to success is proper placement of the decoy.