Decoying Bucks From the Ground
A new ground strategy proves deadly, resulting in the author's most exciting hunts and biggest whitetails to date.
The stalk was perfect. Three times I reached full draw. Three times I let down. The wind was ripping, my heart was pounding, and I simply couldn’t settle my pin. This was the biggest whitetail I’d ever drawn on, and I’d crawled to within 40 yards of him. Finally, the wind calmed and gave me a small window to execute the shot. Just as I was settling my pin, the mature whitetail’s sixth sense kicked in and he locked onto me. I made the split-second decision to shoot. The alert buck ducked, and I hit him high — too high. Looking back, I shouldn’t have taken that shot, but on public ground, in a staredown with an absolute giant, the pressure got to me and I simply made a bad choice.
Bowhunting is a game of constant learning and adjustment. I learned some things that day for sure. First, taking a shot at an alert whitetail is never a good idea. Second, I was hunting open terrain that leant itself to a spot-and-stalk tactic, but even when conditions are perfect, spotting and stalking whitetails is a huge gamble. They are simply too twitchy. I had succeeded in doing so in the past, but I had also experienced some painful failures, and this was the most painful of all. I needed a new strategy. I needed something that would allow me to hunt whitetails from the ground like I wanted to, but that would also take the focus off of me when up close and personal with spooky whitetail bucks.
A New Approach
After two years of agonizing over the lost giant, I returned to the Land of Oz in 2017. This time, I would be filming the hunt for an episode of North American Whitetail TV. The plan was simple: Access public Walk-In Hunting Areas more suited for upland bird hunting than those covered in traditional whitetail habitat. The reason for this was twofold — I’ve been bowhunting Kansas for about a decade, and I’ve seen the number of public-land hunters grow tremendously, especially on tracts cloaked in typical whitetail habitat. While that sounds inconvenient, these tree-covered areas weren’t the tracts I had my eye on anyway. I’ve noticed more and more frequently over the years that the biggest whitetails I’ve seen throughout the entire Midwest have been in open, brushy areas you’d be more apt to run a bird dog through than to hang a treestand.
I also had some new gear, and a new plan. I’d discovered the Stalker Deer Decoy from Ultimate Predator Gear. This lifelike decoy tips the scales at a mere 8.85 ounces, folds up in a pack, mounts to your bow, and boasts a shoot-through window. The shoot-through window means the decoy doesn’t mount off to the side of your bow. This fake mounts to the front of your bow, which means more to hide behind, and more control in the wind. In addition, I had a Dave Smith Posturing 3-D Buck Decoy along for the trip.
My cameraman and I had located a big brushy bottom in the middle of a large tract of CRP. It was the type of spot you see when pheasant hunting and say to yourself, “I need to get out and walk that.” The only trees on the property were a small string of cedars, and they had been destroyed by heavy horns. My idea was to get the wind right and place the 3-D decoy in an area where it would be visible to cruising bucks. I would attach the Stalker Decoy to my bow and sit down with my cameraman next to the cedars, 15 to 20 yards away from the 3-D buck. I brought a turkey chair along to make the sit more comfortable, and I piled a few cedar branches around me to conceal my legs. The hope was that passing bucks would see the 3-D decoy, then see my Stalker Decoy and write me off as a doe the 3-D buck had pinned down. It seemed like the perfect scenario, but would it work?
What happened next turned out to be a game-changing event — something that will forever change the way I hunt big, mature whitetails. A buck appeared out of that brushy bottom like an apparition. I could tell he was mature, and a buck I would be thrilled to hang my Kansas tag on. He had already spotted the 3-D decoy and was coming. My heart was pounding, and the Stalker Decoy mounted on my bow was shaking. It didn’t matter. The mature brute glanced my way, but immediately wrote me off as a ready-to-breed doe and continued on a string. I couldn’t believe it. He strutted right up to the 3-D buck as I drew my bow in plain sight and thumped him at a distance of 13 yards with a cameraman right next to me! It was an incredible moment.
Once I collected myself, which took a bit, I went to retrieve my arrow. Its condition was proof positive the buck wasn’t going to go far. I walked back, squatted down to talk to my cameraman about the arrow, and he looked at me and said, “Danny, there is another big buck coming behind you!” His eyes were as big as saucers.
I glanced over my shoulder to see another buck staring at me. Bowhunting is all about learning, right? He had seen my entire exposed body, but I quickly jumped back in my turkey chair, grabbed my bow, and showed the Stalker Decoy to him just to see what would happen. He stared for a while, trying to figure out what he’d just seen, but after reaching up and flicking the decoy’s ears at him a few times, he too came on a string. It was unbelievable. Even after catching me dead-to-rights, he worked his way to within four yards of me and my cameraman! I could have shot him multiple times, and had I not had a buck down, I would have. He was a mature buck that I would have been more than happy to take. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced in the deer woods.
My buck didn’t go far, and it was obvious walking up on him that he would be my largest whitetail to date. His rack towered above the grass, and as I plopped down next to him I couldn’t believe what my cameraman and I had gotten away with. We’d completely fooled a pair of mature whitetail bucks, from the ground, on public land! It was incredible.
Repeat The Feat
Naturally, I couldn’t wait to get back to Kansas in 2018. My new system had proven even deadlier than expected, and I was fully confident in it. This time, the hunt would be filmed for an episode of Bowhunter TV, and I had a coveted mule deer stamp that allows you to take either species of Kansas deer. Western Kansas grows some giant muley bucks, and while I wouldn’t let an opportunity at a monster whitetail pass me by, it would have to be a true Kansas legend.
We had been hunting hard, and we had decoyed multiple bucks using the 3-D buck/Stalker Doe combo. Incredibly, every buck that saw our setup came within bow range, but with that muley stamp in my pocket, I was going to be choosy.
A few days later we decided to take a cruise and look at some new property. While driving along the highway, we spotted a pair of big mule deer bucks chasing a hot doe across a CRP field. When the doe led them into a thick, brushy weed patch at the bottom of a draw, I watched another big muley buck suddenly stand up out of the weeds. We were a solid half-mile away, so I raised my binoculars to get a closer look at this third buck. That’s when I realized this was not another mule deer. It was a giant whitetail! A quick tip: If you ever mistake a whitetail buck for a mature mule deer, don’t fiddle around counting tines, just go.
Our approach was slightly different than before. We couldn’t slip into the area toting a great big 3-D buck decoy. We needed a mobile plan, so I put a Stalker Doe on my bow and quickly rigged a Stalker Buck, with antlers you can buy separately, attached to my cameraman’s monopod. That’s one of the great things about these decoys; They are very adjustable and versatile. You can turn a doe into a buck in seconds by adding the antlers, and attach the decoy to just about anything. I was a doe, and my cameraman was a buck.
After watching the muleys leave the area and seeing the big whitetail lay back down, I figured the brute likely had a doe pinned down in that weed patch with him. Getting the wind right, we made a big circle around the buck and slipped in.
Once we reached the weed patch, it became clear the weeds were too deep for me to see the buck. Using landmarks, we closed to within what I figured to be about 40 yards of his position and knelt down. With my cameraman a few yards behind me, I grabbed my Hunter Specialties True Talker grunt call and let out a grunt. Nothing. I grunted again. This time the buck fired a grunt right back at me and stood up at 30 yards, but all I could see were the tops of his tines, and he couldn’t see our decoys. Adrenaline surged. Desperately, I looked for an opening, but the weeds were too thick, and I felt helpless. I gave him a few minutes, but the buck didn’t move. I let out another grunt. He answered, then immediately started tearing up weeds with his antlers and flinging them into the air. He was not happy.
As soon as the thrashing stopped, I hit him with another grunt. This time he fired back with a snort-wheeze and took about five steps in our direction. This movement allowed me to get a glimpse of a doe behind him. I gave him another grunt, and the next thing I knew, the buck’s head materialized. He was staring right at us. What he saw, though, was an intruder buck tending a doe, and that irritated him even more! When I hit him with another grunt, he marched out of the weeds and I shot him at just 18 yards!As it turned out, this mainframe 12-point with extra brow tines on his bases scored 170-plus inches, and for the second year in a row I’d taken my largest whitetail ever, from the ground, on public land, using a bow-mounted Stalker Decoy.
This system has changed the way I hunt. It has opened my eyes to a method of bowhunting whitetails that is far more exciting than any I’ve ever experienced. Nine times out of 10, when a mature whitetail sees a buck standing over a bedded doe, he assumes she’s ready to breed and approaches, expecting a possible fight. He focuses on his potential opponent like a boxer in a ring, and has little regard for small movements or noises made by the bedded doe. And because you are actually the doe in this decoy set, you can get away with the movement and noise it takes to draw and shoot your bow, because movement and a little noise is exactly what the approaching buck is expecting.
Give it a try. You can thank me later.
My equipment list for my 2018 hunt included the Hoyt RX-1 Ultra, Gold Tip Velocity Pro arrows, Rage Trypan broadheads, Spot Hogg Hogg Father sight, TightSpot quiver, Browning apparel, Kenetrek boots, Ozonics HR-300, Montana Decoy Freshman buck decoy, Dave Smith Posturing Buck decoy, and the Stalker Whitetail Decoy from Ultimate Predator.