Bowhunting with Decoys

Bowhunting with Decoys

For a few days I had watched what seemed like random deer activity as bucks chased does through a patch of cedars on the edge of a tract of public land.

Those Nebraska deer seemed to come from several places, but the longer I watched them, the more I came to realize that they would congregate in the cedars before either going out to feed in the evenings, or dropping down to the creek to bed in the mornings.

The problem was, moving a stand into the cedars was iffy. In desperation, I stuffed a bottle of scent eliminator in my pack along with a Montana Decoy. The doe decoy, I reckoned, might catch the eye of passing buck and pull him the 150 yards or so that I needed. After hiking in, setting up the decoy and spraying it down, I climbed into my tree. Within 20 minutes of daylight, a good-sized eight-pointer entered the patch.

Re-thinking decoy usage can up your odds of success in the bowhunting woods.

With nothing to lose, I sent a grunt in his direction. He saw my decoy, put his head down, and marched in. On his way, he stopped to rake sumac branches with his antlers, which was a pretty awesome sight to see. When he was close enough, my morning hunt ended and my tag ended up on a great public-land deer.

Fast-forward to Halloween weekend last season. I was tucked into a natural ground blind awaiting a buck on public land once again, this time in South Dakota. When I heard something in the brush behind me, I thought at first it was two bucks sparring. Then it sounded like someone loading a bunch of old furniture into the back of a pickup truck.

When the two hunters walked past me, I realized it was their full-body decoy banging and clanking on all of the brush that had caught my ears. After they passed, I slipped out. The two hunts illustrate a few different things, but to me, they solidified the collapsible decoy's place in my hunting pack.

A Decoy Difference

The reason most hunters don't use full-bodied decoys is because they are a pain in the neck. The right decoy, set up correctly, does look awesome and can work extremely well, but you've got to be able to quietly get them to your stand.

This is one of the reasons you see an awful lot of television hunters toting them around. When you've got someone dropping you off at your stand, or a situation where you can drive a UTV close to a food plot, then you've got the makings of a full-bodied decoy hunt.

Not all decoys spook does. The more natural options will draw a curious eye from passing ladies, but won't make them flee.

Most of us don't have that opportunity. If I want to use a full-bodied decoy, I have to carry it in an oversized pack or over my shoulder. These days, that's a rarity. I instead opt for a decoy or two from Montana Decoy's product line and I can literally hunt with them anywhere, public or private.

Now, that doesn't mean I use a decoy every time I hunt. I don't. I do use them during the pre-rut and the rut, but I also use them in certain situations where most people wouldn't think about using a decoy.

All-Season Success

From opening week throughout the heart of the rut, I look at my setups and think about whether a decoy will give me an edge or not. If I'm hunting in the woods, the answer is typically no, because I don't want to surprise any passing ungulates. If I'm somewhere more open, like a field edge, then I'll think about whether a decoy will help.

Oftentimes it does, and one thing I've noticed about certain Montana Decoys is that they don't spook does. That's important, because I've never used a full-bodied decoy that didn't booger the ladies.

If I'm going to set up on an alfalfa field with The Freshman, for example, I know that he's probably not going to spook the does and will either draw in nearby bucks naturally, or lend an awful lot of credibility to my calls.

A collapsible decoy that fits in a daypack can be the public-land bowhunter's best friend.

This strategy has been an eye opener for me, because it allowed me to shoot early-season deer with decoys, and yes, I do shoot does with them (which is awesome).

Without question, however, the pre-rut and the rut are the best times to use a decoy. In fact, they are the best time to use decoys, plural. That's another reason why I like Montana Decoys, I can carry two in a pack without giving up more than about five pounds.

That means that I can strategically place a doe and a buck together, like those found in the Dream Team, which is an excellent sale's strategy when trying to convince passing bucks to buy into your setup.

Decoy Considerations

I think the reason that most hunters shy away from foldable decoys is that they are worried a buck won't fall for the look. That's how I felt years ago when I first started using them for antelope and turkeys. What I found was, provided I did my part set-up wise, animals didn't get it.

When I started using them for deer I was highly skeptical. That's one of the reasons I messed with them outside of the rut. I just wanted to see deer react to them. What I saw changed my perception.

The deer don't get it, and if they walk around your decoy and get to the slim side, they sometimes seem confused. Then they walk a bit farther and seem to realize that the disappearing doe was there all along. It's pretty cool to see.

With collapsible decoys (all decoys really), it's best to carry along scent-eliminating spray to de-scent your setup.

Their eyes aren't all that needs fooling, though. Scent is a major factor, so I tend to store mine in a plastic tote and then use an ozone generator to de-scent them. I also always carry a bottle of scent-eliminating spray with me and I try to never handle my decoys with bare hands.

It's a bit of extra work, but is always worth it. It is important to note that ozone is a bleaching agent, so over time that treatment strategy can degrade the decoys (as it can clothing, boots and all other hunting gear exposed to concentrations of it).


If you're one of those hunters who feels as if his decoy options are very limited, perhaps you've just limited yourself by your decoy choice.

I tend to base my gear considerations on whether products will help me on public land, because if it gives me an edge there, it'll give me an edge everywhere I hunt. If you were to take a look in my average daypack when I set out on Uncle Sam's ground to arrow mature whitetails, you'll often see a Montana Decoy folded up.

The reason for that should be obvious by now.

Recommended for You


Veteran Elk Addict Shares His Bowhunting Wisdom

Dan Evans

Dan Evans shares his tips for tagging bulls after decades of success.


Slow Cooker Venison and Cabbage Stew Recipe

Jessyca Sortillon

This Venison and Cabbage Stew Recipe is meaty, easy to make in a slow cooker, and exactly what...

ATA Show

New Recurve Bows for 2019

Brian Strickland - January 11, 2019

In the market for a new traditional bow? Here are our top picks from the 2019 ATA Show!

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Dead On: Picking a Spot

On this edition of "Dead On," Hall-of-Fame bowhunter Randy Ulmer shares advice on picking a spot.

Turkey Decoy Beatdown

Bowhunter contributor Matt Palmquist witnesses a hen trying to destroy one of his decoys while hunting turkeys in Kansas.

Kansas Turkey Bowhunt

Bowhunter contributor Matt Palmquist sets up shop for a turkey hunt in Kansas.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


Tree Saddle Demo Climb With Aider Use

Mike Carney - June 07, 2019

Go farther, hunt deeper, and trek lighter while enjoying all-day comfort.

Arrows & Broadheads

What Are the Best Vanes For Hunting?

Joe Bell

Here's how to choose vanes that will yield the best accuracy, forgiveness, and trajectory.

Other Game

Tips for Bowhunting Predators

Joe Bell

Chasing predators is great for calming big-game nerves.

See More Stories

More How-To


Tips for Stalking Mule Deer

Matt Palmquist

Follow these tips for spotting and stalking mule deer with a bow!


How To Increase Your Bowhunting Success Rate

Joe Bell

If you want to improve your success rate and notch more tags, avoid these common errors.


No Secrets with Modern Hunting Technology

Dwight Schuh

New tech has made hunting more efficient, but it also raises several questions about ethics...

See More How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.