Skip to main content

Whitetail Hunting With Decoys

Whitetail Hunting With Decoys

Using decoys for whitetails not only adds to the excitement but also to the bag.

Looking up from my hunched stance on my treestand, trying to stay warm, I saw a buck 80 yards to my left and gave a couple of grunts and three doe bleats. The buck made no visible response. The stiff breeze must have been drowning out my introductory conversation. So I tried several more times but still to no avail. He kept on a course angling away from me, and my hopes began to fade.

Soon he stopped at the intersection of two well-used trails, and I grunted one more time. This seemed to do the trick, as he turned and headed in my direction. Keeping an eye on the buck, I grabbed my longbow. The buck came on strong and fast with his nose to the ground like a cow sweeper on an old train -- until he got about 10 yards from my decoy, at which point he looked up and froze instantly. The hair on the back of the buck's neck puffed up, and he began to circle to my left.

I'd purposely placed my Carry-Lite decoy about 25 yards from my stand, facing me. Circling the buck decoy to meet it head on, the heavy-bodied eight-pointer began the classic stiff-legged side walk and puffed up even more, playing his part to perfection. As his full attention was focused on the imitator, I drew my bow undetected and released an arrow into his vitals. Deception complete!


Decoys can be valuable tools in any whitetail bowhunter's bag of tricks, especially when used in conjunction with calls and scents. Like anything else, decoys do not work all the time. But when they do, the results are some of the most exciting you will ever experience. Following are 10 tips to improve your decoy deception.

Tip #1
Eliminate human scent. Always keep your decoy clean and away from unnatural odors.

Spray it down with scent-killing products, always wear latex gloves when handling and setting it up, and store it outside during the season.

Tip #2
Create movement. It's unnatural and unnerving for deer to see other deer that are completely immobile for long periods of time. To create the illusion of movement, use unscented dental floss to tie small white feathers on each ear, a couple from each antler, two from the tail, and a couple on the underside of the belly. If you're using a hard-plastic decoy, shoot a couple of Sheetrock screws into the belly for tying points. On cloth and soft-foam decoys, use a needle to poke the floss through. Leave a couple of inches of slack in each tie to allow plenty of movement. Even a slight breeze will move the feathers, creating an illusion of motion.

Tip #3
Stop deer up close. I use decoys mostly in cover to stop and hold deer within range of my stand. If placed correctly, a decoy will help position a buck at the perfect shooting angle.

Equally important, it focuses the deer's full attention on the decoy, giving you plenty of opportunity to draw and release undetected.

Tip #4
Pull deer from afar. To attract distant bucks, place your decoy at the edge of a field or other opening with high visibility. In some cases, this will pull deer from several hundred yards, although it can work against you, too, if a buck watches the static decoy too long.

It just depends on the mood and personality of the deer.

Tip #5
Use a doe decoy. You can set up most decoys as either a doe or buck. When using a doe decoy, face the decoy away from you, its rear toward your stand. Most rut-crazed bucks will approach does from the rear to scent-check and then possibly mount them. Place the doe 20 to 30 yards out, upwind, so a buck circling to scent-check the decoy will circle close to your stand.

The decoy behind me positioned this buck at a perfect angle within easy longbow range.

Tip #6
Use a buck decoy. In this case, do the opposite by facing the decoy toward your stand.

Bucks generally will confront other bucks head on. So as a buck moves to face the decoy, he will be quartering away from your stand. Again, place the decoy upwind from your stand so that bucks cannot smell the decoy without circling close to your stand.

Tip #7
Use buck and doe decoys together. To appeal to a mature buck's territorial instincts and his hormonal desires, use a buck decoy in conjunction with a doe decoy. I have had good success by placing a buck decoy just a few yards from a bedded doe decoy.

Tip #8
Use a one-antlered buck. Any time I set up a buck decoy, I give him only one antler.

Even though the decoy comes with modest-sized antlers, I like to make him even more subordinate by removing one antler. In this condition he still looks challenging, but beatable. That way almost any buck will feel like he's got a chance against my decoy and will come on in rather than retreating.

Tip #9
Use scents and calls. Set up over an already existing scrape, or create your own. Soak the branch overhanging the scrape with some buck lure, and sprinkle doe urine in the scrape.

Create the illusion that love is in the air! And don't be timid about rattling and calling.

Obviously, aggressive calling can attract deer from long distances, and a decoy only adds to the deception. The biggest problem with calling is that deer coming to investigate get suspicious when they don't see other deer. The decoy solves that problem and only adds to the power of calling.

Tip #10
Be careful! Be aware of your surroundings and know who is in your woods. Never use decoys during the gun season unless you are absolutely certain no gun hunters are allowed on or near your property. For carrying, always wrap decoys in a blaze-orange carrying case or cover. I have a couple of favorite suburban hotspots perfect for decoying during the gun season, because I have sole access, and no gun hunting is allowed in this area. Always use decoys with due caution.

The 2 1/2-year-old eight-point strutted his stuff like the boss. Certainly bigger boys roamed these woods, but for now he was the man, and he had my full attention

. I would take him if he gave me the shot. I was 20-feet high in a gnarly oak tree, smack in the middle of a cluster of 10 hot scrapes. Several does and small bucks were already gathering near me, making for lots of tension. So far I'd remained undetected.

The eight-pointer was walking up out of a thick riverbottom, gaining the slight rise of the hill. He casually worked a couple of scrapes, yet remained keenly aware of the other deer and my bedded doe decoy located at the apex of three scrapes, 20 yards out. My decoy was creating lots of attention, and things were heating up. The buck began working his way toward my opening from left to right, strutting all the way. He was on course and getting suckered into my lethal ambush.

As the lesser bucks scooted off, he zoned in on his new mail-order bride. I made a quick scan of the surroundings to make sure no other eyes were looking my way, drew undetected, and released a cedar shaft into the kill zone. Once again, deception complete!

The author is an avid traditional bowhunter from Moorhead, Minnesota.

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

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Bowhunter Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Bowhunter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

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

Get the top Bowhunter stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now