Deer decoys not only work; they generate a new level of hunting excitement.
IT'S SHOCKING TO ME how many bowhunters fear deer decoys. They have one bad experience, and they banish decoys from their deer hunting strategy for eternity.
That's a huge mistake.
No hunting tactic is failsafe or immune to negative results. I've spooked bucks with rattling, grunting, bleating, and even the smell of lure scents, yet I still use those hunting tools. Just because you get burned once, or even twice, by a wary doe that blows and runs off with your buck, doesn't mean decoying is useless.
My decoying experiences have been far more positive than negative, and I almost always have a decoy or two in front of me when hunting during the rut. The trick to decoying deer is to avoid mistakes that could potentially produce negative responses. Recognizing that hunting has no absolutes, here's my list of decoying dos and don'ts.
€¢ Don't worry about the does. They all hate decoys and seldom pass without blowing, stomping, or at least getting nervous. You can do very little about it, but I have seen decoy movement, such as that created by a Tail Wagger ($49.95) installed in my decoy, make the does relax after that initial wariness. An improved fake fur tail works very well. Visit www.tail-wagger.com or call (414) 421-2840.
€¢ Don't set up your decoy deep in the woods in tight cover. Notorious for overlooking stationary objects, deer can walk right up to a decoy before noticing it, and that will invariably spook them. They hate surprises.
€¢ Do use your decoy in high-visibility areas where bucks can spot it from a reasonable distance. That allows them to initiate the contact and determine their own level of aggressiveness. Field edges, secluded grassy meadows surrounded by woods, and places where bucks are cruising open country for does are excellent locations.
€¢ Don't set your decoy too close to your stand or blind. A responding buck will have all his senses on high alert, but he will be focused on the decoy. Set your decoy 20 to 30 yards away from you. Say, for example, there's a brushpile 40 yards from your stand or blind. Set the decoy 10 yards from it so a buck has to come between the decoy and you. Just don't try to force him to get too close to the decoy. Let it be his choice.
€¢ Do set your decoy directly upwind of your stand or blind, if possible. Aggressive bucks often strut right in, but those that hesitate typically head straight downwind to get a whiff of your decoy. That should put the buck in your shooting lane, but he may not hang around long so draw your bow!
€¢ Do use a buck decoy early, even in September and all through October. The bucks have their hierarchy established by the end of summer, and you can lure bucks into range just by challenging their position on the dominance ladder.
€¢ Do amp things up by switching to two decoys once November arrives. It's a hassle, but I love using a buck and a doe decoy. It's the only way I've ever pulled a buck off a hot doe. The doe may even spook, but I've had bucks leave their does to address an interloper that not only has the nerve to trespass but, worse, to hit on a doe.
€¢ Do keep your decoy as scent-free as possible. Wear latex gloves for setup and takedown, and spray it with a scent eliminator.
€¢ Do choose your decoy's position from your treestand. Mark the spot with a stick so you can reposition the decoy correctly in the morning darkness.
€¢ Don't mess up your decoy by putting scent on it. Spray a little on the ground below the decoy, or simply leave the open bottle on the ground. Once he gets downwind, a buck will often spook no matter what you do, but scent can make the deer hesitate long enough to give you a shot.
€¢ Don't rely on a chance encounter. Use grunting, bleating, rattling, and the snort-wheeze to ensure that passing bucks notice your decoy.
€¢ Do enjoy all the excitement and fun of watching a buck drunk on testosterone interact with your decoys. When a buck's ears lie flat, his hair stands on end, and he starts walking sideways toward your decoy, you'll be experiencing the most exciting whitetail hunting possible.
With those general principles in mind, let's look at two types of decoys and some available options.
Come November, try amping things up by using two decoys, a buck and a doe. This is the only way I've ever pulled a buck off a hot doe.
Three-dimensional decoys require some work, but they are the most effective. I like glass eyes in my decoys. If they don't come equipped with glass eyes, I get some from my taxidermist and install them. Large plastic decoys can be a bit noisy, but if you use a carry bag and handle the decoy carefully, you can slip in and get set up quietly. If I plan to hunt an area the next day, I'll stash my assembled decoy in the brush -- not too close to my stand site -- so I have to do nothing but stake it out in the morning darkness. Using two decoys is a challenge, but I just strap my bow to my pack and carry a decoy with each arm.
The Carry-Lite EZ-Buck ($149.99) has legs attached by bungee cord, so they're always in place. You simply fold them against the body for quick setup and takedown. It has glass eyes and an adjustable tail, and it easily converts from buck to doe. An orange carry bag makes carrying two decoys hassle-free and safe. Visit www.carrylitedecoys.com or call 1-800-653-3334.
Delta Sports Products has two great decoys. The Pretender ($169.99), the company's newest decoy, is constructed of lightweight, quiet polyurethane foam. The in-body storage compartment for legs and antlers is held together by bungee cord. The decoy has glass eyes and a tail that moves in the breeze. Delta's Hot-to-Squat Doe ($399.99) decoy provides some movement to your setup. You pull a string attached to the decoy base and the d
ecoy squats as the tail rises. Visit www.deltatargets.net or call 1-800-708-0673.
Delta's Hot-to-Squat Doe
Flambeau Outdoors has enhanced the realism of its Boss Buck ($211.15) decoy with "flocking," a process used for years on goose decoys. By adding a fur-like appearance that eliminates glare, the flocking makes the Boss Buck look very real. The front leg on this decoy will accept Flambeau's Invisi-Series electronic deer call, and the rear leg has a place for a scent pad. All the parts fit inside the body, and the decoy comes with a carry strap. Also check out Flambeau's Boss Babe ($165) doe decoy and Grazing Doe ($154.50). Visit www.flambeauoutdoors.com or call 1-800-457-5252.
Primos Hunting Calls offers two decoy options, SCARFACE ($179.95) and Harry ($269.99). Constructed of relatively soft, quiet plastic, SCARFACE has a unique suspended head and tail that move in the slightest breeze. Harry is the same decoy except it has a "hide" that looks like real deer fur, making this as close to a mounted deer as you'll find. Both SCARFACE and Harry have glass eyes. Visit www.primos.com or call 1-800-523-2395.
The inflatable Easy Doe ($159.95) comes with a battery-powered pump for easy inflation. Mounted on a pivot post, the feeding doe decoy can be locked in place or allowed to rotate in the breeze. A remote-controlled tail flicks with the push of a button from your stand or blind, giving the decoy added movement. Visit www.easydoe.com or call (314) 650-5446.
Tink's Miss November
Tink's Miss November ($59.99) is a simpler, lighter inflatable decoy with an upright head. This decoy fits easily into a daypack, it's quiet, and its tail moves in the breeze. However, you have to inflate this one with lungpower. Visit www.tinks69.com or call 1-800-624-5988.
Phantom Decoys HD-Series
Two-dimensional decoys cost less than 3-D decoys and weigh very little, but they're still very effective on rutting bucks. Using multiple decoys requires little effort, so I set up two or more decoys at 90-degree angles to each other. That way a buck will see a decoy, regardless of his approach angle. I once watched a buck that suddenly couldn't see a 2-D decoy because he was looking at the edge. He turned around and walked back to where he could see it. Then he went back to where he was and lost it. Then he repeated the cycle. His confusion was comical. That's a good thing for the bowhunter.
Phantom Decoys HD-Series (89.99) decoys from Extreme Dimension Wildlife Calls are extremely realistic high-definition images printed (both sides) on plastic that can be rolled up and stuck in your pack. A swivel bolt allows you to rotate the head from an alert position to a feeding position, or even to look like a buck is working a rub. These weatherproof decoys come with detachable anchor rods. Visit www.phantomcalls.com or call 1-888-239-5133.
Montana Decoys are constructed of polyester fabric stretched over a spring-steel frame that folds for easy transport. Each decoy snaps quickly into shape, and fiberglass rods provide the support. Montana Decoys offers a Whitetail Buck ($79.99), Dreamy Doe ($69.99), and the new Playmate ($69.99), which is posed in the natural, confidence-building feeding position. Visit www.montanadecoy.com or call 1-888-332-6998.
Heads Up Decoys
Heads Up Decoys ($59.99), from Smoky Hill Hunting Products, are head-and-neck decoys on handles. Although these decoys are designed mostly for stalking, you can attach them to brush or small trees with small clamps so they're visible to passing bucks. Or you can attach a decoy to Smoky Hill's Bow Mount for stalking a rutting buck. I'm especially excited to try the antelope buck decoy on my bow. These decoys weigh less than a pound. Visit www.headsupdecoy.com or call (785) 650-4038.