Deer Decoying for Dummies

Deer Decoy
 Be sure to place the deer decoy in open areas where they are easily seen by approaching deer from as long a ways off as possible. Hunter shown wearing Lost Camo.

If you have never tried decoying rutting whitetail bucks, you’re missing out on one of the game’s deadliest tactics. Here’s a guide to making it work for you.

Two scenarios. You decide which is more plausible.

You’re up a tree in Kansas in mid-November and have a young buck decoy 25 yards in front of you. Cruising through on the prowl comes a big eight. You get his attention with a grunt call, he sees the decoy from 100 yards away, immediately turns and comes to it, bristled up. He swings around to go nose-to-nose with the decoy, but before he can start the fight he begins running out of air, courtesy of a well-placed Thunderhead.

You’re up a treestand in Kansas in mid-November and four does come into a small food plot where they see the same decoy. Instantly the girls are on red alert, stiff-legged and so terrified by the sight of the new kid on the block they immediately turn tail and race back into the tree line.

Deer decoys. Sometimes you love ‘em, sometimes you hate ‘em.

There’s little question that, under the right conditions, a deer decoy or two can help you put the wood to mature bucks. It is also true that, sometimes, the decoy will scare the pants off a few deer – maybe even all of them. There are right and wrong ways to use them.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of deer decoys this year.

Know the Local Deer

Decoy Scent Control
Always follow a meticulous scent control program when deer decoying - a buck with human scent all around him dosn't make sense to a deer. Hunter shown wearing Lost Camo.

One quick caveat. You should understand something about your local deer herd before going whole hog on the decoy thing. It seems deer decoys are most effective when buck-to-doe ratios are not skewed heavily in favor of does. The more bucks, the better.

There are also some areas in the country where deer hunters have tied decoying with poor results, and others where it seems to work best. For example, when heavy deer rut activity is compressed into a period of no more than 2-3 weeks, good results seem to come about. Areas where the rut lasts for a long time – the Deep South, for example – do not seem to be the best spot for aggressive deer decoying. But again, you need to try it yourself to see if it works in your area, or if it simply scares off deer.

Setting It Up

There are all sorts of different deer decoy set-ups. There’s no doubt that proper deer decoy placement is the key to getting the deer right where you need them to be for a slam-dunk bow shot. Most of the time when a buck approaches another buck aggressively he does so head on. Thus, place your buck decoy angling or facing directly toward your stand 15-20 yards away. This will give the buck enough room to approach a bit off to one side or directly between the decoy and the stand with his attention focused away from the hunter. Note: a buck decoy will generally only pull other bucks up close so if you’re hunting an area with lots of does. It may terrify the local matriarchal does, as was the case mentioned earlier. Conversely, a doe decoy can attract does and fawns as well as bucks, and during the deer pre-rut and peak rut periods most bucks that see a lone doe decoy or doe and fawn decoy just might come in for a closer look.

Most deer hunters prefer to place deer decoys in the edge of an open field or clearing that provides maximum visibility. Many times a buck will approach the decoy along the edge of the field or woods and then circle into the woods to approach the decoy head on. Try to keep the wind in your favor from the most likely route of approach and set up so a buck approaching or circling the decoy downwind will still give you a shot. In addition to a buck decoy, use a doe and fawn decoy and set them closer to the stand right at the edge of the woods. A full-bodied buck in the open and a couple of decoys at the edge of the woods is a deadly combo. Also, try to keep your decoys positioned where an approaching deer will not be looking over the deer decoy directly at your ambush location.

Realism

Grunt Calling
Calling in conjunction with decoy use can often add the realism needed to seal the deal. Hunter shown wearing Lost Camo.

All game animals, from ducks to turkeys to deer, are more readily drawn to a decoy that exhibits some motion. There are a number of things to try and impart the appearance of movement to your deer decoys, including toilet paper, strips cut from a white garbage bag, or fluffy white cloth strips and hanging it from the ears and tail of your full-bodied decoys. Hunters have used Velcro strips on the decoys to hold fringed material.

Today, of course, there are decoys with built-in motion. Some of it is imparted simply, with parts that flap and sway in the breeze. Some have electronic motors that allow the tail and neck to move on command from a hand-held control (they are not legal in all states, so check your local regulations before using one.) There are even heads and tails that can be moved with a string pulled by the hunter. However you can do it, adding motion adds realism – and that translates into more effectiveness.

Odor Control

Deer will not tolerate a decoy which smells like a human, no matter how real it looks. Always wear rubber gloves when handling your deer decoy. When deer hunting season starts, clean up and wash all your decoys. Once you set them up, spray them down with a liquid odor neutralizer.

Some hunters like to use scent products with their decoys, while others do not. Some hunters like to use a small Scent Bomb with the appropriate scent, whether it is doe estrus with doe decoys or a territorial buck scent with a buck decoy. The scents add a touch of realism, but do not overuse it! Here it is definitely a case of less is more. Rather than put the scent directly on the decoy it better to place a small Scent Bomb on the ground between its rear legs.

Don't leave your deer decoys in position overnight. When you leave yours in the woods, carry them a little ways from the treestand and stash them in a blow down, brush pile or small depression. If it is cold enough for frost, be sure to cover the decoys with an old sheet, burlap sacks, or brush (plastic tarps are just too noisy). A decoy glistening with frost in the morning will spook deer.

What Time of Day is Best?

A veteran of deer decoy hunting says he has had his best luck, by far, in the morning. “Decoying is usually best in mornings as bucks return to bedding areas after an unsuccessful night of seeking out does,” he said at a Kansas Deer Camp. “Bucks often willingly approach a doe decoy and often aggressively approach a buck decoy then. However, in the evenings placing decoys in the corner of a field will sometimes draw in live does which in turn can draw in bucks – assuming the doe decoy doesn’t terrify the local does.”

The Best Season

Buck Decoy
Crazy pre-rut bucks sometimes attack deer decoys with reckless abandon.

Without a doubt, decoying is best during the pre-rut and rut. And while most deer hunters are generally believers in the silent approach to whitetail hunting, when using decoys, most do a complete 180. Now, depending on conditions do a lot of calling and maybe even some rattling. The whole purpose of the exercise is to draw a buck close enough to spot the decoys. When the deer spots the decoy, slow down on the calling and let the decoy do the work.

Hurry Up and Wait

When it happens, don't rush the shot! One of the advantages of using a decoy is that deer will parade around the decoy and give you plenty of time to draw and make a good shot when the buck has presented you with a broadside or quartering-away angle. Of course, this is easier said than done. When a big buck is all bristled up, starts strutting sideways around your deer decoy with his eyes bugged out and meanness on his mind, keeping your wits about you is anything but easy. Get your release aid attached and get ready. You’ve already used your laser rangefinder to pre-measure distances to and around the decoy, so be prepared to draw and shoot when the window of opportunity opens. However, don’t dawdle. One hunter said that once he had a nice buck doing the dance around his decoy and then, without warning, he viciously attacked it, knocking it to the ground! When that happened he was so startled he blasted off to the woods, never to be seen again.

Four Killer Deer Decoying Set Ups

Deer decoys work best when set up in areas of high deer travel. Before & after rut set them on the edges of feed fields, along major trails or near bedding areas. During the rut set them up near scrape or rub lines, but use caution near bedding areas to avoid polluting the area with your own human scent, sight or sound. Here are four killer set-ups for using decoys during the pre-rut and rut periods:

  1. Corner Them: When hunting a field, check out the corners first. Bucks like to cut corners when searching for does. Also, even if the bucks are cruising back in the timber off the edge of the field -- which they often do -- a corner gives you twice the odds of a buck passing by near your decoy as does hunting a straight edge. Corners are also favorite entry and exit points for deer using the field.
  2. Make Your Point: Much prime deer country consists of creek and river bottoms, with the flats on top of the ridges in agriculture and the hillsides timbered. There are usually gullies built by rain runoff that create a series of points jutting into the fields. You’ll often find that deer that want to cross the field usually cross from one point to another, often using the two points that jut furthest out into the field. By doing this, the deer cut down on the amount of time they are exposed. The cool thing about points is that no matter what direction the wind is from, one point or the other will be huntable. Even if there are no trees big enough where they need to be, a ground blind can work. Try to set it up so you can maximize visibility.
  3. Pirate’s Gold: Remember reading about how pirates marked their buried treasure on maps with a big “X?” Well, that “X” can also mark a killer deer decoying set up if it represents where two logging roads intersect. Big woods deer use these logging roads as travel lanes, and bucks frequently scrape along the edges of these roads. The place where two logging roads cross each other can be an excellent spot for a decoy set-up. It’s good to find deer scrapes and rubs along the edges that indicate a rut travel corridor. Also, remember that you need to be able to see at least a football field or two down at least two of the four roads leading from the intersection so cruising deer can see the decoy far enough away that it will not startle them.
  4. Multiples:Many hunters are discovering that a gaggle of decoys can be better than just one. In fact, a lone decoy during the pre-rut is more apt to spook deer than using two or more. The most deer decoys hunters use at one time? Around five is pretty much the cap – a medium buck, bedded doe, standing doe, and two fawns. Because of the number of deer decoys employed, this really is an evening-only deal and is best employed on a field edge. You must get to the stand early enough to get the decoys set up and yourself hunkered down an hour or more before you expect the first deer to arrive on the scene. And, it is important to set the decoys where approaching deer can pick them up as far away as possible.
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