Decoys add excitement and a whole new element to bowhunting setups.
By Dale R. Larson
If you haven’t added deer decoys to your bowhunting arsenal, you are missing some of the most up-close, exciting encounters you will ever have in the field. But using decoys requires a thought process and added preparation.
Decoys are a tool that can be used the entire season, but the time frame surrounding the rut is optimum for arrowing a buck. If you asked 10 hunters what the best time to decoy is, you’d get numerous answers. If I had only one phase of the rut to decoy, I’d choose the latter part of the pre-rut.
During the pre-rut, bucks are in their best physical condition of the year, and bucks are moving more than any other time. They are trying to lay down as much sign as possible to show their dominance. With all this movement, buck-to-buck interaction is high. If a strange buck (decoy) is spotted, they just can’t resist investigating. The last part of the pre-rut always brings a few early does in estrus, which adds a fatal attraction, especially when using both a buck and a doe decoy.
Decoying allows you to hunt successfully all day. With bucks moving throughout the day during the rut, you always have the chance to score. It also allows you to hunt non-traditional mid-day spots such as nighttime feeding areas. Bucks that revisit these feeding areas during the day can be fooled by your decoy and positioned for the shot. Without the decoy, this midday buck would skirt around the food source searching for hot trails and staying back within the cover.
The logistics of decoying can be a nightmare. You might not be able to get to your morning stand due to extra time, noise and scent trails. Because of this, I normally wait and set up my decoys after daylight or stash them at my site prior to the hunt. I’ve laid decoys down and covered them with brush or laid them on top of haystacks — whatever it takes to conceal my secret weapon. It seems to work, but I have often wondered what the other deer think about the deer lying flat on top of the haystack.
Bowhunting seasons that correspond with the rut give us the opportunity to take advantage of our quarry’s lust and desire. Sometimes the lust is so strong you can’t do anything wrong, but other times, everything has to be just right to make your decoy setup work. Decoys can be as simple as a silhouette to a complete full-body mount. Your hunt type or mode of transportation can dictate which type of decoy you use. However, I lean toward more detail and realism. If you want bone-crushing excitement, go to the max on detail.
Choosing a somewhat elevated and clear position for your decoy allows real deer to see it from a distance, keeping them from spooking at sudden sightings. Deer that get too close to your decoy before they see it often spook. I think it scares them because they don’t hear or see the animal, and suddenly, there it is. Proper placement also gives you a good field of view to observe the animal’s approach and read its reactions to the decoy and/or your calling. It’s always a better scenario to direct the deer’s attention to your setup by calling (rattling or grunting) than allowing it just to walk into the decoy(s).
When using a buck decoy, set the decoy facing you. All aggressive bucks will approach the front of the decoy to be able to posture. Do the opposite with a doe decoy set. Position the rear of the decoy toward you. Bucks will approach her in an attempt to make her stand for breeding.
The decoy should be set up close to you – 15 to 20 yards – becoming the center of the target zone. Don’t set the decoy so that the outside radius of the target zone is beyond your shooting capability. You can position the decoy to help present the proper shot angle, but when dealing with wild animals, there is no way to predict exactly how they’ll approach the setup.
As with any bowhunting situation, scent management is crucial. When handling your decoy, wear rubber gloves and store your decoy outside. I use lure and scent in my setup, but I always use an appropriate scent (tarsal gland, doe-in-estrus, etc.) Be sure to place the scent or lure on the ground or on other objects and NOT on the decoy itself. You do not want to contaminate your decoy with a scent you might not want to use later. Prior to each use, I always spray the decoys completely with a scent elimination product.
Your own imagination is the limit regarding decoy quality, number of decoys and the array of setups. My favorite includes two decoys: a bedded doe and a 2.5-year-old buck. I’ve had tremendous success with this and will discuss it in more detail in part 2 of this article.
Decoys were made for bowhunting. They give the bowhunter the opportunity to draw the animals into effective shooting range, plus they give us another opportunity to learn and observe animal behavior up close.
This article was published in the August 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.