A buck’s age will have a lot to do with how he reacts to your decoy setup.
By Dale R. Larson
Last week we looked at good timing and setups for using decoys. This segment will provide more setup details and general tips, as well as discuss various animal reactions.
As I wrote last week, my favorite setup includes two decoys, a bedded doe and a 2.5-year-old buck. I place the bedded doe 13 to 16 yards from my stand and set the buck facing her about 7 or 8 yards distant. This puts the doe’s rear end, the closest part of the setup, toward me. With this placement, the bedded doe is not noticed until the target buck is fairly close.
The target buck initially reacts to the 2.5-year buck decoy, thinking it is an intruder standing near a doe or other bucks. Rattling and/or grunting can work well to get the buck’s attention. Once it has spotted the buck decoy, you shouldn’t have to call again unless it loses interest. The decoyed animal’s reaction to this setup is determined by its dominance and aggression.
For the purpose of this example, I am going to use age as the dominance factor. Remember that I am using a buck decoy with the headgear of a 2.5-year-old. A buck’s reactions will change when the antler size on the decoy changes. In my experience, deer veer to get downwind, depending on their dominance — whether they just lost a fight, are decoy-shy or just plain careful. All these examples are after the target animal is close enough to see both decoys in the setup.
A 1.5-year-old buck will approach and show no aggression to the buck decoy but will keep its distance. It will nonchalantly move to the rear of the doe, trying to get her to rise. When this doesn’t work, the deer will approach the buck decoy head on. If it gets no reaction, it might try to smell the decoy’s nose or will move to the rear to smell the tarsal glands. If the decoyed animal doesn’t smell any human scent, it might just hang around or get aggressive with either decoy.
A 2.5-year-old buck will usually approach with some signs of aggression. Whether or not it attacks the buck decoy depends on the individual animal. It also will turn its attention to the doe and approach her from the rear. When she doesn’t react, the buck likely will go back to the buck decoy looking as big and mean as it can. This might satisfy the deer or cause it to either get friendly with the decoy or attempt to fight it.
If a 3.5-year-old buck approaches, it will be aggressive. It will start posturing, trying to intimidate the decoy. When it sees the doe, it will also go to her rear, trying to get her to stand. This buck might act aggressive toward the doe, but usually will turn that aggression on the unlucky young buck decoy. This guy means business. Every hair on its body will be standing on end, making it look twice as big. Its ears will be laid back, and the antlers will appear larger. It might even have a snarl on its face. It will approach the decoy head on and then veer to one side or the other, showing off its profile.
With the decoy not submitting to its posturing, the real buck has no choice but to do bodily harm to the decoy. It will continue its posturing until past the shoulders of the decoy and, in a blink of an eye, turn 90 degrees and charge the decoy with all its might. The buck, focused on destroying its opponent, becomes oblivious to almost everything else.
With the buck moving from one decoy to the other, this setup gives you a high percentage of getting a broadside or angling-away target. Your shot likely will be no more than 20 yards, usually less, when the target buck leaves the doe decoy to challenge the buck decoy.
Remember, you’re field-testing the durability of your decoys. Expect to render some first-aid, reattach limbs or totally rebuild.
I make the decoy as life-like as possible by selecting a full body decoy over a silhouette. I use real antlers of various sizes, taxidermy glass eyes, and a real tail, making the ears and tail automated. I also repaint the decoy in the off-season to keep it looking sharp.
When buying a decoy, look for one that can be used in varying body positions (standing or bedding). It needs sturdy anchor points to pin down the legs, too. Extend your decoy’s longevity by using a pin that will tear away from the anchor points before they break, but will still support the decoy to withstand wind and some abuse from the deer. I guarantee that one of the decoy’s first injuries will be compound fractures of the fibula and tibia.
As with all hunting tactics and equipment, check your state laws on the use of decoys, automation and remote control.
This article was published in the September 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.