Decoy Dynamics—Trick or Treat

When I stepped out of my truck onto the frosty ground, I knew it was going to be a good morning. The air was cold, high pressure had settled in, it was the first week of November and the bucks were on the move. If I had to pick a perfect day to be bowhunting whitetails in the Sooner State, this would have been it.

Positioned between two bedding areas in a sparsely covered Mesquite brush flat that the local bucks and does routinely used when traveling, I setup the buck decoy and slipped into my blind and began my vigil. It wasn’t a matter of if I was going to see a buck, but the right one, and with several good buck cruising the area I felt that it would only be a matter of time.

As the sun broke from the eastern skyline, movement on a ridge a couple hundred yards away caught my attention. His heavy body told me at once it wasn’t another doe that I had seen a few minutes slipping down the same ridge, and a quick flash of the glass confirmed it. His good 8-point public land frame easily met my standards so I immediately sent a soft grunt into the cold air.

His head sharply turned and when he noticed the fake he started heading my direction. The 200 yard golf quickly faded as I watched his antlers cruise above the brush in my direction, and at 37 yards he paused to size him up. As if I had written the script my self, he bristled up and began to swing downwind in a stiff-legged gait in an effort to get eye-to-eye with the interloper, but he never made it that far—courtesy of a well-placed Rage Broadhead.

I’ll be honest, when the decoy craze first hit the whitetail arena some years ago I wasn’t keen on the tactic. The thought of packing in a cumbersome and noise decoy, and having to get out of my stand every time it was knocked or blown over, would ultimately do more harm than good. However, when I started witnessing the success others were having and the adrenaline-filled encounters a well-placed decoy can have, I quickly became a fan. As I began to understand the dos and don’t of successful decoy tactics and applying them to specific scenarios on a limited basis, it wasn’t long before I started seeing my own decoy successes.

One of the main reasons using a decoy in the right circumstance works is that it coincides with a whitetail bucks natural behavior. By nature whitetails are territorial. Even when you see bachelor groups of bucks bumping around together during the summer months, there is still a pecking order among the group. During the rut these pecking orders become territorial in nature and bucks will fight to protect what they think is theirs and the does that live there as well. When you couple this with an intense breeding period you have the perfect opportunity to bring a buck into bow range.

There’s no question that the location you pick to bowhunt and how you have the decoy(s) setup is the first key to finding consistent success. In most circumstances, I prefer to place decoys in an area that provide maximum visibility. If a cruising buck can’t see a decoy it will have minimal effect in the long run of bring him close. Setting them up on field edges is an obvious choice, but to enhance this option consider field corners. In my experience, corners tend to offer the best overall setup option. Not only do bucks routinely like to cut the corners of fields as they efficiently travel searching for does during the rut, but they are also a favorite location for deer to enter a field to feed in general. Furthermore, these locations offer multiple setup options for wind direction and provide twice the exposure for bucks cruising the inside edge of the timber, which they often do.

When setting up the decoy consider wind direction, as well as how a buck is likely to approach. In most circumstances, when a buck aggressively commits to the setup he will approach the decoy head-to-head and downwind when possible. Because of this I always face my buck decoy angling towards my position around 20 to 30 yards away. This not only provides the best shot opportunities as the aggressive buck naturally circles to get face-to-face with the fake, but it also provides the wind advantage to both the hunter and the aggressive buck, who’s natural desire is to scent check the interloper.

As far as timing goes, in my experience bucks are most venerable to a decoy trick during the early seeking phase of the rut, right up to the peak breeding phase. Another factor that can make a huge difference is the buck-to-doe ratio in a given area. Competition among bucks tends to breed more aggressive behavior.

When it comes to scents, there are two factors to consider. First, whitetail’s won’t tolerate a decoy with a hint of human scent, no matter how real it looks. Always wash the decoy before using it, wear gloves when handling it and spray it down thoroughly with a scent elimination spray.

Combining deer scents with a decoy setup also can bring an additional level of realism. Whether it is doe estrous scent with doe decoys or a dominate buck scent with a buck decoy setup, it’s import to match the scent to the decoy setup and the time of year. Avoid putting scent directly on the decoy as well, but instead put it on the ground near the decoy and use them sparingly.

Just like properly using of scents can add realism, so can calls. Weather you’re using just a buck decoy, or a buck/doe pair, the simple inclusion of deer vocalizations will help you get noticed. Even if you’re just using a buck decoy, which is what I generally do, the associated sound of an estrous doe bleat combined with grunts may fool another buck into believing the doe is hidden from view for the moment. Rattling can obviously bring a nearby buck to his feet, and seeing a buck decoy standing at attention when he get’s there can seal the deal and bring him close.