By Will Allen
Bow hunters are a patient lot. We sit up in trees and wait days and sometimes weeks before drawing and releasing an arrow toward the vitals of an unsuspecting deer. We’re maniacal about wind and avoid certain areas because our scent may offend our quarry. The short effective range of our weapons add another element of torture. While gun deer hunters in most states, especially those east of the Mississippi, can ethically shoot most deer within view, bow hunters often watch their would be targets helplessly as they wander off without providing a shot opportunity.
Many hunters set up along established trails within heavy cover to spare themselves from some of this torture. But in fields and even in heavy cover, deer are unpredictable. Hunters manipulate trails by cutting trees or fences, make mock scrapes, and use bait or other scents to lure deer closer to their stand. In some cases, those things may not be legal or practical. Another great way to close the distance is by using a deer decoy.
Keep in mind a deer decoy isn’t going to bring bucks in from miles away. The decoy can give you an edge in a situation where a deer may hang up out of range. The best place to use a decoy is in transition plots and meadows. You want to place the decoy in an area that is visible to cruising bucks. However, wide open fields are not as effective as smaller plots. Mature bucks are usually not going to move into wide fields during daylight hours, decoy or no decoy. Decoys can also be successfully used in wooded areas. I like open areas at the bottom of ridgelines in hardwood forests. Bucks travel near the top of ridgelines cruising for does. A doe decoy in a small clearing will essentially allow you to hunt both ridges while sitting at the bottom. This a great evening strategy since thermals will keep scent at the bottom of the ridge.
One of the biggest question marks when it comes to hunting deer with decoys is whether to use a doe or buck decoy. The answer is… it depends. During early season and pre-rut a buck decoy is usually the way to go. Bucks are still establishing a hierarchy and most mature bucks have a hard time walking away from an opportunity to establish his dominance. However, a buck decoy can intimidate younger deer. So if you’re not picky about the deer you shoot a doe decoy may give you a higher rate of success. This is especially true during the rut or post rut. By this time the pecking order is already established and even the most dominant buck is probably not going to go out of his way to fight another buck when he’s focused on breeding does. Some hunters take the guess work out of it and use both a buck and a doe decoy. The idea here is to not only challenge a buck’s dominance, but create competition for a doe.
How you place the decoy also depends on the sex. Bucks generally approach other bucks head on. To avoid being seen by the bucks you’re hunting, place buck decoys quartering toward you upwind from your position. If he’s focused on the decoy, the buck will be looking away from you. Place doe decoys quartering away from you. If you’re hunting with the wind in your face(and you should be), a buck will approach the doe from downwind or behind her. This will put him between you and the decoy.
Decoys can be a big help in closing the distance to a deer. However, they are not without their disadvantages. The big one is their size. I carry enough when walking into the woods. A big, bulky decoy is the last thing I need to add to my pile of gear. Montana Decoys and Renzo’s have very effective, realistic silhouette decoys. These are lightweight and they breakdown for easy transport. Some guys just are not confident in a silhouette. For those looking for a light, three dimensional decoy, Tink’s has a very nice inflatable decoy. The rubber body is wrapped in a photographic cloth shell so it doesn’t have the plastic sheen some inflatable decoys have. The main issue with silhouettes and inflatable decoys is wind. A stiff breeze can blow them all over. But even heavy foam decoys can be a detriment in windy conditions.
Another thing to consider is scent. Hunters can be downright compulsive when it comes to scent elimination on their bodies and then pull a decoy right out of the box before hunting. Let your decoy air out well before the season starts. While spraying yourself down with odor eliminator before heading into the woods, don’t forget the decoy. If you like to use estrous scents, a few squirts on the backside of your decoy is also a good idea.
Deer decoys are not a magic pill for deer hunting success. But if you’re having a hard time getting deer within range, a decoy may be enough to close the deal.