by Naomi K. Shapiro
When hunters hear the word "decoys," the first thing they usually think about are ducks, wild turkeys, and geese. Well, while many don't use them—and some don't even know about them—deer hunters are more and more using decoys to bring that trophy buck into shooting range. While not new, the use of deer decoys is becoming more popular. And as we always "preach," don't for a second think that using a super-attractive decoy will in and of itself guarantee success. It won't. The successful deer hunter knows that the use of a decoy is just one part of the "big picture," which includes things like antler rattling, deer calls, scents and baits (where allowed). It's all part of completing the "puzzle" and you need every "piece" to get it done.
A deer decoy can be something as simple as a solid, plastic deer. They are the least inexpensive, and will provide some level of attractant. Those with the money can get decoys as elaborate as one can imagine—movable legs, ears, tail, head, face—they all have some type of "action": The legs are movable. The tail flips back and forth. The ears rotate. And some even have "electronic controls" like are used for model airplanes. The hunter is able to manipulate movement in any way he/she wants. We've seen decoys that are made out of actual hide, with real antlers—there's no limit to what's available. But just know one thing: They can be very expensive!
As an example, guide Phil Schweik says that the Wisconsin DNR has at least some of their decoys, which are extremely complex and intricate in both looks and operation (and used to catch poachers), made by a man who lives in his home town of Mosinee (pronounced "Moh-zen-eeh"), Wisconsin. While Phil doesn't know how much these decoys cost, he says he's seen them, and, at times they seem more realistic than a live deer. For most caring hunters, this type of expenditure by government is well worth the tax dollars used. "Nail the you-know-whats" who take the biggest bucks illegally, or try to shoot one of these planted decoys off-season, or by "shining" (shooting from a vehicle), or whatever. We've noted an increasing punishment scenario for these so-called "hunters," including mammoth fines, loss of license, community service, and, at times jail. This type of illegal behavior of the "few," directly and negatively, impacts the untold millions of hunters who follow the rules; and we say, "good" for the punishments that are meted out—so if decoys help, great.
OK, back to the legal hunter. The secret to using a decoy successfully is how to set them up—when and location. For instance, doe decoys are set up to attract other does and yearlings—and at the right time—and, of course the big bucks. By using a doe decoy, other does will feel more secure when seeing this decoy. The area will appear "safe." The more does there are in an area during the rut, for instance, will attract more bucks—and of course will include a real trophy here—and-there. Again, don't think just setting out a decoy will do it all for you. It won't. It's got to be used in combination with all other attractants, as we said in the first paragraph of this article.
A buck decoy is set out to attract other bucks. In the rut, a big buck with a big rack of antlers—decoy or real—will bring in other bucks who will challenge for territorial rights.
Regardless of what decoy you use, place them UPWIND of your stand, maybe 15-20 yards from it. Place it FACING YOU, kind of quartering look at a 45 degree angle. You're downwind from the deer. One real "neat" trick that Phil Schweik uses all the time is to remove the one antler from the side of the decoy that's facing you. Why? Because, typically when deer approach another deer, they usually circle downwind first, and will approach head-on to the decoy. Deer will always approach another deer from the "safer" or less dominant side." And a missing antler tells the approaching deer that the side he's moving toward is less threatening. And what does that do? That lines up the approaching deer perfectly and in the exact quartering position right in front of you. i.e. the exact shot position you want.
Now you're all "smiles," saying to yourself, those are some good tips, and I'm going to get that trophy buck right off by good use of a decoy. Forget it. Even the best decoy by itself, placed perfectly, will at times simply not work. Don't expect deer to rush in. They may just stand off and stare at the decoy. That happens a lot. BUT, when a decoy is used in combination with all the other attractants that are available, you may be able to coax one in. Decoys are just one part of the entire hunting scenario—another piece of the puzzle. Don't forget that. It's the secret to a successful hunt.