Decoys for Deer – Yes or No?

Sponsored by:  Wildlife Research Center

 

By: Bob Robb

I have a love/hate relationship with deer decoys.

Like many bowhunters, I love using decoys for big gobblers, and after the dust settled following this year’s spring turkey season my mind had already fast-forwarded to the coming deer seasons. (I know, I know, it is an illness!) What about decoys for whitetails. Do they hurt, or help, you?

Gary Clancy is one skilled, experienced whitetail hunter who has had so much success using deer decoys that he has become something of a fanatic. His classic 200-plus page book, “Rattling & Decoying Whitetails” has become a sort of bible on the topic. While there are several nuances to using decoys successfully, Clancy stresses three things above all else:

1) Decoy placement is the most important part of the game, even more important than what brand of decoy you use. “The wind must always be blowing from the decoy to your stand, for obvious reasons,” Clancy said. “Also, always face a buck decoy towards your stand and a doe decoy away from your stand. Never mind all of that ‘sage’ advice which says to never face a decoy towards your stand. Those guys have never decoyed deer. When a buck deer approaches a buck decoy, it will virtually always circle the decoy until it is nose-to-nose. When that happens, it is facing away from you and giving you the shot angle you need. Conversely, a buck deer will almost always approach a doe decoy from the rear, checking her for estrous.”

2) After setting up the decoy spray it down with an odor neutralizing spray. “Using a decoy that smells like a human won’t cut it,” Clancy said. “Wear rubber gloves when handling the decoy, then after it is in position spray it down liberally.”

3) The more visible and the greater distance at which the decoy is visible the more effective it will be. “The farther away a deer sees a decoy when it first spots it, the better the odds that it will commit to the decoy,” Clancy said. “Decoys in heavy cover scare more deer than they attract.” Field edges, dry creek bottoms and sloughs, and fence lines are great decoy spots, as are open stands of mature woods. In fields, place the decoy up on a small hillock or mound, especially if you are hunting a depression or hollow, so it will be visible to deer no matter where they enter the area.

It is critical to spray down your decoy with a quality scent-eliminating spray before going to your stand. If a deer smells you on the decoy, it is all over.

Clancy believes that your chances of having a mature buck come to your decoy are best during the 10- to 14-day period just prior to the first estrus. During this time bucks are actively scraping and roaming, and seem to respond to both grunting and rattling, which is a very effective way to draw a buck’s attention to a decoy that it might otherwise not see. During the peak of the rut, when most of the mature bucks have already found does to breed, it is possible to decoy in immature bucks, but the chances of pulling in a whopper are greatly lessened.

Some hunters like to use scent, like rutting buck or doe-in-estrous, in conjunction with decoys. If you do use scent, instead of putting it on the decoy itself, take a small stick, jab it into the ground underneath the deer’s belly, and place a scent wick on the stick. This may hold deer around your decoy longer, which of course can help when you are waiting for them to move into position for a shot. Whatever you want to use a good place to shop is Wildlife Research Center.

My experience with decoys over the years has been mixed. I have tried them in many different environments, from the wide-open prairies of the Dakotas to the agricultural-rich Midwest to the timbered mountains of the West, as well as some use in the Deep South and western Canada. When the decoy craze first began in the early 1980’s, we stumbled about using crude 3D targets as decoys and essentially terrified far more deer than we excited. Then, as knowledge was gained through experience and the decoys became more sophisticated, successes became more prevalent. (This is especially true if you can add a little motion to the decoy). The one thing I did learn is that, like all things whitetail hunting, nothing will guarantee a close encounter with a mature buck each and every time you try it.

Deer decoys can help you get a shot at a mature buck under the right circumstances, but like all things whitetails, it doesn’t work all the time.

That’s why today, while I still use decoys from time to time, I pick my spots judiciously. The timing has to be right, local buck-to-doe ratios strong, the terrain conducive to the deer seeing the decoy from afar, and it has to be possible to haul a decoy into position, then set it up, quietly, with little fear of spooking deer in the process.
What about you guys? Are you decoy believers, or not?