Deer Decoying

by T.R. Michels

Decoying deer has become one of the most productive techniques in deer hunting. The key is where you put them and when you use them.

T.R.'s Tips: Deer Decoying 

Decoying deer has become one of the most productive techniques in deer hunting. Many hunters have had good success using decoys to take bucks. But, I find that many of the hunters at my seminars have reservations and questions about the use of decoys. 

The questions are; 

  • Are they legal? 
  • Do they work? 
  • Where do you put them? 
  • When can you use them? 
The first two questions are easy to answer. 

Are they legal? As far as I know decoys are legal in most areas. There has been talk of regulating them in some states, so check your local regulations to be sure. I think the major concern about decoys is safety, and that can be addressed by hanging a red cloth or orange flagging near the decoy. 

Do they work? The answer to that question is an unequivocal "sometimes." When decoys are used in the right area, at the right time, and precautions taken that no unnatural sight, scent or sound is associated with them, they can be very effective. 

The answer to the last two questions often dictate the success of decoys. 

Where do you put them? Decoys work best in high use areas where deer are seen on a regular basis. If you hunt bucks the decoy should be placed along buck travel routes, in staging areas near food sources, or near the dominance areas of rubs and scrapes the bucks frequent on a regular basis. The decoy also needs to be within your shooting distance, in a shooting lane, and preferably not in a line from the deer to you. When placed away from you the decoy can actually distract the deer's attention from you, giving you the opportunity to move and shoot.

When do you use them? Decoys can be used any time of the year. Deer respond out of curiosity to any new deer in their area by investigating. Any deer may respond at dawn and dusk near feeding areas, simply because they are there, and bucks respond well during most phases of the rut, especially when used in conjunction with calls, scents and rattling. Decoys work best when used with these other attracting techniques, because together they complete the illusion of a real deer in the area.

Decoys have been around in some form for a long time. There is evidence that Indians used hides to cover themselves to avoid detection and attract deer at the same time. In modern days silhouettes have been used for many years, and now decoys come in many forms. Hunters successfully use full mounted deer, archery targets, and fiberglass, plastic and collapsible foam decoys. Because I guide and carry a lot of gear any product I use must meet certain requirements. It must work, be lightweight, compact and portable.

With these qualities in mind I came up with the idea for the Feather Flex bedded deer decoy. After it came out I realized that it would be fairly easy to add antlers, and to use different colors on the same body to create a mule deer or antelope in either buck or doe, and an elk calf. I have used these decoys for years with excellent success. 

Although the Feather Flex is a bedded decoy it easily makes up for lack of visibility in its portability and ease of use. What good is a decoy if you can't get it there? You can increase the visibility of the decoy by placing it in open areas or on a log or bush. I use it because it can be rolled up and transported in a daypack or under my arm, and easily carried a couple of miles into my hunting site.

During my research I encountered a couple of areas where the decoy should not be used. I placed it directly on a deer trail, where deer would not normally bed. A 6 point buck that came to a grunt call really checked out the doe decoy, and he stayed within fifteen yards of the decoy for ten minutes. I could have easily taken him several times as he walked around the area. But, he never came closer than ten yards. He came closest when he smelled the doe scent from downwind, but he was reluctant to come closer because the decoy was in an unnatural area. Don't put a bedded decoy on a trail. For best results put a bedded decoy in areas where a deer might normally lie down. Standing decoys can be used on or near trails.

I also placed the decoy just off the trail, near a scrape, in a bottleneck leading to feeding area. The first deer to see it was a doe with two fawns. When I first saw her I grunted to get her attention. She looked up, spotted the decoy, stared, then slowly fed toward the decoy. It took her fifteen minutes to cover twenty yards, all the while stopping to look at the decoy. I was on the ground, not ten yards from the decoy, when a big bodied, 140 class 8 point buck came up behind me. Before I heard him he was within ten yards of the decoy and staring. Then I heard more movement and five does and fawns moved up behind the buck. They all looked at the decoy then moved around it before approaching the doe with her fawns coming from the other direction. They eventually ran through the bottleneck avoiding the other doe. 

It was obvious the five does and fawns had avoided the bedded decoy and wanted to go through the bottleneck. But, they were reluctant to go through the home range of the first doe, which was one of the dominant does in the area, and she had priority. They avoided the decoy because they couldn't identify it. 

But, they were not alarmed by the decoy, and approached within ten yards. The decoy did not threaten the does, but did not arouse any dominance or breeding activity as it did in bucks. Eventually most of the deer that saw the decoy passed within ten yards of it, none came closer. But, most of them stopped, long enough and close enough that I could have taken almost all of them. Although the does showed little interest other than curiosity, the buck stood long enough to get a good whiff of the estrus scent. Because he was with an estrus doe he decided to attend to the business at hand. I watched later as he drove the fawns away and began chasing the doe.

When the decoy was placed in other areas bucks would come up and kick the decoy to initiate breeding. On one video the buck actually rolled a decoy with small antlers twenty yards. But, even if these "close encounters" hadn't happen it wouldn't have mattered. The decoy brought deer in close enough to shoot, positioned them for a clear shot, and stopped them long enough to get a shot. At the same time it distracted their attention from my position so that I could easily raise my gun or bow and shoot.

If deer don't come into range, the main reasons are; they smell, hear or see something that is not natural; don't want to go to the area where the hunter is; they hear or smell another deer but don't see it. Deer come into range because they were going there anyhow; are attracted by a sight, scent or sound; or are just plain curious. When deer respond to scents or calls but hang up out of shooting range it's often because they don't see another deer. In order to survive the deer have to rely on their senses. To attract animals you must convince them that one of their own kind is where you want them to be by using the "3 S's", Sight, Scent and Sound. The addition of a decoy to calls, rattling and scents completes the total illusion of a real animal in the area.

If a wary buck is traveling through the area you choose to hunt, hears your grunt call, smells your deer scent and is in the mood, he may come in to investigate. But, if he doesn't see another deer he may not come into range. But, if he sees a decoy, and checks it out just because he is curious and wants to find out what this new "thing" is, he may present a closer shot than if you were not using a decoy. And that is why you use any product that attracts deer; to get the animal into range, no matter what the reason. 

T.R.'s Tips: Decoying Deer 

  1. For safety use a decoy with blaze orange, hang fluorescent tape nearby, or hunt from an elevated stand. 
  2. Don't get human or unnatural scent on the decoy. Use gloves when carrying and positioning the decoy, then spray it with cover-up scent. 
  3. Place the decoy in a high use area; near trails, rubs, scrapes, bedding, staging or feeding areas with nearby cover. 
  4. Don't place bedded decoys directly on trails. Deer don't usually bed on trails. 
  5. Place decoys upwind of where you expect the deer to appear. Bucks like to approach downwind from cover if they can. 
  6. Place decoys within your personal shooting distance in a clear shooting lane. 
  7. Place a doe decoy with its rump toward you. Bucks often approach does from the rear or side, presenting you with a shot. 
  8. Place a buck decoy with its head toward you for a shot. Bucks generally approach another buck cautiously from the front. 
  9. Don't place the decoy in a direct line between you and where you expect the deer to come from, the deer may see you. Place the decoy off to one side of your stand to distract the deer's attention from your position. 
  10. To get the buck's attention on the decoy, tape a small piece of white plastic to the tail area, so that it can blow in the wind, or use one of the new tail motion decoys. 
  11. To keep the bucks attention focused on the decoy place a few drops of deer urine on it, doe in estrus for doe decoys, buck in rut for buck decoys.
  12. Use buck or doe scents, and calling or rattling to create the illusion of another deer in the area, and to initially attract bucks to the decoy. 
This article is an excerpt from the Whitetail Addict's Manual ($19.95 + $5.00 S&H), by T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products catalog at www.TRMichels.com.

If you are interested in more whitetail hunting tips, or more whitetail biology and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com or email me at: TRMichels@yahoo.com. If you have questions about whitetails log on to the T.R.'s Tips message board. To find out when the whitetail rut starts, peaks and ends in your area click on Whitetail Rut Dates Chart. 
 
To List Of T.R. Michels Articles:

T.R. Michels
T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His latest products are the 2003 Revised Edition of the Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2003 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the 2003 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual.
For a catalog of books and other hunting products contact: T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983, USA. Phone: 507-824-3296, E-mail: trmichels@yahoo.com, Website: www.TRMichels.com

For a catalog of books and other hunting aids contact:

T.R. Michels 
Trinity Mountain Outdoors
PO Box 284
Wanamingo, MN 55983
507-824-3296

E-mail: trmichels@yahoo.com
Web: www.TRMichels.com

To List Of T.R. Michels Articles:

T.R. Michels
T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher & wildlife behaviorist, outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His latest products are the 2003 Revised Edition of the Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2003 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the 2003 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual. 

Contact:
T.R. Michels 
Trinity Mountain Outdoors
PO Box 284
Wanamingo, MN 55983
507-824-3296

Web: www.TRMichels.com
E-mail: trmichels@yahoo.com

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