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Deer Decoy Tactics
By Tom Cannon

deer_decoy

After listening to dozens of serious deer hunters over the last few years, I have been amazed at the number of hunters who do not use deer decoys. Why is that? Most turkey hunters carry decoys and use them, waterfowlers almost always utilize decoys, and even predator hunters will often place a decoy of some sort out front. So why wouldn’t deer hunters be willing to try one out?

“Heck yeah decoys work,” laughed Alex Rutledge, a Hunter’s Specialties pro staffer. “In fact out of the fifteen Pope and Young bucks I have killed, about eighty percent were taken with a decoy!” he added.

I have been using a deer decoy for three seasons now. To me it just makes perfect sense. Every animal I have ever hunted has almost always been more at ease with “one of his own” out in the open. This is especially true if the hunter is calling, since the approaching animal is expecting to see something. A decoy will take some of the attention away from the hunter.

Since its inception, the Boss Buck from Flambeau has been an outstanding decoy. We field tested the decoy since it came on the market and it has proven its worth numerous times. The Boss Buck can easily be converted from buck to doe simply by removing the antlers, but I always use it as a buck. Flambeau really hit a home run with this decoy. All the appendages fit inside the body, so it can be packed into the hunting site, but be warned that it does make some noise. I have found it best to pack the decoy in ahead of time if at all possible.

Set up time is just a minute or two. Attaching the legs and ears, mount the antlers to the head, and then slide the head onto the body. Of course, I always use rubber gloves and Hunter’s Specialties Scent-A-Way spray to avoid leaving human scent on the decoy. I rarely add any buck scent, but the decoy has a notch where a scent pad can be added if desired.

In three years afield, and after speaking to several veteran hunters, I have gleaned a few tricks as far as setting up my buck decoy. The buck set up doesn’t seem to bother does, nor does it bother most small bucks if they see it. Often little bucks will just give the decoy a wide berth.

Alex Rutledge
Alex Rutledge

Never use the decoy in an area where road hunter (poachers) can see it, or during gun season. Safety of the hunter must always remain the foremost thought when using a decoy.

It goes without saying that the decoy should be visible to deer. Open country allows the decoy to work better than in thick cover where it may alarm a deer that stubbles onto the decoy. Choose a spot that has cover nearby, but is open. Remember you are trying to entice a big buck, so put the decoy in an area he will feel comfortable entering. Often mature bucks won’t enter a wide open field until dark so pick a remote clearing or similar place. A couple places that have worked for me are pastures with thick timber close, clearings near creek bottoms, and patches of CRP grass near timber or river bottoms. Alex recommends hedge rows, clearings, and the corners of fields whether those be crop or pasture. He also agrees that decoy placement should be out in the open where the decoy “won’t surprise the deer”.

Bucks will nearly always approach a decoy from downwind. Be prepared for this by being as scent cautious as possible. Wear rubber boots, keep clothing fresh and free from any human or foul odors. Handle your decoy as little as possible and then spray it down with Scent-A-Way. If possible use terrain and objects to force the approaching buck into shooting lanes. Bluffs, fences, dead falls, briars are all objects deer will often avoid. Keep these in mind and place your stand and decoy up wind of such things if available.

“The Boss Buck is as much a distraction (to the deer) as it is an attraction”, quipped Tad Brown, a Flambeau pro staffer. “By that I mean, the decoy will hold the approaching deer’s attention allowing the hunter some opportunity to draw or re-position if need be”, he added. By no means will the decoy allow a hunter to be sloppy, but should the need arise to adjust your body, or move your bow behind a limb, it’s often possible to do so without being spotted by the buck.

One thing many guides like about decoys is that they afford the guide or hunter plenty of time to survey the approaching buck. Usually the buck will take his time coming in. He will “show boat” and posture, bristle up all his hair, and do the stiff legged “gun fighter” walk toward his adversary, the decoy. It can be a very entertaining and nerve racking time for the hunter. This is a great chance to really glass the buck to determine if he is “shooter” quality for the area. Once the bino work is done, sit back and relax if you can.

Keep any noise or movement to a minimum. You want the approaching buck to be totally focused on the decoy and he might let some of his “guard” down. Be prepared that he might dismiss the decoy at first sight. Have a grunt call handy. If the buck doesn’t pay any attention to your imposter, let loose with a quiet grunt. Should that not work, get louder. Lastly, if nothing else works try a snort, wheeze call. Use this as a last resort, since it can spook “non dominate” bucks.

big_buck_with_decoy

Maybe the buck glanced back, but kept going. Watch his body movements! Often, if he is not spooked by scent or made suspicious he will often return at a later time. Last year I had my decoy set up early. Prior to shooting light I could hear them, barely make out two bucks fighting a couple hundred yards away. I am fairly certain they saw the decoy, since when they had enough they both looked my way. Luckily, they went their separate ways and didn’t come toward the decoy. Fifteen minutes later as shooting time was approaching, the bigger of those two bucks walked from cover and headed my way.

This buck did his best “mad bull” imitation. He snorted, ripped up sod with his hooves, shook his head and slowly came forward doing the “gun fighter” stride. I knew he was a shooter, probably a 140 class buck, and between his antics and antler size, my blood pressure was going through the roof. At least five to six minutes were required for him to come one hundred yards. Finally, he was in bow range, challenging my poor decoy to a fight he couldn’t win. Well, unfortunately I didn’t bag that buck, but I sure enjoyed the show!

Expect the buck to make a circle and take his time. Keep this in mind when setting up. Try to figure out the places that offer the best shooting lanes. Know your yardage to those spots! I try to put the decoy’s head facing the direction I want the buck’s head to be, since they will almost always approach head to head. Cock the decoy’s body slightly to offer the best possible shot angle from your stand or blind. Since I’m right handed, I want the decoy to my right and downwind of me. This allows me to have a bit of time before the buck gets “into my scent cone”. I don’t want to take a chance of my scent hitting the buck when he is close, since he will spook.

I put my decoy no farther than one half of my confident shooting distance. For me, I rarely take shots over thirty yards. Thus, I want my decoy no farther than fifteen yards out. Sometimes they hang up, so the hunter might have to take a longer shot. If you place your decoy at twenty-five or thirty yards out the buck might hang up ten or more yards out from there affording no shot.

Another thing to consider is the antler size of the buck you want to kill. Flambeau ships the Boss Buck with removable antlers that are about 115 inch class. Usually smaller bucks will stay away from their bigger adversaries, so if you happen to be in an area or want to harvest smaller bucks consider reducing the size of the decoy’s rack. Another trick I have found is to handicap the decoy. Deer like any other animal will more likely pick on a dis-advantaged animal. Occasionally, I will only mount one antler to the decoy. This will encourage borderline bucks to come in and challenge the decoy. If you choose to try this, keep in mind that the buck will take advantage of the weakness and approach from the antler-less side. Use that knowledge when setting up.

Since Tad can hunt all over the country, he has stumbled across some other tricks and tactics for using the Boss Buck. For instance, should the hunter be in a wide open area with little or no trees for stands and have to use a blind, this is perfect for the decoy. Deer are often wary of anything new in their environment. Thus, a blind will cause nervousness. Place a decoy out front of the blind and suddenly they forget about the blind and go investigate the new guy. Again, keep your shooting distance in mind when placing the decoy!

Tom Cannon

Often Tad will utilize two decoys, a buck and doe. When doing such, Tad will position the doe in front with the buck decoy trailing her as if he is sniffing her rear. Any buck who observes that behavior automatically thinks the (decoy) buck has a hot doe ahead of him. Bigger bucks will often come in on the run to chase off the smaller buck (decoy) and breed the doe themselves. Brown advises this obviously works in pre-rut and rut, but also later when some does come into the second heat period.

“Another thing Flambeau did when creating the Boss Buck decoy” explained Tad, “is to put a little shelf inside the back leg”. This flat spot allows the hunter to mount a sound device to the leg. Hunters can mount a remote control device there to emit a grunt or snort via the remote control.

“Hey, anyone can be successful with a decoy,” advises Rutledge. “Attention to detail is the most critical part,” he said. Alex agrees with Tad, that the decoy does seem to get mature bucks to let their guard down a bit. Hunters attempting to film big bucks should consider including a decoy into their scenario. In fact, many of Alex’s decoy hunts can be seen on the Primetime series of videos.

Using a decoy can really add another element to the hunt itself. This season I was fortunate enough to arrow my best buck ever thanks in part to the decoy that we call “Bucky”. This buck could not stand the challenge from my decoy and that allowed me to send an arrow that dropped him nearly on the spot. Sure taking him felt great, but watching him come into the decoy setup I had engineered was the icing on the cake. There is no hunting thrill better than having a buck come into a decoy setup. We recommend you try it for yourself!

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