Deer Decoy Hunting

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deer decoy hunting
Greg Miller with one of his many large bucks.

Deer Decoys

Deer decoy hunting has become increasingly popular over the last several years. Duck decoys, turkey decoys, and goose decoys have been used to bring birds within shotgun range for years. Now, savvy deer hunters are using decoys to bring in trophy bucks. The difference between ducks, geese, turkeys, and deer are that deer are a little smarter and a little wearier of deer decoys than birds with a brain the size of a pea. To trick a buck with a deer decoy, the whitetail deer decoy must be set-up in a perfect location, must remain scent-free and the deer hunter must know, how, why and when to use that decoy.

Famous whitetail hunter Greg Miller and Knight & Hale Game Calls pro staff member, Mick Bowman, know a few things about deer decoy hunting. Both gentlemen love chasing trophy bucks and are both constantly looking for a way to outsmart mature whitetails. "There is more hunting pressure on whitetails than ever before. To gain an edge, deer hunters need to always be on the lookout for new ways to outsmart whitetails. Decoys are one technique that helps hunters do that," Miller commented.

whitetail deer decoy
Rattling works great to lure in bucks especially when using a decoy. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Some deer hunters use deer decoys and have bad experiences with them; others experience great success. Miller and Bowman have both had great success. Below are a few of their tips and strategies so deer hunters everywhere can turn whitetail deer decoys into one of their go-to tools in hopes of tagging a buck.

"Many hunters love rattling in deer. This method of calling is often non-productive without a deer decoy because a buck will sneak into a setup looking to see another buck and they don't see anything. Having a deer decoy present when rattling forces the buck to focus on something as he approaches instead of just hearing rattling, grunting and bleating," Miller explained. Using a deer decoy and rattling in a buck will only work if the hunter is scent-free. According to Bowman, many deer hunters make their mistakes here. "If a hunter is going to be successful with a deer decoy, the hunter and the buck decoy must remain scent-free at all times. When handling the deer decoy, hunters need to wear scent-free gloves or spray the whitetail deer decoy with a scent-eliminating spray after he has the decoy setup. If a deer approaches a decoy and smells human odor, it will spook immediately," Bowman added.

deer decoys
Bowman says a deer decoy should always be setup so it is facing the hunter. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Bowman makes sure he is as scent free as possible by wearing a carbon suit. He also hunts the wind as much as possible. If a deer is working his way towards a deer decoy and gets a whiff of a person first, the game is over long before you get a shot. I make sure I am always scent free," Bowman explained.

In addition to being scent free, Miller and Bowman believe deer decoy placement is very important. If you hunt in a thick swamp where your only shot is ten yards away, you probably won't have as much success with a whitetail deer decoy as someone who is hunting open country. A deer decoy will work almost anywhere but obviously the more visible the deer decoy, the better chance a buck has of seeing it.

"Whenever I hunt with a deer decoy, I like to hunt on the edge of the field. Deer need to be able to see the whitetail deer decoy in order for a buck decoy to work. I like hunting fields that are large and wide open. Deer that are traveling through the field or on the edge of the field can see the decoy from a long distance away," Bowman added.

Bowman enjoys using deer decoys because they often work great at tricking large bucks to come within bow range. "Big bucks don't get big and old by being dumb. Most of the time, they are very difficult to kill. I think one of the easiest times to harvest a big buck is in the rut when I am using a whitetail deer decoy. A lot of small bucks will approach a decoy but usually if a dominant buck sees a buck decoy, he will come over and investigate," Bowman said.

Bowman is largely a bowhunter and believes buck decoys are the perfect bowhunting tool, as long as the deer decoy is set up close by and set up facing the right direction. "Some deer hunters have a tendency to set deer decoys up too far from their tree stand location or in the wrong place. Deer decoys should be set up well within a bowhunters' effective killing zone so if a buck hangs up ten yards from the whitetail deer decoy, the hunter can still take a shot," Bowman noted.

buck decoys
Most decoys like this one are extremely lightweight and easy to carry. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Most of us would probably place a buck decoy facing right or left of our tree stand location. Bowman believes having the deer decoy facing the tree stand is best. "Almost every buck that approaches my decoy wants to square off with it and kick the tar out of it. In most cases, a buck circles around a decoy's face head-on and tries to intimidate it before deciding to fight it. As the buck approaches the deer decoy to square off, he usually gives me a quartering shot and a broadside shot if I am patient. If the whitetail deer decoy is facing left or right of my tree stand or straight away, I won't have a good short opportunity," Bowman said.

If you are hunting in an area that isn't known for holding trophy bucks, you may feel like you need to leave the fake horns at home because you may spook a smaller buck from coming in, but Bowman disagrees. "When I set up a buck decoy, every single deer that sees it typically comes over and checks it out. Sometimes the does approach it and kick it over. Small bucks come up to the deer decoy and play around with it. Big bucks typically try to kill the deer decoy. When I set out a doe decoy, some deer approach the decoy; others don't. I always see more action when hunting over a buck decoy," Bowman stated.

One of the best ways to increase the amount of attention a deer decoy gets is to make it appear more realistic. Many deer decoy companies now offer deer decoys with tails that have a place to attach a string. Simply tug on the string to make the deer decoys' tail move. A simple twitch of the tail often puts an approaching deer at ease. Some companies now have whitetail deer decoys with moving heads.

One of the simplest ways to make a buck decoy appear more real is to spray a good dose of deer urine on it. "I always take a scent pad dipped in deer urine and hang it around the tail," Bowman added. Another option is creating a scent trail. Many deer hunters spray lure all over the woods as they approach their tree stands to get bucks to follow the scent to the end of the trail. Some deer hunters use a scent drag or put a scent pad on the bottom of their boots. Having the scent trail lead to the deer decoy is a great way to get a buck to keep his attention on the whitetail deer decoy as he approaches your setup and not on you drawing your bow.

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