Decoy a Buck
Poor decoy placement can spook a whitetail. Looking for some advice? Try this tips from Frank Miniter.
October 19, 2012
Did you hear the joke about the city slicker who tried deer hunting? Gave it up after one day—said the decoys were too heavy. That joke is actually true for many hunters. They don’t know how, when or where to set deer decoys so they put them out decoratively around their stands, as if the dekes are lawn ornaments. They spook a lot of deer. So did I.
My first decoy, however, was an inflatable deer you staked to the ground. It was invented by a hunter from Wisconsin and patented in 1988. That blow-up whitetail doe made me the butt of a lot of jokes, mostly from the does. It died such a death. I left it out overnight with the idea I’d grab it in the morning as I went to another stand. I found it deflated with four punctures in its mid-section. It was a fitting demise.
Today we can learn from practical experience and heaps of videos showing bucks mounting and attacking decoys. So, to make sure the joke is on the bucks, here are some deer-decoying guidelines.
Last fall a buck gave me a show. A cameraman caught the entire thing, too. That frosty morning, Nov. 8, we spotted four racked bucks crossing a small field in Iowa. We heard two of the bucks fight. I grunted in a young 10-pointer and let him walk. The rut was near peak. This was the right time and place for a buck decoy. Whitetails are always curious, but decoys work best when bucks are cruising for does. Also, mature bucks usually can be fooled only once, so I prefer waiting until their hormones cloud their judgment before using a decoy. So we came back that afternoon with a buck decoy and set it up 20 yards into the field. At 5 o’clock a mature buck peeked into the field, saw the decoy and came in with his neck hair standing and his ears pinned back. But, just as he turned to give me a 30-yard shot, he winded the decoy and blew out.
I should have hung a white rag off the buck’s rear end that was wet with buck urine. Better yet, I should have pinned on a Pro-Drag from Wildlife Research Center, which is white and made to be dipped in scent. It works and also doesn’t get the buck urine on the decoy. (You don’t want scent on the decoy because urine deteriorates to ammonia.)
Also, when carrying in the decoy and while setting it up (installing the legs, tail and antlers) you should use plastic gloves and spray it down with a scent killer. I’d done that, but the buck still smelled something he didn’t like. I should have also scrubbed the decoy with baking soda and water.
A flickering tail on a decoy can calm a suspicious deer. Sections of toilet paper attached under the tail with a pushpin will move in a slight breeze (when it’s raining use a white rag cut in a V-shape). Some hunters rig up a tug-line with monofilament fishing line. Come-Alive Decoy Products has the Tail Wagger, a mechanical unit that flicks the tail at set intervals. (Check your state regulations first, as some states forbid mechanical decoys for deer hunting.)
Calls attract game and get its attention. A decoy gives them confidence to come in all the way. It also gives deer something to look at other than you. Basically, the best time to use a deer decoy coincides with the best time to rattle and grunt. Calling increases the realism.
Buck or Doe?
It seems logical that a doe decoy will lure more bucks, but in most cases a buck works better. This is because bucks have an established hierarchy that a new buck disrupts. Also, the head-erect, stiff-legged pose of the decoy mimics a buck that is near an estrous doe, whereas a doe decoy that doesn’t move broadcasts danger.
If a deer can’t see your decoy you’re wasting your time. Fields, food plots, open meadows in a forest and so on are best for decoying deer. You’re looking for feeding areas (if the bucks will come out into them in daylight) and travel corridors where cruising bucks will spot the decoy.
If you’re hunting with a gun you have a lot of leeway; however, if you’re using a bow, decoy position is more nuanced. For example, if the wind is blowing in your face as you look out across a field, set up the decoy 30 yards out and broadside to you. This way deer will enter the field and circle on your side of the decoy to get its scent. You can also use terrain features, the wind and the decoy position to force a buck to circle closer. Whatever you do, don’t wait too long to shoot, as bucks will attack an antlered decoy.