There are times when a whitetail decoy can be very effective in bringing in a buck. But not unless you use it properly. Here are the mistakes to avoid.
Setting up a decoy near the edge of a field is a good option later in the season. Photo courtesy of Mossy Oak.
There is nothing easy about luring a big whitetail into shooting range. But if you use a whitetail decoy properly, coaxing a big buck in close might seem easy.
There are many variables to consider before including a deer decoy in your next setup. Over the years I've managed to repel more whitetail bucks with a decoy than I care to count. However, each time I failed, I learned a little more about decoying bucks effectively. Once you understand a few basic principles, decoying makes sense. In order for your little decoy rouse to be carried out successfully, you need to fool at least three senses that every whitetail buck uses when it approaches another deer.
Most manufacturers offer realistic decoys that look like the real thing. Purchasing one is the easiest part of decoying.
Next, you need to sound like a deer. Adding sound to your charade is not mandatory, but if done correctly it adds realism to your setup.
The final and perhaps most important concern deals with scent control. This is where many hunters fall short. Eliminating human odor from the surface of your decoy is paramount.
There are other things to consider when you use of a deer decoy in your next setup, but if you avoid a few common blunders, the odds will be tipped in your favor. Here are seven common mistakes that can make your deer decoy setup useless.
Most hunters would love to bag a big mature whitetail. But the sad reality is many parts of the country simply do not harbor a lot of mature bucks. Hunting areas that offer poor habitat, extreme hunting pressure and liberal bag limits greatly decrease your chances for success.
Using a dominant buck decoy -- one with a large body and impressive headgear -- is sure to scare off small bucks. In areas where big boys are rare, use small antlers. I like to take a hacksaw to my decoy antlers and pare them down a bit. Bucks with "rag horns" are usually not offended by other rag horns and early in the season a small-bodied buck decoy stands a better chance of being befriended by a bachelor buck. Unless you are targeting a specific big buck that you are sure lives in the area, use a decoy that offers a smaller body size and use small headgear or no headgear at all.
WRONG TIME OF YEAR
Targeting a dominant buck with a big buck decoy works great during the rut but you might as well be using a live skunk in the early season or late season. Big bucks are typically solitary creatures and are not looking for a fight for most of the year.
A doe decoy or two is your best bet in the early season. But be ready to attract deer of all shapes and sizes. There are exceptions. In areas where the bow season opens early and bucks are still traveling in bachelor groups, a buck decoy set in a non-aggressive pose can work well.
Be sure to put your decoy in a setting where it can be easily seen by deer. Thick brushy areas simply don't work. In thick wooded areas, deer just walk right past your setup without knowing the decoy is there.
Set up on the edge of clear cuts, field edges or food plots where approaching deer can gain a clear view of a decoy. Bucks can be tough to pattern when the rut is on. The trick is to place a deer decoy where it can be seen from a distance in likely travel routes. A cruising buck that spots your decoy from afar will close the distance to pick a fight with your buck decoy or to scent check your doe decoy.
WRONG WIND DIRECTION
Set your decoy down wind of your stand location. I know seasoned hunters that would argue against this advice, but I speak from experience. It is true that bucks prefer to approach a deer decoy from the downwind side, but if you hang your treestand on the edge of a field and set your decoy in the field, bucks typically will not circle into the open field for the sake of approaching downwind of the it. They are more likely to cautiously approach from the side along the field edge or directly with the breeze, where there is more cover.
Very often bucks will circle around and approach a decoy on a field edge at a 90-degree angle along the field edge. Many have approached from almost directly under my stand. In either case, the wind is in your favor and the buck will be in your lap for a short shot. Close to 50 percent of all shots when using a field edge decoy were to the back of my treestand and into the woods. The bucks circled behind my stand using the woods as cover to close the distance before attempting to surprise the decoy.
If my stand were set with a wind blowing from the field to the woods, the bucks would have had the advantage.
POOR SCENT CONTROL
Your deer decoy should be virtually sterilized and free of all human odors. Handle your decoy with rubber gloves and drench it with a quality scent eliminating spray once you set it up for the hunt. The ground around the decoy should also be free of human odor. Wear knee high rubber boots for the walk in and be sure to treat them with the same scent eliminating spray you plan to use on your decoy.
When a buck approaches your decoy, he will be on full alert and the presence of human odor will send him into retreat mode.
NOT USING SCENT LURE
A deer that does not smell like a deer confuses an approaching buck. Be sure to place a few drops of a quality deer scent on the rump of your decoy or on the ground near it. This keeps an approaching buck interested. A buck usually pauses to sniff a few strategically placed drops of scent allowing you time for a shot.
Use doe scents with doe decoys and buck scents with buck decoys. Consider using both doe estrus and buck scent with a buck and doe decoy setup during the rut.
DON'T FORGET DEER CALLS!
Sometimes you may need to get the attention of passing deer to draw their gaze the in direction of your decoy. A deer call fits the bill in this situation.
Deer vocalize year round, so match your call to the decoy you plan to use. Doe bleats work great to garner attention when a doe decoy is used and a buck grunt turn heads and draws attention when you employ a buck decoy.
Leave the grunt call at the house in the early season, saving it for the rut. Misplaced grunt calls can send a buck p
acking if it is used too early.
Once you garner the attention of a buck and he seems committed to your deer decoy, be quiet and put the deer call away. If you call too much a buck may locate your position.