Whitetails: How to Deke a Bruiser

Hunters have a love-hate relationship with deer decoys. Here's how to get the most out of your next setup.

Whitetails: How to Deke a Bruiser

Decoying deer is a lot of work, but when it all comes together, a buck will come charging in. (Photo by Bob Robb)

When the rut’s on, common dogma is for hunters to sit passively in wait of a buck either cruising in search of a doe in estrous, or with his nose on the tail of the same. While you can certainly kill a big buck like this, there is a better way.

For those who want to be a bit more aggressive, a bit more proactive—there is another option. One which involves fakery and deception. While it might not be as hokey as the old Statue of Liberty play in football, using deer decoys can be either magic (or poison).

Therein lies the rub. Decoying deer is a lot of work, but when it all comes together, a buck will come charging in, eyes bugged out and hackles standing on end, blowing snot and ready to rumble. When it doesn’t, deer may simply skirt your stand, or hop away on stiff legs, never to be seen again.

KEY TIPS

Over the years I’ve learned that, while there are several nuances to using decoys successfully, six things are key.


  • Use the most realistic decoy(s) you can afford. The more realism, the better—and this usually means more expensive. Decoys from manufacturers like Rinehart will improve your odds greatly over cheaper decoys.
  • The setup is critical. Make sure the wind is always blowing from the decoy to your stand. I always face a buck decoy towards or slightly quartering-to my stand but turn a doe decoy away or slightly quartering away from my stand.
  • Strategically turning a decoy usually means when a buck approaches a buck decoy, it will almost always circle the decoy until it is nose-to-nose. That makes it facing away from you, making it easy to draw your bow undetected. Conversely, a buck deer will almost always scent-check a doe decoy from the rear. This positioning puts you at a drawing advantage too.

Find the best day and time to hunt in your zip code

  • Spray it down. Once you’re set up, spray everything down with an odor-neutralizing spray to remove all traces of human odor. Keep in mind the decoy will be nose-to-nose with live deer. No need to spook them with your odor.
  • Add movement. All animals come to decoys more readily if there is some movement involved. I’ve used strips of an old white tee-shirt on the ears and tail, but the best thing is to save the tail from a real whitetail, cure it, then nail it to the decoy’s tail.
  • When the hair flutters in the slight breeze it can be a game changer. Today, decoys are available with built-in motion. Some of it is conveyed simply, with parts that flap and sway in the breeze. Some decoys have electronic motors that allow the tail and neck to move on command from a handheld control (they are not legal in all states, so check your local regulations before using one).
Deer Decoys
Use a deer cart to transport decoys and other gear. A cart makes moving multiple decoys to your setup a one-trip affair. (Photo by Bob Robb)

Add scent. Once you get the decoy set up, spray it down with a no-scent spray, then add some real deer scent to the mix. If the decoy doesn’t have a place for scent, take a small stick, jab it into the ground underneath the deer’s belly, and place a scent wick on the stick, or attach the wick to the tail and/or hock of the rear leg. When using a buck decoy, I use both rutting buck and a doe estrous scent on separate wicks.


Don’t surprise them. The greater distance at which the decoy is visible, the more effective it will be. That’s why decoying seems to work better when hunting fields, food plots, logging roads, dry creek bottoms and sloughs, or open stands of timber then when hunting tight cover. In flat fields I try and place decoys up on a small hillock or mound, especially if you are hunting a depression or hollow, so it will be visible to deer no matter where they stroll by.

MORNING OR AFTERNOON?

Today’s full-bodied decoys are bulky, awkward and noisy. That makes them very difficult to haul into your stand site quietly in the dark before dawn, then set them up without waking the dead. There are a couple ways to alleviate this problem.

First, simply bring the decoy to the hunt area during midday, set the stakes up, and leave it lying on the ground nearby covered by a cloth (not noisy plastic) tarp, old bed sheets or burlap. A decoy glistening with frost in the morning will spook deer.

When you arrive for the hunt, you can quickly uncover it and set it up quietly before climbing into your stand or blind. Putting trail markers on the stakes makes them easy to find. The second is to haul the assembled decoy to your stand on the kind of wheeled deer carrier designed to haul out a dead deer. In the right terrain you can do this quietly as well.


That said, I find this hassle worth it since I’ve had my best luck with decoys in the morning, when bucks return to bedding areas after an unsuccessful night of seeking out does. However, afternoons can be good, too, when used in places like a field corner I know does are using regularly.

During midday, I like to decoy in a funnel area between two known bedding thickets, or between water and bedding thickets. Many whitetail hunters overlook the importance of water during the rut, but I really like setting up with a buck decoy near water at midday.

Deer Decoys
Treat decoys with scent-eliminating sprays. These cloak your scent which can turn an approaching animal inside-out should it get a whiff of you. (Photo by Bob Robb)

SEASONAL CHANGES

While I’ve used decoys at various times of the season, my experience has been that the chances of having a mature buck come visit a decoy are best during the 10- to 14-day period just prior to the first estrus.


During this time bucks are actively scraping and roaming, and seem to respond to both grunting and rattling, which is a very effective way to draw a buck’s attention to a decoy. During the peak of the rut, when most mature bucks have already found does to breed, bucks still come to a decoy, but I’ve mostly had immature bucks come then. A mature buck that is between does might also commit, but everything has to be “just right.”

I’ve found days with cool temperatures and a stable or falling barometer encourage deer movement, making them the best days for decoying as deer are up and on the move.

BUCK, DOE OR ALL THE ABOVE?

If I had to choose just one way to decoy, it would be with a buck decoy that challenges the manhood of the area’s breeding bucks. It seems like a cruising buck may often only give a doe decoy a passing glance, and while he might come for a look—he might not. But if he sees a buck that he feels is competition for breeding rights, when his switch is flipped, he’ll often come at a trot.

Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

There are times when adding a doe decoy to your buck can make a big difference. Place the buck where it is most visible to cruising deer and where you want to make the shot, and place a doe decoy off to the side. Ideally this is on the edge of the woods, partially hidden by some flora or a bump in the landscape.

I often do some calling, doing everything from rattling to using grunts and bleats. How aggressively depends on my feel for how the deer are acting. Some days I’ll be boisterously loud, others soft and alluring. If I see a buck cruising out of range that obviously isn’t coming my way, I’ll call loudly enough that I can hopefully get him to stop and look my way. If he sees the decoy, then I’ve got a chance. And when you see a buck eyeball your buck decoy but not fully commit, I hit him with a snort wheeze. It can be a game changer.

For safety sake, remember life-sized full-body deer decoys have been known to attract gunfire. For this reason, they are best used during archery-only seasons or on private ground.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Berkley

Berkley's Surge Shad

Major League Fishing pro Scott Suggs has relied on the Berkley Surge Shad lure concept for years, using similar designs to capture MLF titles and a $1 million dollar FLW Forrest Cup win. With new features in the Surge Shad, Suggs tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead that even he can find success out on the water!

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Lure Lock Tackle Cases: No-Spill, No-Scent

Glenn Walker talks us through the soy-based technology that makes Lure Lock cases spill-proof and scent-proof. With Game & Fish Editorial Director Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2019 in Orlando.

Berkley

Berkley's New Terminal Tackle

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Chad LaChance, host of World Fishing Network's Fishful Thinker television show, talk about Berkley's new innovative terminal tackle being introduced at ICAST 2019.

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

New Spinning Reel for Finesse Fishermen

As Pure Fishing's Andrew Upshaw explains, reel making giant Abu Garcia has done it again at ICAST 2019 with a new spinning reel geared towards finesse fishermen.

Trending Articles

Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them. Reels

10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems

Anietra Hamper

Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them.

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options. Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews of smelly ingredients often used to catch catfish. Catfish

How To Make Your Own Catfish Dough Bait

Keith Sutton - August 04, 2015

When it comes to fishing baits, you won't find a more unusual variety than the strange brews...

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time. Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish...

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Amid CWD concerns, the evolving regulation of attractants may change the way you hunt. Whitetail

Deer-Urine Bans: The New Normal?

Carolee Anita Boyles - March 27, 2020

Amid CWD concerns, the evolving regulation of attractants may change the way you hunt.

Master the hang-and-hunt strategy to unravel the deer rut. Whitetail

Field Skills: Go Mobile to Tag Rutting Bucks

Tony Peterson - November 22, 2019

Master the hang-and-hunt strategy to unravel the deer rut.

Here's a look at the regs and arguments about using bait while whitetail hunting. Whitetail

Baiting Deer Continues to Dwindle in Midwest

Patrick Durkin - December 11, 2019

Here's a look at the regs and arguments about using bait while whitetail hunting.

Take advantage of the second rut and arrow a great buck to close your season. Whitetail

Bowhunting: Second Rut, Last Chance

Dr. Todd A. Kuhn - December 23, 2019

Take advantage of the second rut and arrow a great buck to close your season.

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.