Hi-Vis Decoying – Deer Decoy Strategies

February 19, 2009 by  

By Curt Wells

When using a deer decoy, a grunt or bleat call can help to make sure cruising bucks get close enough to check out your decoys. During the peak of the rut using both a buck and doe decoy is very effective

When using a deer decoy, a grunt or bleat call can help to make sure cruising bucks get close enough to check out your decoys. During the peak of the rut using both a buck and doe decoy is very effective

I  hate it when a buck doesn’t pay attention.

My soft grunts turned into pig-like snarffles as the big eight-pointer just kept striding away, into the stiff breeze. He crossed a small open meadow, then dropped into a creekbottom and up the other side. When he reached level ground again he finally heard my grunts and looked back in my direction. I froze, even though he was a good 150 yards away.

My stand was in a big cottonwood in southern Iowa but it was fairly open ground around me so I dared not move. The buck studied the situation then started to turn away again and I hit him with a bleat can. He stopped again.

That did the trick as the buck began to skirt the creek to my right, circling into the wind. He hadn’t gone more than five steps when he spotted the two Renzo’s decoys I had set up, a buck and a doe. That was all the confirmation he needed. The buck crossed a small fork in the creek and came closer, keeping the main creek channel between himself and the decoys. He’d stop to stare occasionally and I remained quiet, letting the decoys work their magic.

As the buck slipped to the edge of the bluff above the creek, he was only thirty yards away, but standing behind a vital-sized bush. This 130-class buck was no dummy and by circling downwind he was able to benefit from a swirl in the wind caused by the undulating terrain. He vacuumed up a scent he didn’t like and was gone.

Were it not for that lone bush, that buck would have breathed his last.

I’m one of those bowhunters who has infinite patience but I’m also not content to sit in a tree or ground blind and simply hope a buck walks past me. There are too many variables and outside influences on the travel pattern of a deer and since the season is always too short I like to increase my odds by utilizing as many tactics and tricks as are available to me. A decoy is one of the most effective hunting “tools” for the bowhunter, particularly during the rut.

Decoying deer can be done in several ways but I’ve come to favor what I call Hi-Vis Decoying. In heavy cover, a buck can easily miss a decoy and walk on by. The primary goal is to make sure every buck that comes into your space sees the decoy. Otherwise, you’re just sitting in a tree.

THE RIGHT SPOT

Hi-Vis decoying means putting your decoy where it can be seen by cruising bucks. This doe decoy is positioned in a meadow so bucks can easily spot her

Hi-Vis decoying means putting your decoy where it can be seen by cruising bucks. This doe decoy is positioned in a meadow so bucks can easily spot her

When using a decoy, don’t just set it out in front of your favorite tree and expect bucks to come running. Look for the optimum location for decoying, then put up the treestand or ground blind accordingly.

Areas to consider are the customary ones – bedding, travel and feeding, in that order. Bedding areas are usually an excellent choice because it gives you the best opportunity to encounter rutting mature bucks at any time of day. Travel areas are next and, in some cases, may be preferable to invading bedding areas, an often risky undertaking. Feeding areas are sometimes an option but only in the evenings, but if a mature buck doesn’t get there before dark, a decoy won’t help you much.

The best choice is often a “cruising” area, where rut-drunk bucks instinctively know they have the best chance of finding the does they seek. These are typically out-of-the-way places like river or creek bottoms where deer can cavort around without being seen by human traffic. Ridgelines are good too. In my experience, rutting bucks tend to work the tops of ridges where they can pick up both the scent and sight of does. Later in the season they seem to prefer to stay low in the bottoms of draws. Crop fields and pastures can be productive during peak rut, but meadows with high prairie grass and scattered brush, are even better because a buck trying to cut a doe track has some cover to make him feel safer in broad daylight.

Some of these locations may sound like deep cover, but that’s not necessarily so. Most will have places where the woods open up, increasing visibility. In that Iowa spot mentioned above there were thick cedar bedding areas on three sides and a riverbottom to the east. It was nestled low between several ridges where the deer could feel like they were comfortably under cover.

That’s the kind of place you’re looking for. Position that decoy for maximum visibility on a small knoll, in short grass, anywhere that increases the chance a buck will spot your decoy from long range

Even if you choose to hunt “deep cover” near bedding areas, look for a place where a deer can see your decoy from as many angles, and from as far away as possible. Enable a buck to see that decoy and your biggest problem is solved.

GETTING IT IN

I would say the number one reason most bowhunters leave their deer decoy in the garage is because of the hassle of transporting it to their hunting spot. Yes, carrying a decoy in can be a noisy, clumsy task, especially in heavy cover, but there are ways to make the job less intimidating.

Two deer decoys can be very effective but it requires some effort. A deer cart helps if the terrain is not too thick

Two deer decoys can be very effective but it requires some effort. A deer cart helps if the terrain is not too thick

Recently, I’ve been using a Delta decoy, which is made of the same foam as their 3-D targets. With the carrying strap, and softer foam, I’m able to haul my decoy around without creating too much commotion. The harder plastic decoys like the Flambeau Redi-Doe or the Carry-Lite can be quieted down by carrying them in some sort of bag to prevent brush from slapping the decoy and waking up the neighborhood. I’ve also found if you assemble the decoy before walking the last 100 yards or so, it reduces the noise you make at your stand site.

High-end decoys, such as the Mojo Buck, which is an electronic decoy with head and tail movement built in, will require some extra effort to get them set up but the increased realism and attention-grabbing factor (more on that later) is worth it.

At the other end of the spectrum are the soft foam and two-dimensional decoys. The Feather-Flex decoy is a soft foam bedded doe that can be rolled up and quietly carried into just about anywhere. Two-dimensional decoys like those made by Renzo’s, Montana Decoy Company and Mel Dutton will also be easier to haul in. You’ll give up some realism but in many cases the buck will be in serious trouble before he decides the decoy just doesn’t look right.

One of the benefits of hi-vis decoying is you’ll be setting up in a more open location and that makes it inherently easier to slip in with your decoy, whatever kind you choose, without sounding like a rhinoceros on broken glass.

In any case, transporting a deer decoy is an extra hassle that you have to get accustomed to dealing with. Some bowhunters give up the first time they attempt it and put their decoy in storage. However, if you tough it out until you get a chance to see what a decoy can do for your hunting success you might find it worth the hassle.

WHICH GENDER?

The eternal question is, which gender do I use? You’d have to possess ESP to answer that one, but you can take an educated guess. For instance, If I believe the buck I’m after will come by alone, I’ll use a doe decoy, particularly if it’s peak or post-rut. If I think a buck will show up trailing a doe, I’ll use a buck decoy to challenge his space and possession of the doe. See where the ESP comes in?

The author works to brush in a ground blind after positioning two deer decoys within bowrange in a meadow

The author works to brush in a ground blind after positioning two deer decoys within bowrange in a meadow

Since my ESP is broke down, I like to use two decoys, a buck and a bedded doe, whenever the situation allows. Even if a buck has a doe with him, he simply cannot tolerate another buck with a doe on his turf. I’ve watched a buck leave his doe to come to challenge my pair of decoys. A lone buck is equally disturbed because not only does this interloper have the nerve to be on his turf, but he has a woman too!

If you only use one decoy, it comes down to a gamble. Some prefer to use only a buck decoy so there is always a challenge to dominance. If you’re hunting only the biggest buck in the woods, that’s probably a good strategy. If you’re not that fussy and are willing to take an average buck, an antlered decoy may intimidate him enough to keep him away.

When I’m going with a hi-vis decoying strategy during the rut or post-rut and can use only one decoy I almost always remove the antlers. I just feel it’s highly unlikely a buck will walk a hundred yards to confront another buck when he’s busy looking for a doe. However, if he spots a doe at long range, he could easily amble further than that to see if she is cute and smells just right.

That’s really the whole point of hi-vis decoying.

THE CALL FACTOR

Once you’re set up in a good location, it’s usually best to let the deer flow into your ambush naturally. If you’re constantly calling and rattling, a whitetail, especially a bedded buck, may simply tune you out. If you’ve chosen a good spot, a buck will show up and spot the decoy on his own. That reduces the chances he’ll be intimidated by the fake deer. Setting up where there is good visibility contributes to this chance meeting and doesn’t put the deer on alert, causing him to scan the area for the source of your calls.

If your deer decoy can fool a doe into getting this close you wont have any problems with bucks..

If your deer decoy can fool a doe into getting this close you won't have any problems with bucks..

If a buck shows up and still doesn’t see your decoy you’ll have to help him, and yourself, with some calling.

In the pre-rut, late October in my neck of the woods (ND/MN), I generally use a buck decoy. In that case, some light rattling is all it takes to get a buck to look my way. The sound of rattling and the presence of an unfamiliar buck often challenges the pecking order and can bring a strong response – a buck running toward you. Most of the time they’ll be cautious, but it doesn’t matter to you how they come, as long as they do.

Once the bucks start chasing the does, I’ll use a grunt call, subtle at first and then more aggressive. It’s always best to let the deer tell you what calling cadence works. It’s at this time of year when I really try to use both a buck and a doe decoy. If necessary, I’ll rattle, grunt, bleat and snort wheeze. All I want to do is get a buck in close enough that he’ll see my decoy(s).

If the peak of the breeding is in progress or starting to wane, I’ll switch to a doe decoy only and throw in some bleats, in a pleading sort of way, to make a buck think this doe is his last chance to procreate. Even in late November, when most bowhunters think the rut is over, a desperate buck will respond to what he thinks might be a leftover doe or a yearling fawn coming into estrus for the first time.

Several years ago, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, one of my largest bucks, worn out and emaciated after spending a month as the dominant buck, walked into my doe decoy with the idea of passing on his genes one more time. He never made it to the decoy but I’m certain he would have mounted it until it collapsed beneath him.

There will be times when the deer just aren’t showing up and you’ll have to call blind in an attempt to lure them into your sphere of influence. In that case I always start off with passive calls such as soft bleats and grunts and then work my way up to more aggressive rattling. Give them everything you have and let the deer tell you what they like.

You’ve put your decoy where a buck can see it. Don’t let him miss it.

VISUAL TACTICS

There’s more to the visual part of decoying than putting your buck or doe in the open. You can enhance that visibility in several ways, all of which can make the difference.

The author carrying a Flambeau deer decoy to his stand. Transporting a decoy is the biggest hassle but its worth it.

The author carrying a Flambeau deer decoy to his stand. Transporting a decoy is the biggest hassle but it's worth it.

Think about a deer’s perspective. They are looking at the world from about three feet off the ground so in some locations high grass or brush might hide your decoy. A buck can look right at the decoy, from as close as thirty yards, and not see it because they are tuned to spotting movement.

In some states it’s legal to use an electronic decoy designed to employ movement as both an attractant and confidence builder. A decoy such as the aforementioned Mojo Buck, has a head, neck and tail that moves by way of battery-powered motors. Another device called the Tail-Wagger, can be installed in most decoys and has a timer that will wag a foam tail every few seconds. You’d be amazed at how far away a deer can spot that ever-so-slight movement.

If you hunt with decoys very long you’ll learn that does don’t like them very much. However, I have seen the movement of a Tail Wagger calm those does down enough that they go about their business without blowing your cover.

If electronics aren’t legal, or they’re not your thing, it’s still possible to enhance your decoy’s visibility. Run a thin fishing line from a moveable, all-white, tail on your decoy up to your treestand or to your ground blind. When the time is right (this is an advantage over an electronic timer) you can gently pull on the line to make the tail swing. It only takes a slight movement and a deer will pick it up. You can also try attaching some ultra-thin, lightweight white material, even a strip of a kitchen garbage bag, to the hind end of your decoy. A slight breeze is all that’s needed to impart some movement to your decoy.

Whatever method you choose to use, take some measure to enhance the visibility of your decoy.

As you go about choosing your decoys, the location and the strategy of your hunt, remember that a deer isn’t going to look at your decoy and suspect it of being a fake. He can’t reason out why that 2-D decoy doesn’t look quite right or why that 3-D buck decoy won’t yield to his superiority. He only knows to react instinctively to the presence of another deer, whatever shape or sex it may be. Yes, you’ll occasionally get a negative reaction, especially from does, but that’s no reason to banish your decoy to the garage. Dust off that decoy, put it where a buck can see it and hang on for the ride.

Forcing a buck to pay attention is so much more fun than just hoping one walks by.

DEER DECOYS FOR THE BOWHUNTER

The bowhunter has a number of options when choosing a deer decoy. The 3-D style offers the most realism but requires the most effort. The best are the Delta, Carry-Lite, Flambeau and the Mojo Buck, which is electronic and will give you the most versatility but at a higher cost.

For ease of use and adequate realism the Renzo’s photo silhouette is very good as are the folding Montana Decoy and the hard plastic silhouette made by Mel Dutton. The Feather Flex Bedded Doe is a sort of in-between decoy made of soft, lightweight foam that can be easily and quietly rolled up and carried in.

You also have the option of adding movement to your Carry-Lite or Flambeau by adding a Tail-Wagger kit from Come-Alive Decoy Products. This battery-operated device wags the tail every eight or sixteen seconds, which attracts attention and seems to calm nervous does. I like to install glass eyes in my decoys for added realism. 


Comments

4 Comments on "Hi-Vis Decoying – Deer Decoy Strategies"

  1. mark Haines on Fri, 29th Oct 2010 8:19 am 

    Is it ok to use buck decoys in the woods? I have heard that they scare the deer when
    used in the woods

  2. Jonathon Hallman on Thu, 15th Dec 2011 9:02 pm 

    I saw a buck mating with a doe December 10th here in N.C. I believe a decoy would bring this buck into bow range. The price of the decoys is the only problem. Maybe a target buck would still get the job done. Your article was very infomative.

  3. Jonathon Hallman on Thu, 15th Dec 2011 9:07 pm 

    Your article was very informative. sorry for the spelling

  4. Christopher Kappius on Mon, 20th Feb 2012 11:29 pm 

    I was wondering if you can use deer decoys here in Nebraska?

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