8 Tips for Using a Deer Decoy | Deer & Deer Hunting

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There are tons of tricks and tactics that people have come up with over the years to improve their chances of success on big whitetails, but decoys are one of my absolute favorite. After hunting over a deer decoy, I’ve found a few simple tips for increased success.

1. Timing Is Everything

I’m a firm believer in using a decoy from late October through the end of November in most of the Midwest states. The moment I start seeing rutting activity, I get the decoy out and have had luck with it all the way though mid-December while hunting in Nebraska. When you look at the decoy he is all bristled up, ears are pinned back and he’s obviously looking for a fight. Although deer tend to fight during a wide variety of times, when the rut kicks in is when I’ve had incredible luck.

2. Buck vs. Doe Decoy

When choosing a decoy you’ll have to decide if you want to use a buck or doe. I’ve always preferred using a buck for the simple reason that bucks seem more apt to leave a doe to fight than to get another doe in my experience. A dominant buck does not like seeing another buck in his area showing signs of dominance.

Regardless of what decoy you use, I love my Dave Smith Posturing Buck, just ensure that it appears to be bristled up and ears are pinned back. If you’re afraid that the buck looks too tough and may spook deer away, take one antler off. This way it looks like he’s been beat up before and is a little less scary.

deer decoy
If your buck decoy looks too intimidating, remove one of its antlers. Photo courtesy of Melissa Bachman.

3. Remove Human Odor

Of all the tips when using a decoy, this is by far the most important. If you leave any human odor on your decoy the deer will avoid it, both bucks and does. It is imperative that as soon as you get it set up and placed how you want it according to the wind and your shot opportunity, that you spray it down with Scent Killer Gold to remove any human odor. When deer get in close to the decoy, the last thing you want is for them to get a whiff of human odor.

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4. Use Scents to Seal Deal

I’m a big fan of trying to fool as many of a buck’s senses as possible. I like to use rattling, grunts and a snort wheeze to make them believe a fight is getting ready to break out. This is also the best way to bring a buck from a long distance in a hurry.

Next, once you’ve fooled their ears you need to trick their eyes. This is where the decoy comes in handy. If you simply rattle, a buck will come in searching for the fight. When they don’t see anything, they usually sense danger and you need to make a quick shot if the opportunity is there. With a decoy they lock in on the buck that is all bristled up and then it’s usually game on.

The trouble is some big mature bucks have been around the block and they will use their last and most important sense to ensure everything is right. This is their sense of smell. I like to place an attractant like Wildlife Research Center’s Golden Scrape right on the hawks of my decoy to give that rutting buck smell.

deer decoy
Wildlife Research Center’s Golden Scrape will give your decoy that rutting buck smell. Photo courtesy of Melissa Bachman.

I also place key wicks with Special Golden Estrus around my setup to fill the air with a doe in estrus. These final pieces really help seal the deal as you now have fooled 3 out of 5 of their senses, and even the smartest oldest bucks usually fall for this setup.

5. Never Leave it Out

It is super important to never leave your decoy out when you’re not on stand. They are big and kind of heavy to carry back and forth each day but one tip I usually do is leave the decoy either in my ground blind or at the base of my tree stand. I cover it up with leaves and branches so deer don’t see it and leave the decoy post in the ground. That way when I go out to hunt early the next morning I’m not trying to guess where he goes, the post is already there and I just adjust his position according to the wind.

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6. Ensure Clear Lanes

Most bucks will try and fight your decoy head on so ensure you have clear lanes in front of the decoy. They will also parallel walk your decoy so I like to keep mine a little closer so even if they stay 10 yards behind my decoy, I still have a close enough shot with a bow.

7. A Great Addition to a New Blind Setup

If you have a situation where you’re adding a ground blind to a new location and having to hunt it that same day, you probably know how difficult that can be. Deer hate seeing something new in the area, but I’ve found if you pair this with a decoy, all the deer’s attention goes to the decoy and they don’t even notice the new blind. I’ve had bucks come within 10-yards of the blind year after year immediately after putting it up and they never even paid attention to the new blind. Another great tip for using new ground blinds is to ensure you’ve sprayed them down with Scent Killer Gold as well as your chairs and anything else you may bring into the blind.

8. Watch Other Bucks & Adapt

Being able to adapt while using a decoy is super important. One thing I’ve found is that big bucks usually do the exact same little bucks do when they come into the decoy. So for example if you have a little buck come in and wouldn’t be able to get a shot due to a limb or something in the way, fix it. Also watch if the little bucks find something to rub their antlers on or show dominance. A big buck will usually do the same and this is a great time to get a shot as they are very preoccupied.

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Overall, hunting with a decoy is a really fun and effective tool, but like anything it won’t work every single time, nothing does. It’s a great tool to try out and learn how the deer in your area will react. Even if you’re not bringing in the big bucks, it’s sure to keep you entertained!

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Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas. Read more >>