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Decoying For Deer


Stephanie Mallory

Steve StoltzThat big buck is out there. You’ve seen him time and again at a distance, but he just won’t come in for the shot. You’ve tried scents, calls and rattling, but nothing has worked. A decoy may just be the answer.

Boasting a wall full of Pope& Young whitetails, Steve Stoltz, a leading bow-hunting authority, credits much of his success to deer decoys, which he actually used before one was ever sold on the market.

“When I first started working for Drury Outdoors several years ago, a couple of my friends would take a deer’s full mounted body and mounted head into the deer woods with them to use as a decoy,” Stoltz says. “I saw how well it worked for them, so I started doing the same thing. I experienced phenomenal results. The only problem was that the heavy decoy was a huge pain to carry into the woods. Steve Carrying DecoyIt became so much of a hassle that I stopped using it, but I vowed that if someone ever came out with a light-weight replica, that I would be the first to get one. Sure enough, Carry-Lite ended up coming out with a full-body decoy. I immediately started incorporating it into my filmed hunts, and it worked remarkably well.”

These days, Stoltz rarely enters the deer woods without his decoy, especially when he plans to hunt a food plot.

“Decoys help bring stubborn deer into range, especially when you’re hunting a large field,” Stoltz says. “I don’t recommend using a decoy in a heavy timber situation, just because they’re harder to spot. If a buck doesn’t see the decoy until the last minute, it may actually spook him causing him to become more stand-offish than curious.”


In the Mood

Buck DecoyAs hunters have learned over the years, success with a decoy largely depends on the current mood of the deer. For that reason, decoys work better during certain phases of the season than others Stoltz has experienced most success using a buck decoy during a time when the bucks he’s hunting are trying to establish dominance.

“In the Midwest where I live, that time is from October through early November,” Stoltz says. “The deer are sparring, fighting and trying to establish dominance. Decoys also work well during the peak of rut.”

When a buck sees a decoy standing out in the field by itself, he thinks that the decoy must be tending a doe. He’ll come in to investigate out of curiosity.

Decoy Placement

Decoy PlacementWhen bow hunting, place the decoy no more than 15 yards from your stand. Do not place it straight in front of you horizontally. Instead, place the deer at a quartering-to-you angle so that it resembles a poor bow shot.

“The reason you want to position the decoy in this manner is because the buck will want to make visual contact with your decoy,” Stoltz says. “He’ll approach in a postering position with his ears laid back. When he comes in from the back or the front of the decoy, he’ll give you a straight broadside shot.”

A mature deer will always circle downwind of the decoy. For that reason, especially when bow hunting, you want to place your decoy in a position so when the deer circles downwind, it won’t catch scent of you. Let the wind direction dictate whether you offset your decoy to the left or to the right.


Total Scent Elimination

Scent elimination is essential.One of the most important keys to success when using a decoy is scent elimination. Stoltz uses the EliminX by Code Blue and washes the decoy down with Knight and Hale scent-free soap.

“When you wash or carry your decoy, make sure that you wear scent-free gloves,” Stoltz says. “Whatever you do, don’t touch it with your hands, and always store your decoy in a scent-free environment. When a buck gets downwind of that decoy, he’ll pick up any human scent left on it. And remember that deer can smell scent through scent. If you ate a hamburger or pumped gas then carried your decoy into the field barehanded, the deer can still smell those odors even though you’ve coated the decoy with cover-up scent.”

Once you eliminate all human scent, you need to add buck scent to the area, such as Code Blue Buck Tarsal Gland Gel. Don’t put it on the decoy, instead put it on a leaf or branch near the decoy.

When a mature buck approaches from downwind of another deer, he expects to smell something. If he comes in close to your decoy and doesn’t smell the scent of a buck, he’ll immediately become alert and possibly spook.

“He didn’t necessarily spook because he smells you or something bad, he just knows that he should smell something but he didn’t,” Stoltz says.

Little Things That Make a Difference

Decoy PlacementAnything that you can do to improve the authenticity of your decoy will help attract more bucks. For instance, if you can create movement on the decoy, it will put the deer at ease more quickly. You can stuff part of a scent-free trash bag under the decoy’s tail to simulate the white of its tail flicking. You can also use toilet paper, but make sure you use scent-free toilet paper. You definitely don’t want to add offensive scent to the decoy. There are several companies that sell battery operated moving parts for decoys that work well, but you can simulate movement without buying extra parts.

In addition to creating movement, Stoltz also likes to lay the decoy’s ears back and stick its tail straight out.

“This setup makes the white on the decoy’s tail and ears more visible,” Stoltz says. “The tail sticking straight out signals dominance. You definitely don’t want to stick the tail up in the flag position, because an upright tail means danger.”

Stoltz with Trophy DeerStoltz has also experienced good luck by leaving one antler off of his decoy, especially in late October and early November in the Midwest where he hunts.

“One antler suggests that the buck has been fighting,” Stoltz says. “It conveys the idea that that buck has fought for a doe once and he’ll do it again. Again, the result will strictly depend on the deer’s mood. If a buck sees that decoy standing there with one antler, he may think he’s defending a doe nearby, and if he’s on the prowl for a doe, he may be ready to fight.”

When to Use a Doe Decoy

Ralph CianciaruloMany first-time decoy users start off using a doe decoy because they assume that that the doe decoy will attract more bucks quicker. Although this rationalization seems to makes since, it’s not true in most cases, especially if there are plenty of does in the area. Since bucks are always anxious to check out the new boy on the block, a buck decoy is usually the better bet, but there are times when a doe decoy works well.

The peak of the rut provides a small window of effectiveness for using a doe decoy. The does are breeding at this time so they aren’t moving around much, which makes them harder to find for the bucks. The dominant buck in the area is moving between two or three does. If you set another one in his path, he’s going to check her out.

Ralph Cianciarulo, co-host of Archer’s Choice TV show, says he agrees with Stoltz that there’s one good time to use a doe decoy.

“During the heat of the rut, bucks are looking for one thing – does,” Cianciarulo says. “I’ve had a lot of success this time of the year using a doe decoy in a feeding position on a green field. That decoy encourages deer that would normally wait until dark to come out into the food plot a little earlier.”

Ralph with a Trophy DeerCianciarulo says to keep in mind that when setting up your decoy, a buck will most likely approach the doe decoy from behind unlike a buck decoy which it will usually approach from the front.

“I shot one of the biggest bucks of my life using a doe decoy,” Cianciarulo says. “While hunting a cut cornfield in Illinois, I placed a doe decoy 18 yards in front and to the right of my stand. Because of the wind direction, I expected the deer movement to come from the back and to the left. I did a rattling sequence and had a monster 174-inch buck come up and actually scrape the cedar tree I was in. I made a good shot on him. He was so focused on the decoy that he never knew I was there. The situation with the wind and the buck’s mood was just perfect for using a doe decoy that day.”

Hunting Area

Cianciarulo has had a lot of success with his Delta decoys, but encourages hunters not to have unrealistic expectations.

Use decoys to improve your hunting success rate.If anyone thinks a doe or buck decoy will change their luck 100 percent of the time, they’re going to have their hopes dashed.

“Sometimes a decoy helps and sometimes it won’t,” Cianciarulo says. “If I had to guess, I’d say a decoy works about 40 percent of the time. The results depend heavily on the area you’re hunting. If you’re hunting an area with heavy doe concentration so that the bucks have little competition for the does, then the decoys will not work as well. If you want to use a decoy, try to hunt an area with good buck-to-doe ratios. If you can hunt an area that has only two does per every buck, your decoy and scents will play a larger role in your success. There are so many factors to consider when using a decoy including how the deer feel that day. A buck’s mood changes from day to day. So, just because the decoy didn’t work one day doesn’t mean it won’t work the next.”





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