November 02, 2023
I’ve always been a decoy geek. I can’t recall the video I was watching the first time I saw a rut crazed buck eat an arrow over a decoy, but it hooked me. Not only is decoying one of the most effective ways to hunt whitetails, to me it’s the most exciting. There’s just something about letting the air out of a big buck when his ears are pinned and he’s rolling in like a bulldozer!
The thought of decoying whitetails from the ground, however, didn’t become a serious consideration until 2015. That was the year I lost the biggest whitetail of my life. I was hunting Western Kansas, where the open terrain leant itself to spot-and-stalk tactics. I had found an absolute giant and managed to slip within range. But when the bow went off, he jumped the string — and I hit him high. It was the most painful loss of my bowhunting career.
I cut my teeth bowhunting whitetails in open terrain, and while I loved hunting from a tree, it wasn’t always an option. Over the years I experienced some success spotting and stalking them, but I also experienced some painful failures. That’s when I stumbled across the bow-mounted Stalker Decoy from UltimatePredatorGear.com. Like I said, I’m a decoy geek, and I’ve used just about every style of decoy currently available. All had worked to some degree at one time or another, but this new Stalker Decoy seemed better suited for decoying from the ground, and it inspired a flood of new ideas.
When it comes to decoying whitetails, the two prime phases are the rut and the pre-rut. While decoys can be effective any time of year, these two phases are the most productive, and whenever possible I prefer to use a double-decoy setup during these phases — a buck and a bedded doe. There are several reasons why. While young bucks often lose their minds early in the pre-rut, mature bucks show little interest until does actually come into heat. Even when they do show early interest, they typically approach doe decoys by heading straight down-wind, often exploding without offering a shot.
The presence of a buck decoy, especially when paired with a doe, changes the way mature bucks approach a decoy set. In both prime phases, when mature bucks approach other bucks, they focus their full attention on them. If a doe is present, they typically ignore her until they have dealt with the buck. Even more significant though, is when they approach a buck, their first instinct isn’t necessarily to head straight down-wind. As a matter of fact, in my experience, the older and more dominant a buck is, the less likely he is to do that. The more dominant the buck, the more likely he is to approach a buck decoy from whatever angle will be most advantageous in a fight.
All of this I had experienced over the years got me thinking. What if I could become the doe decoy in this scenario? What if I placed a 3-D buck in a visible position, then sat off to the side behind this new Stalker Decoy and acted like a doe? An incoming buck might ignore me the same way they do the doe decoy in my double-set. I needed to test the theory.
Two Novembers later I was back in Kansas filming an episode of North American Whitetail TV. I was hunting public ground and had located a brushy bottom in the middle of a large tract of CRP. I placed my 3-D buck decoy where it would be visible to cruising bucks, attached the Stalker Decoy to my bow and sat down about 15 yards away.
The buck seemed to materialize out of nowhere. He had spotted my 3-D buck decoy and was in full bulldozer mode! The Stalker Decoy mounted on my bow was shaking like a leaf, but it didn’t matter. He wrote me off as a bedded doe, and at that point, I probably could have been doing jumping jacks and he wouldn’t have cared. He made no effort to check the wind as he rolled straight toward the 3-D buck. I drew back my bow in plain sight of him and let him have it at a distance of 13 yards! It was incredible, but what happened next changed the game for me.
After retrieving my arrow, I glanced over my shoulder to see another buck staring at me. He saw my entire upright body, but I quickly sat back down, grabbed my bow and showed him the Stalker Decoy. He stood and stared for a while, trying to figure out what he’d just seen, so I reached up and flicked the decoy’s ear at him. His reaction was unbelievable. Even after catching me dead-to-rights, this buck worked his way into spitting distance at just four yards! He was a mature buck I would have been more than happy to take, but with a buck already down, I was able to milk the situation and see exactly how close he was willing to get. I was amazed.
My next ground assault experience was another game changer. I spotted a huge buck that had a hot doe pinned down in a weed patch. I had a cameraman with me again and knew we couldn’t slip in carrying a big 3-D buck decoy, so I attached a Stalker Doe to my bow and quickly rigged a Stalker Buck (the same decoy with accessory antlers attached) to my cameraman’s monopod. If my theory held true, and we were able to get within this buck’s comfort zone, he should focus on my cameraman’s buck decoy, and for the most part, ignore my doe decoy. After working to within earshot, I got his attention with a grunt call. When he eventually peeked out of the weeds and saw our pair staring at him from 30 yards, he pinned his ears back and came straight at us. Once again, I was able to draw in plain sight, with almost no cover, and arrow the 170-plus-inch, public-land giant at just 18 yards!
Soon thereafter, it dawned on me. I might have started decoying whitetails from the ground as a means of hunting them in open prairie lands, but how many times had I struggled to find a suitable tree for decoying in other parts of the country? How many times had I thrown the book at a buck that had a hot doe pinned down out on some field edge, only to end up helplessly sitting in my stand, praying the doe might jump up and head my direction? I don’t truthfully know, but it’s happened a lot.
My point is, decoying whitetails from the ground is not a tactic that should be exclusively reserved for prairie lands. For those who already know how effective decoying whitetails can be, imagine being able to place your 3-D decoy in the most visible spot on your property, regardless of any tree — like in the middle of a cut cornfield, or a treeless hillside where you always see bucks chasing does. With a comfortable hunting pad or turkey chair, you don’t need much cover, just enough to conceal lower body, and that’s it. The possibilities are truly endless!
To learn more about the Ultimate Predator decoy system, check out: UltimatePredatorGear.com.