By Greg Miller
I’ll be the very first to admit that I don’t know all there is to know about decoying big whitetail bucks. However, I do take pride in the fact that I’ve probably decoyed in and taken more mature bucks across a wider geographic range during a broader time frame than anyone else. While I don’t believe this qualifies me as an expert on the subject, I do believe that some of the things I’ve learned about decoying big bucks could prove helpful to fellow hunters.
Buck Or Doe Decoy?
The most often asked question I get regarding decoying whitetails is do I use a buck decoy or a doe decoy? Put simply, I always have and always will use a buck decoy.
Here’s the deal; mature does don’t care much for other mature does. This is especially the case when they stumble upon a doe within their core areas that they don’t recognize, i.e. a doe decoy. Back before I knew better I had several experiences with does discovering my doe decoy and then standing off some distance blowing, snorting and stomping at it—which alerted every deer within hearing that something definitely was amiss in that particular area.
Another very important point to remember regarding using your decoy as a buck or doe is that does typically are hesitant to approach a buck decoy. However, unlike the behavior they’ll often display upon spotting a doe decoy, I’ve seldom had a doe turn inside out at the mere sight of a buck decoy.
By the way, I’ve heard horror stories from many other hunters who used doe decoys, and then were subjected to having to listen to suspicious antlerless deer snort, blow and stomp their displeasure upon sighting the bogus deer. So simply put, buck decoys are your best choice.
Scent Or No Scent?
The second most often asked question I receive during my seminars is do I use scent when decoying? The answer to that question is a profound “yes”! However, I’m always quick to add that I never, ever put the scent directly on the decoy. Rather, I put the scent on the ground directly under the decoy. The main reason I do this is because I want my decoys to remain as odor free as possible. Because when I’m not using it, I usually stash my decoy somewhere near the tree where my stand has been placed. The last thing I want is to have big bucks sniffing around at those spots when I’m not there.
Here’s another thing I believe is important in regards to using scent while decoying. If at all possible, try to find a scent product that is labeled as being straight buck urine or a blend of deer urine. And above all, avoid using any deer scent that is labeled as containing estrous. This is because antlerless deer often become extremely nervous and flighty at the mere whiff of estrous odor. I’d much prefer that those deer remain as calm as possible while they’re around my decoy.
Another popular question regarding decoying has to do with positioning of the decoy. Here are my thoughts on that subject.
It’s been my experience that bucks will almost always approach antlerless deer from the rear. However, they will almost always approach other bucks head-on. For this reason, I prefer to place my buck decoy 20-25 yards straight out in front of me, facing almost directly at my stand site.
Though it might initially appear that an approaching buck isn’t going to circle to the head end of the decoy, it’s imperative you remain patient and give the situation time to unfold. Because when it’s all said and done that buck will most likely circle to the head end of your decoy, turn broadside, stop walking, then glare intimidatingly at this “strange” intruder.
It’s at this point when you’ll want to bless the power of decoying. Because not only is the buck standing broadside less than 20 yards from you, he’s also got his head turned in the opposite direction as he glares at this potential competitor. Provided you don’t do anything to mess it up, you should have no problem coming to full draw undetected and closing the deal.
Though it pretty much goes without saying, hunters need to keep their own personal safety in mind when using decoys. Modern day decoys have been designed to look as close to the real thing as possible—which means they can be mistaken for live deer.
It’s for this very reason that I absolutely refuse to use a decoy during gun season. There’s also the fact that the main reason for using a decoy is to lure big bucks much closer to our stand sites—like well within bow range. However, when we’re armed with a centerfire rifle, or even a modern day muzzleloader, there’s usually no need to pop up a decoy in an attempt to lure bucks closer.
When To Use Decoys
I’ve decoyed in and taken four mature bucks during the month of September. Amazingly, one of those early season bucks, a big Wyoming 10-pointer, was still in full velvet. Yet that deer showed zero hesitation about approaching and challenging the buck decoy I’d put out prior to climbing to my tree stand a couple hours earlier.
Though I’ve used decoys throughout the month of October, there’s no question that they have proven most effective during the last week of the month. This is that time frame we most often refer to as the late pre-rut. Mature bucks are becoming more and more daylight active, and are certainly more in a mood to check out a decoy.
But, far and away, the absolute best time to attempt to decoy big bucks is during the actual rut, and this means at any time during the rut. Over the past 25 years me and my hunting partners have decoyed in and taken mature bucks during every phase of the rut. So don’t give up on decoying just because the “peak of the rut” has come and gone.