Cow con

For tricking reluctant bull moose into range, try using a life-sized cow decoy

4Gord Nuttall

After slowly moving into our treestand and blind set-up, my partner and I allowed the bush to settle down before letting out a pleading cow call. At first there was no response, so we let out a second series of louder calls that echoed off a nearby calm lake. Right away, I both heard and saw a bull moose coming directly at me from 100 metres out, but it stopped at the edge of the open ground between us, outside my effective range facing me a head-. Then the bull spotted the decoy. As I expected, he began a downwind approach toward the life-sized fake cow, putting me in the perfect ambush position. With one well-placed 25-metre shot, the love-struck bull was down.

As with picking the right tree for a stand, properly placing a portable cow decoy is critical—you can’t just set it out anywhere and simply hope for the best. Instead, you must consider why the bull is coming toward you in the first place, where he is likely to come from and whether he’ll circle downwind or confront the decoy directly. Plus, you need to pick the right spot to set up for your shot. If you get all these variables right, decoying will definitely improve your odds of tagging out this season. Here’s how to make the most of this overlooked tactic. 


1Gord Nuttall

Calling moose is a common hunting strategy and, at times, a near-magical way to get bulls to venture towards you. But moose are always on the alert for potential danger, including when they hear the sound of another moose, but can’t see or smell it. This is especially true with big, mature bulls. They’ll often come to the edge of a clearing, but will stop if they don’t sense another moose. So when all you do is call, you’re asking the animal to ignore its survival instincts and enter a situation it’s just not comfortable with. The bull may cross into the insecure area, but more often than not, he’ll remain at the edge of the cover, leaving you with no shot.

The ideal moose-calling set-up starts with placing yourself in an area where bull moose will feel safe, and not hold up outside your shooting range. These types of areas include small openings and meadows within your effective shooting range. But in the field, ideal situations often aren’t available, and that’s when a decoy is helpful. For years, I called without using decoys, but I didn’t know what I was missing. A well-placed cow decoy provides the visual confirmation and trust the bull needs, stopping him from hanging up.

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Place the cow decoy in an open area that has game trails leading into it, positioned so that a bull entering on one of the trails gets a broadside view of it. That way, the bull will travel farther into the clearing to investigate. The same principle applies to thickets or other areas lacking an escape route from predators—you want to make it easy for the incoming bull to notice the decoy from a distance.

You also want to find a contrasting background to help showcase the decoy; since it’s big and black, this usually isn’t a problem. After spying the decoy, a bull will most often circle downwind in an attempt to catch the cow’s scent and to confirm that it’s a receptive female. So when placing the decoy, also make sure you’ll have clear shooting lanes downwind of it. 

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You’ve heard this advice time and time again, but it’s worth repeating: Always mind the wind. That doesn’t mean simply checking the Weather Network before you head out. Rather, bring along a wind checker, and use it hourly in your location to ensure your set-up still has the wind in its favour. You can fool a moose’s eyes with camouflage or by staying motionless near the decoy, but when it comes to human odour, you have zero chance of tricking a bull’s nose.

To boost your odds, create a quality ambush point by setting up for a shot where the moose’s path of least resistance intersects with your shooting lanes. And make sure the spot is downwind of the decoy. Always take the time to set up correctly—when a bull finally shows interest, your efforts will have paid off.


7Gord Nuttall

Selecting a good spot to shoot from is, without doubt, the most critical aspect of decoying. I set up based exclusively on two factors: the wind and the bull’s most likely behaviour. I simply position myself downwind and off to one side of the decoy, within my effective shooting range. Once a bull moose has visually locked onto the decoy, and is approaching from downwind to smell his prospective mate, this location offers the best opportunity for a broadside shot.

In rare situations, a bull moose can be so rut-crazed that he’ll throw caution to the wind and head directly for the decoy. With that in mind, I always make sure I also have a clear, effective shot out toward the decoy as well.


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Given I put so much emphasis on the set-up, I prefer life-sized static decoys, and don’t worry about using motion to fool a bull. After all, they work. Every time a bull has seen one of my decoys, he’s been very curious—or even downright obsessed with getting closer. During the rut, in fact, I’ve never seen a bull not commit to a cow decoy once he’s spotted it.

There’s no doubt cow moose decoys—when carefully placed and combined with a good ambush point—have helped me lure in big bulls for clean, ethical shots. It’s important to remember, however, that they shouldn’t be a substitute for practice and scouting. Decoying is simply a proven tactic to tip the scales in convincing a bull that a receptive mate is nearby. And during the fall mating season, that’s sometimes just what you need to seal the deal. 


5Gord Nuttall

Moose decoys come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and prices. But in my experience, an effective cow decoy needs to be both lightweight and full-bodied in size. The simplest decoy I’ve seen was a moose-sized piece of black landscape fabric hung from a horizontal pole in thick brush (above), and it did indeed resemble a big, black animal. Moose will fixate on objects such as that, and circle downwind to scent-check them. That particular decoy simply rolled up on the pole, making for easy carrying.

The decoy I use now is the Moose II, from Montana Decoy. Printed on fabric, it’s a life-sized image of a cow moose looking back, in a quartering away stance. It’s supported on two collapsible tent poles, so it folds up and easily straps to my backpack. And because it’s printed on both sides, it works well from all angles.

Of course, decoys can get even more elaborate. During his retirement years, for example, my dad carved a full-bodied cow out of multiple layers of two-inch-thick construction Styrofoam, giving it a 3-D look once it was wrapped in black landscape fabric. He also pivoted the decoy on an aluminum peg and attached 40-metre-long strings, enabling us to impart movement from our set-up (below).

Although Dad’s decoy was lightweight, it was also large and proved awkward to carry into our hunting location. So when it wasn’t in use, we simply covered it up and left it in position. But still, it worked great. We sat and called by it for two days and two nights, and on the third morning, a bull moose came to within 35 metres, spotted the decoy and focused intently on it. Oblivious to my nearby presence, he soon became the very first bull I ever arrowed.   

6Gord Nuttall
Beaumont, Alberta’s Gord Nuttall bowhunts for a variety of game, including bull moose.