Lure game into shooting range with these deadly decoy ploys
With each yelp I made, the big Merriam’s tom responded with a sharp gobble. He was coming in hot, every exchange drawing him closer through the deep timber high up on the mountainside. Then he hung up at 40 yards and started pacing back and forth—no matter what calls I used, he just wouldn’t step into view. Finally after 20 minutes, he spotted our decoys, raced in and went into full strut. As soon as he fanned and turned away, my wife drew and waited until he pivoted broadside, then released. Tom down.
As bowhunters, we need to get close to our target species, and that’s where today’s incredibly lifelike decoys come into play. When used properly, they can lure a wide variety of game into bow range, as well as distract your quarry to give you a better chance at a shot. Here’s how to decoy effectively when bowhunting.
Most game animals are attracted to decoys that resemble their own species, lulling them into a false sense of security. If a whitetail sees another deer standing in a field or clearing, for example, it tends to relax, assuming there are no nearby threats. The same goes for other ungulates, as well as game birds. And when you combine decoys with natural vocalizations such as estrus calls, grunts, bugles and even distress sounds for hunting predatory species, you can close the deal in a hurry.
When setting up, I often employ portable one-dimensional fabric decoys, such as those pioneered by Montana Decoy. A strategically positioned cow moose or elk facsimile will routinely catch the eye of an incoming bull, drawing him in on a string. Similarly, I like using Flambeau’s three-dimensional deer decoys when I’m sitting in a stand or ground blind. Both flocked and straight plastic 3-D decoys work, but the more realistic the overall appearance, the better.
Decoys both attract and distract gameFor spot-and-stalk scenarios, one of the best tools for a bowhunter are the innovative Heads Up Decoys. These are ultra-lightweight, one-dimensional dekes, typically picturing only the animals’ head and neck. Available for a variety of different species and configurations, these lifelike decoys mount directly to the front of your bow (just be aware of other hunters in the vicinity).
Drawing your bow when game animals are up close can be tough because they’re usually on high alert and can easily detect movement. Every bowhunter knows this is a risky moment, but it’s part of what makes the sport so much fun. It’s also when decoys really shine. By providing a distraction, they give the bowhunter an undeniable advantage when it comes to getting to full draw and taking the shot.
Knowing how to correctly set up decoys, as well as when to use them, makes all the difference. In all situations, the shooter should be positioned downwind of the decoy or, if that’s not possible, at least in a cross-wind set-up. Whether I’m in a stand or on the ground, I typically place my decoy within 20 yards of my position, which is ideal for an archery shot.
It’s also important to understand that not all decoys have the same effect on your quarry. Both feeding and standing doe decoys can be used all season long, from August through to the post-rut. Buck decoys can also work well, but in my experience they’re most beneficial during the pre- and peak-estrus periods.
As a rule, bucks, bulls and even rams will most often approach females from behind, sniffing them to check them for breeding readiness, especially during the rut. With that in mind, position your doe decoy so you have the best possible shot when a buck comes in. You can even add some estrus scent—I’ve actually had bucks try to mount my fake doe. You can also use a lone buck decoy, which most bucks will approach head on. Again, position the decoy accordingly.
In all decoying situations, with all species, visibility is key. (One-dimensional pop-up decoys, in particular, should be positioned so that incoming game animals have a broadside view.) Just remember, though, that deer, moose, elk and other ungulates don’t like surprises, so placing decoys in tight spaces can often do more harm than good.