Practical Bowhunting
with Mark Timney

Practical Decoying

The first decoy I ever used was a McKenzie 3-D deer target. Lugging that chunk of foam through the woods along with my bow and other hunting gear wasn't easy, but it was worth the effort.

Thirty minutes after setting the decoy up, I did a little calling and had two bucks instantly come in to me. The first deer, a small spike, stopped about 35 yards from my stand, looked once at the decoy and began to feed on some acorns littering the ground around his feet. The second deer, a plump four-pointer, continued toward the McKenzie, rushing up as if to greet a long lost friend. That buck never had a worse enemy.

I've taken other deer with decoys since that 4-point, and it's always proven to be an exciting way to hunt. But I don't decoy all the time. Decoying requires extra work, and if you're not careful it can introduce as many problems as it solves. Thanks to some expert advice, I've found that the trick to practical decoying lies in selecting the right decoy before you go afield, choosing the right time to decoy, and in carefully preparing your ambush site.

Buck, doe or fawn?
The decision whether to buy a buck, doe or fawn decoy should be based upon whether you'll be after does and/or bucks, and the time of year that you're most likely to use the decoy. Without getting into a lot of scientific explanation, the normal sexual segregation of whitetails and their behavior during breeding time greatly influences how attracted they are to decoys of either sex at particular times.
As a general rule, buck decoys are not very effective when it comes to bringing in does. In fact, decoys typically don't work well on does except when using a fawn decoy in conjunction with distress calling in the early to late summer. That's not to say that a doe decoy or two set up in a field during the early archery season won't help convince other does that it's safe to come out and feed. Still, does are a little more suspicious of decoys than bucks.
Bucks, on the other hand, are typically attracted to decoys of both sexes. Which sex they're most attracted to at a specific time depends whether or not the rut is underway. Fortunately, most decoys come with a set of detachable antlers so sex-change operations are rather simple. The chart below details when buck, doe, and fawn decoys are likely to be most effective.

2-D or 3-D Decoys?
Certain decoys lend themselves to particular styles of hunting better than others. A bowman who prefers to move about will want something different in a decoy than the treestand hunter.

Two-dimensional decoys, those that fold up like a card table, are fairly transportable and are great for hunters on the go. They can also serve as a portable blind that you can hide behind. In just one season of testing, I found this to be an extraordinarily exciting and effective way to hunt. (Be very careful when you do this type of hunting!!! There is a real risk of being mistaken for a deer!!!!!)

When you're not going to be lugging a decoy all over the woods, full-body decoys offers some advantages over 2-D models. They come in a greater variety of poses, and a deer can approach them from any angle and still see a deer. While the latest 3-D decoys are fairly light, they are still bulky. This can be a liability when you have to travel a long way to get to your stand, especially when trees and brush are thick.

The Practical Compromise
Partial body decoys made out of foam are a perfect compromise between the 2-D & 3- D models. They're inexpensive, ultra-light and can be easily rolled into a small bundle for transportation. Feather Flex's 'shell' decoy is modeled to look like a bedded animal, but its lack of legs isn't as much as a handicap as you might think. It's easy to prop up on a bush so that it looks, at least to a deer, like its standing.

Advantages and Disadvantages of 3 Styles of Decoys
2-D, 3-D & Foam PRO CON
A 2-D model, like this one from Mel Dutton, is fairly easy to transport and can serve as a portable blind
They have to be set up so that the deer won't approach from the wrong angle. Using the decoy as a blind is exciting, but dangerous.
These decoys are very realistic looking, and come in a variety of poses which offer multiple setup possibilities.
Usually very difficult to transport easily or quietly to your hunting site.
Feather Flex
Very easy to transport and realistic looking... a good compromise. Bucks are particularly attracted to a bedded doe during the rut.
The low profile can sometimes make these decoys difficult for other deer to see.

I like my decoys to smell and sound like real deer too. I use scents and calling in conjunction with decoying to add realism to the scene I'm creating. Also, I often add white feathers to my decoy's ears and tail to help generate movement from the decoy. Deer, does in particular, are often uneasy around decoys because they're motionless and look as if they're scanning for danger.

Positioning of the decoy is of critical importance. While there are no set rules here, there are a few general guidelines to follow. They're listed below, along with illustrations to help you devise the perfect ambush.

Set the decoy upwind of you. It's not unusual for deer
to approach them from downwind.

Bucks tend to approach buck decoys head on.

Bucks tend to approach doe decoys from the rear

Of course, decoying, like every other method of hunting, isn't a fool proof way to hunt. Still, it is definitely worth considering if you're looking to add a new technique to your bag of bowhunting tricks. It's an exciting way to hunt, not particularly expensive to get into, and relatively easy to do.