photo courtesy of CarryLite Decoys
If I hadn’t been seeing increased deer activity myself (saw two more young bucks pursuing does across fields this morning), I could easily tell the rut is nearing by the increasing emails, text messages and Facebook and Twitter comments. Soak it in, friends, because this is the time of year we’ve all waited for.
Today’s top question comes from friend and Deer & Deer Hunting diehard Ryan Bauer of Wisconsin. Ryan writes: "Dan, what are your thoughts on using decoys?"
Knowing how much of a diehard big-buck hunter that Ryan is, I know that his question is more loaded than innocent (he knows I’ll tell the truth … at least I think he does!). And that honest-to-goodness truth is this: Just because bucks are feeling their oats during the rut doesn’t mean it’s a wise idea to throw a decoy out there in front of your stand. Let me explain.
This is certainly the best time of the year to use a decoy. The next four weeks can be magical if you’re in an area with relatively low deer densities (less than 20 deer per square mile), a balanced sex ratio (less than three does per buck; 1:1 would be ideal); and low hunting pressure. Think about those criteria for a bit. Does it rule out your area?
The properties I have hunted in Wisconsin over the past 25 years have pretty much dictated that I don’t use deer decoys. This has more to do with the fact that the properties I hunt have mostly been public land and small private parcels surrounded by tons of hunting pressure. I have had bucks respond to decoys (even a 140-inch buck during a gun season 13 years ago), but I’ve spooked for more deer than I’ve attracted. I no longer use them during gun season because of safety concerns.
On the flip side, I know a lot of guys around here who report very good success with decoys during the rut. The key, in most of those instances, is they have access to much larger properties (several hundred acres, or land surrounded by sanctuaries). The same can be said of the trophy buck properties I’ve hunted in states like Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and the like. A lot of those areas have large tracts of CRP, which spreads out the deer and forces bucks to roam far and wide in search of does. I believe this triggers their response mechanism when they encounter "another buck."
Why not use a decoy? What could it hurt? Well, again — just my experience — it can hurt a lot if you spook a deer that might otherwise have crossed in front of your stand once, twice or even three times during the course of a day as they are cruising for does. Spook him hard just once, and he will remember it … at least temporarily.
We included a very informative piece on how, when and where to use decoys in the November issue of the magazine. Refer to that piece for more details on what types of decoys you should use and the scent tactics needed for optimal use.