Waterfowl hunters have long made decoys as much a part of their gear as Gore-Tex clothing, non-toxic shotgun shells and game calls. It is the same for most spring gobbler hunters, who have learned the effectiveness of decoys in helping to attract wary longbeards and then lure them into shotgun range.
For deer hunters, however, decoys remain, in the minds of many, nothing more than – at best – a gimmick.
Well, for all hunters who bemoan about decreased deer numbers, or even those fortunate enough to have a "honey hole" and want to attract an elusive buck, perhaps the time has come to rethink their thinking on decoys. That is the advice of Hunter's Specialties Pro Staff member Matt Morrett of Harrisburg for those heading out for Pennsylvania's two-week firearms deer season, which opens Monday, Nov. 26.
As a HS pro-staffer, Morrett has the opportunity to hunt in many states, which allows him to experience strategies that are seldom used in Pennsylvania. One of those is the use of decoys in areas of heavy hunting pressure.
When Morrett talks about decoys at his seminars, most hunters show an interest and – human nature being what it is – usually accept its credibility because he is not representing a decoy manufacture. His only sales pitch concerning the use of decoys for deer hunting is for hunters to buy into how they can improve their odds.
Usually, bowhunters are most willing to consider using deer decoys, but there seems to be a continued reluctance to try them during the firearms seasons. That is a mistake because much of the effectiveness in using decoys is tied in with the rut, and in Pennsylvania, a secondary rut often occurs during the final days of the two-week statewide firearms season into the post-Christmas flintlock season.
"I am sure that a doe decoy can help in late season," Morrett said. "I think there are many variables though.
"First and foremost, the best thing to rely on is the predominant food source. Deer are hungry through the winter months, especially after the rut.
"On the other hand, a decoy can relate many things to the deer. It can relay safety to other deer, especially if there has been a lot of pressure and it can relay a good food source and create a visual lure to deer that are out of range."
Because Pennsylvania's firearms deer season falls between the primary and secondary rut, it is one of the most effective times to use a decoy, as many bowhunters find they get the best results using them prior to the rut. Decoy placement is not as important during the firearms season as it is during archery season, but it helps to be scent conscious even when hunting with a rifle.
Spraying a decoy with Scent-A-Way and handling it with gloves reduces the chances of unnatural odors being carried to a wary deer. This is especially important when placing a decoy in a field or an open area along a woods line.
If a deer decoy is used as a buck, Dominant Buck and Tarsal Supreme lures by Hunter's Specialties can be used for enhancement. For best results, Dominant Buck lure should be sprayed on the ground, and Tarsal Supreme lure should be sprayed on the rear legs.
If a deer decoy is used as a doe, Premium Doe Estrus Plus by Hunter's Specialties can be effective. This lure should be sprayed on the nose of the decoy, where it would be naturally found.
Even if no lures are used, a deer decoy can be effective in attracting bucks during the pre- and post-rut because they are often curious about what a doe is doing and will come to investigate. A lone doe will also stir the curiosity of other doe and attract them to a decoy.
Before investing in an actual deer decoy, a 3-D archery deer target can also be effective as a decoy. For best results, however, smaller decoys and 3-D targets are usually most effective if used as a buck so that satellite bucks are not intimidated.
Another consideration when selecting placement of a deer decoy is making sure it is in an open area, as deer have not only keen senses of both hearing and smelling, but also of seeing. Deer can see another deer from as far away as 1,000 yards and are willing to travel that distance, but if a deer crests a ridge and suddenly sees another deer, they can be startled and bolt before a shot can be taken.
Using a deer decoy requires commitment and just a bit more work in preparing a hunting location. That time and effort, however, can often result in the reward of a filled tag.