Bowhunting over a decoy in southern Iowa during the rut & post-rut can drastically improve your odds of bringing a buck to your specific location. However, it's not that easy of a concept. It can be, but it usually much more complicated than that. This post will breakdown my outlook on using the decoy, how to use it, and what not to do. We utilize the decoy when and where we can each year, but this year will be slightly different. We will need a decoy in about 2-4 different setups to make them work the way we want to. I use the Boss Buck decoy, and I love it. Aside from a Dave Smith Decoy (DSD), it's the best whitetail decoy out there, and yes, it does work when used correctly.
Looking at another game species in Iowa that is hunted with decoys, the eastern wild turkey, we get these dumb birds to come to the decoys relatively easy. Well, whitetails are a bit smarter and pay better attention to detail, not to mention that they have much more well-rounded senses than turkeys do. It's a tough sale! So, we set out to trick a smart big game species into coming up to the decoy and checking it out. At that point, it's a success regardless of whether or not you get a shot off into the pump station. If you don't get a shot on an animal that came into the decoy with the correct decoy setup, it's all on you.
Back in 2014 or so, I was bowhunting a cut corn field that was buffered in CRP that had a timber finger on the far side opposite of a timbered creek/river bottom. I knew deer bedded in the CRP, moved up and down the creek bottom, and were literally anywhere around here. I setup a buck decoy on the side of the field opposite of the creek bottom for easier exit at dark. I wanted to see the field edge and CRP next to the creek. I knew that was my best bet. Turning my back on it and not having a good visual would be a bad move. Yet, I was asking a potential buck to come 150-200yds across this cut corn field to my decoy, not an easy task.
I had the decoy's face facing into the wind (probably a bad move), about 20 yards from my blind that was tucked into the tall CRP. I was ready for the evening hunt. I had some does come out and look across the field at the buck decoy, but obviously, they weren't interested. I had a sweet encounter with a young 3-year-old buck that was about 130" as he came right to the decoy from my left. I thought, "man, if I could get a stud to come in like that, it'd be something!" The night went on. A couple more does came into the corn, and they went north which was to my right feeding. It was getting close to last light, about 5-10 minutes left, and I saw this dark object appear on the field edge to my 10 o'clock. There he stood. A shooter... 150-160" buck. This was a quality buck for this area, so I was going to shoot him. Well, he didn't come in. I was pissed. The minutes are slowly passing, and with each one past, I knew I didn't have much time left. It was getting dark in the blind. The buck went straight north, perpendicular to my view facing right into the side of the creek bottom across the field. He disappeared just over a slope in the corn. I thought, "shoot! He won't be back..." BOOM. There he was. He's coming at the decoy. He was downwind. It was a south wind that day, so he circled downwind to come to the decoy catching his scent. I drew back, just enough light to see my 20, 30, 40 yard pin. I used my bow-mounted rangefinder (Leupold Vendetta) and it read 30. I put my 30yd pin on him, squeezed, and released. I heard a thwack! Yes!! Got heeeeem! He ran like he was hit, straight line, back to the woods. It got dark. I went to get my arrow, couldn't find the sucker. No blood. My buddies came over to help, and one of them found my arrow. Lighted nock was off. No blood on the arrow. I realized what had happened... The ranger finder ranged a corn stalk under his belly at 30, but the buck was at 20. I just shot under him. No hair. No tissue. Just air. AIR BALL! I was upset. Yet, that was my first time using a decoy and have it produce a shot.
What I could have done differently was turn the buck around 180* to face the opposite way. Knowing which direction the deer should come from when he first sees the decoy is a big plus. Then, with the wind direction known, angle the buck to be facing downwind. This will make things get interesting. I like the decoy to be close at 20 yards because if a buck stops suspiciously at 10-20 yards away, you still have a shot at 30 or 40 yards. Leave your decoy outside at the farm in a bag. Spray it down weeks before, spray it down as often as you can. Then, spray it down once you have it setup. No, don't use any scent on it. No scent is better than the wrong scent. I've busted deer out with a decoy having a scent they didn't like... Code Blue, Tinks, etc. If I were using a doe decoy, I would use special golden estrus lightly. That's the only stuff that I have seen work here on our farms.
Placing a decoy is more complicated, as I mentioned earlier. You must be in the right setup for it. Open areas are a must, where a buck will see it from a ways off. Do not put it in an area that will have too many deer. That would equal too many eyes and too many chances to have a deer call it out as a poser. Some people put decoys in pinch points or funnels that are just too wide to cover with a bow, so they try and get the buck directed into range with the decoy. I've never tried that, but it could work. Yet, that's where I expect does to be as well with bucks behind in tow. I don't want to spook a doe out of there. So, I think food sources are the ticket: cut corn, standing beans, freshly cut beans, brassica or clover plots, etc. Not every setup is worthy of a decoy strategy, but sometimes it is a must. Each stand/blind setup is uniquely special for such. When in doubt, flip a coin to try it or not. See what happens.
If you're hunting with me in 2020, and want to have access to one of the 2-4 decoy setups, let me know. It could get really interesting in a good way!