December 2014
Talkin' Huntin'

Make Whitetails Do a Double-Take

 
  When presenting a set up to the deer, you need to give the specific deer a reason to close the distance. Otherwise, “your buck is just another guy walking down the street.” Think about the sights, sounds and smells that would be present with that scenario and duplicate them.

Keys to Bringing Bucks to Decoys

The buck stood at the edge of a picked cornfield about 250 yards away. Even at that distance, I could see he was a definite "shooter." Rather than skirting the field and coming by my stand just off of the corner, he cut straight across the middle. What to do? I picked up my rattle-bag and cracked it as hard as I could. He stopped and turned his head in my direction. I hit the rattle-bag a second time and he came on a steady trot in my direction. Once he reached 100 yards he slowed to a fast walk and started to swing downwind. Long story short – he stood 80 yards downwind of me, hardly moving a muscle for almost five minutes. His only movements were his ears searching for "the two bucks he had just heard" and his nose waving in the breeze scanning for other supporting evidence. He turned and slowly disappeared over the ridge.

What makes a state of affairs seem real to you? If you can see it, hear it, smell it, touch it – the more senses we satisfy, the more that scenario seems real. This is also true for whitetails. By using different techniques a hunter can appeal to a variety of the whitetails’ senses at once. On that day, I sure wish I had some scent set-up or a decoy placed out to draw his attention and coax him in the final 80 yards.

Does, fawns and young bucks will often ramble straight into a well-placed decoy, scent placed out properly or a vocalization that sounds authentic, but mature bucks almost always need confirmation from more than one source before they enter into the unknown. They do trust their sense of smell entirely, but if they see or hear something and aren’t sure they’ll almost always wait for confirmation before proceeding further.

Decoying can appeal to their sight, calling can deceive their hearing and scent, or the lack of it, can con their sense of smell. Why not do something to appeal to more than one of their senses at a time? After having success with scent and with calling, I’ve been experimenting more with decoys. Obviously decoys are not something most people use every time they venture afield, but it is an exciting tactic that can work amazingly well when used in the right place and at the right time.

I find that when using decoys, adding scent, calling or a combo of both will almost always help, but you must pay attention to a few details. I believe decoy posture and movement are particularly significant niceties. Some decoys are in an alert posture. This typically brings other deer in alert and edgy. Sometimes I may want an alert, intimidating posture when presenting certain scenarios to mature bucks, but for most deer throughout most of the season you’ll be better off with other postures.

When is it natural for a standing deer to be totally motionless? When it’s alert, when something is wrong or out of place, or just before it’s about to bolt? I’ve tried a number of different things to add motion to decoys – from tying a string to a chicken feather or white hanky and taping the string to the hind end or ear of the decoy and letting the wind move it, to tacking a real whitetail’s tail to the hind end of the decoy and operating it with monofilament line. Granted, in a 15 mph wind, the chicken feather starts fluttering so fast it looks like the decoy will soon take flight, but I believe even that extreme motion is better than no motion at all. There are kits on the market to help convert standard decoys into motion decoys and decoys that come with moving parts so hunters have options, but motion and posture are definite keys.

Sometimes an alert posture will work. In fact, sometimes I want a prepared, aggressive posture. For instance, if I’m after a mature buck, "playing the competition card" and using aggressive tactics have worked great for me. I wish I would have had this scenario ready to go for that Iowa buck! When after younger bucks or any deer, success depends on many other factors. The biggest detail to keep in mind is – you must give "that deer" a reason to interact with your set up.

What time of year is it? Are you after a buck, doe or will any deer do? What age-class buck are you after? Best advice here, think about what that "specific deer" wants at that particular time of year and give them a reason to close the distance. For any deer, any time of year, I feel a decoy in a feeding, greeting or bedded posture is best.

When using scent with your decoy, you must start by eliminating foreign smells. After your decoy is cleaned in Scent Killer Soap, only touch it while wearing rubber gloves or clean hunting gloves and make sure it’s stored in a place where foreign odors are not going to transfer on to it. If you have to transport your decoy, place it in a garbage bag or something that will seal out foreign odors.

When choosing lures and scents, again, think about what the specific deer you’re after wants at that specific time of the season. For instance, early season I might use plain buck or doe urine … just something to add realism to the scenario. Closer to the rut with a buck decoy sometimes I’ll use a combo of Active Scrape and Mega Tarsal Plus. One gives a full-spectrum scrape aroma and the other is a territorial-intrusion scent. Trying to create the illusion my fake buck is moving into his breeding territory.

When dispersing the scent, I prefer to put the scent on a Pro-Wick or a Key-Wick near the decoy rather than putting the smell right on the decoy. Simply because a week later your decoy smells like last week’s pee. This way I don’t have to constantly scrub down my decoy. Keep the decoy clean.

Calling is another weapon in your arsenal. Once again, every situation is unique. It might be adding some soft social grunts during early season while using a buck decoy, but one of my favorite tactics during the rut is to place out a bedded doe decoy with a small buck decoy standing over her about 10 yards away. I’ll place out some Special Golden Estrus and maybe add an estrus bleat to seal the deal.

Some hunters believe by trying to appeal to more senses you’re leaving yourself open to making more mistakes. Details are important whenever you hunt whitetails, but if you use common sense, keep human scent out of the picture and present things as natural as possible results will follow. Answer the questions of "why" a specific deer would interact with your set up and, when he does, "how" he might interact with the scenario you’ve presented. Maybe to be social or maybe it’s for competition. The more realistic you can make it seem the better it will work for you.

Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-in-Chief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.