There was no doubt in Garrett Roe’s mind the buck was in a fighting mood. Kneeling in knee-high milo stubble, he watched as the deer steadily closed the distance from 80 yards. Each step was an exaggerated stomp, the animal’s hair on end and its eyes bulged with anger.
“It looked like Godzilla coming down the slope at us,” said Roe, of Hays. “It was about as exciting as things could get.”
Kyle Adams once watched as another buck slowly approached, hackles up, eyes bulged and breathing deeply.
“It got within a couple of feet and you could see absolutely every muscle tense up and then it lowered its head and attacked,” Adams said. “You can see on the video it looks like the decoy’s ear goes flying for about 30 feet. He absolutely nailed it. It was awesome.”
Adams and Roe were bowhunting for Kansas whitetails, using decoys to elicit anger from lust-starved and combative bucks during past November breeding seasons. Both instances are probably the most aggressive bucks they’ve encountered in a combined 20 years of decoying big game. Still, they’re far from the first time decoys have brought them success.
Adams said deer have approached his decoy at least 100 times.
“It’s like anything else, it doesn’t always work, but I know it’s provided me with a lot more action,” Roe said. “It can get pretty exciting, the kind of excitement all people should experience.”
(Neither bowhunter, however, recommends using deer decoys during firearms deer seasons. It’s easy at archery distances for another hunter to distinguish a deer decoy from a real deer. Not always so at the longer shooting ranges with high-powered rifles.)
Adams got into using a decoy for deer after good success using decoys on spring turkey and western Kansas pronghorns. His first deer decoy was a heavy and cumbersome 3D archery target made of solid foam. He remembers the first time a young buck approached his fake buck. He then placed the same decoy in a chunk of good habitat, with a trail camera to monitor what happened.
“I had a buck come in and completely knock the decoy sideways,” Adams said. “That was neat, (but) to me the fun part is being there to see how they interact with the decoy. Some just walk off, others stand there and stare and some really bristle up, have their ears laid-back. It’s obvious they’re very angry.”
Adams now primarily uses a full-sized plastic buck decoy. The legs, head, neck and antlers are detachable and fit into the decoy’s body. He mostly uses the detachable antlers on his decoy and he’s used a doe decoy with a buck decoy. Occasionally he will use just a doe decoy. Adams has a friend who photographed a young buck mounting a doe decoy.
Adams has had his best decoy action during November when the breeding season is in full-swing and the bucks are on the move during daylight hours and aggressive. He hunts where bucks can see the decoy from a distance. Adams likes to use real antlers to simulate the sounds of a fight to attract bucks to the general area. After that, the decoy does most of the work.
It was elk hunting that got Roe started decoying. On several bowhunts, he had close calls with bull elk but couldn’t quite get them close enough for a shot. Because of the ruggedness of the terrain, carrying in even a full-sized silhouette elk decoy was out of the question.
“I didn’t need a whole elk, just something to add some movement, something to get elk to finish, to get a bull to come on in to range,” Roe said.
In 2008 he started Heads Up Decoys, which makes two-dimensional decoys of the shoulders, head and neck of a cow elk, wild turkey tom, buck pronghorn, and buck and doe whitetail and mule deer.
Though he said the decoys can be attached to a stake, or clamped to a nearby piece of vegetation for stand hunters, Roe likes to take his decoys to the bucks he’s hunting in the openness of western Kansas.
For mule deer, he likes to use the mule deer doe decoy to help sneak within range of a bedded buck. Better yet is to see a mule deer buck wandering, looking for does. Often once they see the doe decoy, Roe becomes the hunted.
“Sometimes it can be from 300 yards and sometimes you need to get within 60 yards,” he said. “But when you show them what they’re wanting to see, sometimes you end up pulling them in to close range, like close enough to hear them breathing.”
Sometimes he has a buddy sneak along to hold the decoy. He also manufactures equipment that attaches a Heads Up decoy to the hunter’s bow.
Roe takes advantage of the more aggressive nature of mature whitetail bucks, using his whitetail buck decoy to trigger jealousy.
Ideally he likes to spot a big whitetail buck that’s bedded with a doe. From there, he’ll sneak in as close as he can and pop up the fake buck, which appears to be an intruder hoping to steal the real buck’s doe.
“You work in from downwind as best you can, and then you give the buck a grunt or a snort-wheeze call to challenge him. That’s when you show him the decoy,” Roe said. “Often times they’ll get up, leave that doe and come over to try to run you off. That’s when you may shoot them at 10 or 15 yards as they’re coming.”
The buck described above, the first shot using the Heads Up whitetail buck decoy, was eventually shot at 17 yards.
Roe and Adams agree that using a decoy also helps them lessen the chances a deer knows there’s a hunter around. In the openness of western Kansas, Roe has repeatedly just held up on of of his decoys and walked, bent low, across fairly open country, in plain sight of deer.
“When they see a deer, they’re expecting to see movement,” he said. “When you’re sneaking in, or coming up to draw your bow, it’s the same. You can get away with a lot more.”
Adams likes to video his hunts, with a camera in his tree and another on the ground, pointing at the decoy. Both can lead to added movement and scent. No matter, he said there are times he thinks he could do a dance in his treestand without being detected by a buck below, because it’s so distracted by his decoy. He thinks the distraction has allowed deer to pass downwind of his stand, without spooking at his scent.
“I’ve had deer just stand there and stare at the decoy, it’s almost like they’re in a trance. I guess they’re trying to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “There have been so many times I’ve wondered what could possibly be going through their brain.”