To be honest, I was a decoy skeptic until one Christmas when I drove up on a buck doing R-rated things to a decorative reindeer. Using a decoy is admittedly one of the goofier parts of hunting, but it can also be a lot of fun. More importantly, it can be really effective.
You might think that picking out a decoy just comes down to finding one that looks like a real deer, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that. There are different types and strategies you should familiarize yourself with before you invest. Luckily, we’ve got all the info you need right here, including a list of our top five decoys and why we like them.
Our Top Decoy Picks
- Ultimate Predator Bow-Mounted Mule Deer Decoy– “It tops our list for its portability”
- Flambeau Deer Decoys– “The detail and customizability of these decoys make them some of our favorites”
- Primos Scarface– “It stuck out because it incorporates movement”
- Primos Waggin Whitetail– “An excellent option since you can control it from your tree stand”
- Montana Decoy Dream Team– “Their many versatile uses make these a great choice”
- Miss Muley– “It makes ideal cover for ground hunters”
How would you use a deer decoy?
Deer decoys trick deer into thinking there’s another doe or buck nearby. If you do it right, the quarry spots the decoy and comes to check it out. This brings it into shooting range.
Set up your decoy 10-15 yards from your stand on the edge of a feeding area opposite where you expect your quarry to be traveling, ideally downwind. As a buck moves from between bedding areas, he’ll catch a glimpse of your decoy and come to inspect.
When’s the best time to use a deer decoy?
Deer decoys are best for the rut. Specifically, you have two windows.
The first ten days of November, only a few of the does have come into estrus, and the bucks are angry, territorial and looking for fights. If they spot an unknown buck, they’ll come quickly to defend their territory.
At the end of November and beginning of December, most of the does have been bred, and there are only a few left who come back into estrus. The bucks are still very territorial and ready to fight over the few remaining does, so they’ll come running for any doe or rival buck they see.
Decoys work best in the morning. If you put a decoy out in the afternoon or evening you risk scaring any does that are coming to feed.
- Scent. You’re trying to trick your quarry’s sense of sight, but their sense of smell is even sharper. Make sure your decoy doesn’t have any human odors. Store them covered and away from any strong chemicals. Use scent eliminators to remove any residual scent, and then apply the appropriate lure. Don’t apply doe estrus to a buck decoy, for instance.
- Visibility. In the rut buck movements become a lot more unpredictable. It’s not enough to just put your decoy along a trail. You should place it at the edge of a feeding area where it’s visible from as many travel corridors as possible.
- Setup. You’ve got to use the right decoys in the right ways at the right times. If it’s just before the rut, for example, bucks are looking to fight. A decoy of a strange buck gets their attention. During the rut when bucks are looking to mate, a doe decoy with some estrus scent is a good choice.
Choosing a deer decoy
Types of decoy
Decoys come in a variety of styles.
You can attach bow-mounted decoys to the front of your bow. This has a few benefits. Most of all, it’s highly portable. It also hides your body well. These are good options for still hunters or ground hunters, especially those that use public land and don’t want to carry an extra piece of gear.
Standing cutouts are two-dimensional photo prints of deer. These are still portable, but they’re full deer you can set up near feeding areas where you stand hunt.
3D decoys are full three-dimensional models of real deer, usually made of plastic. These are the most realistic, of course, and many even incorporate movement. They’re harder to move around, however, and they usually come at higher prices. Because of this they’re best for dedicated decoy hunters, usually from a stand.
If you’re looking for realistic movement, wagging tails are a unique decoy option. They’re electronically operated fake tails that you can move by remote. You can use them alone by attaching them to trees or posts, or you can attach them to a 3D decoy you already have. This makes them versatile options to have.
Deer eyes function a lot differently than ours. Although they do have color vision, they can’t see as wide a range as we can. They also have much lower visual acuity, something like 20/40 vision. They do however have a much wider field of vision–around 300 degrees–and their eyes are especially adept at picking up movement.
What does that mean for your decoy? You need one that’s realistic, but don’t worry just because you can tell it’s a fake when you’re standing right next to it. A deer spotting your decoy from across a field will not be seeing it in such detail.
Movement, though, can be really helpful. This makes it much more likely that your quarry will notice the decoy.
Does it / will it smell?
For deer smell is maybe their most important sense. This means that you have to pay attention to how your decoy smells, too.
Manufactured plastic decoys might smell when they come off the line. Clean them with a scent-neutral product and then consider leaving them for a day or two outdoors.
Also consider the material the decoy’s made of. If it’s foam or carton, you can easily add your own scent to it, which is essential to creating a good decoy system. However, they can also pick up odors from outside chemicals more easily, so you have to store them carefully.
Ease of use / portability
Bowhunters already have a lot to carry. If you’re hunting public land, you have even more. You want to find the right balance between realism and portability for your personal situation.
Large 3D decoys, for example, are very realistic but tough to lug around. Some have special innovations for transportation, though. They may come with carrying cases or be collapsable.
If you get a cutout, make sure you can fold it down. Cutouts are lightweight, but it defeats the purpose if they’re bulky and difficult to carry. A compact cutout, on the other hand, is easy to pack along with your other gear.
Stability in wind
A windy day can be a blessing or a curse for decoy users. Good decoys take advantage of wind and use it to imitate movement. When you pick a decoy, this is a great perk.
Some decoys, however, have difficulty staying up in strong winds. This can ruin their effectiveness. Two-dimensional decoys can be especially susceptible to wind, so if you go the cutout route, check how it’s staked into the ground. You want something stable.
Our Top Picks In Detail
Ultimate Predator Bow-Mounted Mule Deer Stalker Decoy
Public-land hunters often skip decoys because they think they’re too much of a hassle. That’s why we like the Ultimate Predator. It’s great for hunters who need something portable, especially still or ground hunters who try a lot of different areas.
It’s ideal for mounting on the front of your bow. This way you can still hunt or easily hunt from a seat. It attaches with a hook and loop system that’s customizable for any bow. Plus, you can attach it to other things like tripods or stakes. Most notably, this decoy collapses to a 10-inch-diameter disc, so you can take it with you wherever you go.
The decoy itself is very realistic. It’s a mule deer and has the typical large mule-deer ears, so unfortunately it isn’t whitetail-specific. It should be convincing and calming to any game, though.
Safety is really important when using a decoy, and this one comes with blaze-orange safety straps. It’s durable and made from a micro-suede fabric that dries quickly.
- Hook-and-loop attachment system
- Compact and portable
- Realistic design
- Blaze-orange safety straps
- Weather resistant
- Micro-suede fabric
- Mule deer specific
Flambeau Deer Decoys
The detail on these decoys is really striking. You can choose from a large, powerful-looking buck or the boss babe doe. On the doe you can even change the ears to give her different attitudes and expressions. They make great all-season decoys because you can change them for the temperament of the local herd.
Despite their realistic size, these decoys are also easy to carry. The buck is designed to sling over your shoulder, and the doe even collapses down, so you can store the limbs and head inside the body. Again, if you want an all-season decoy, this lets you easily try them out in different spots when the deer’s movements change throughout the year.
Since it’s good all season round and a little pricier, don’t get this model if you aren’t sure about decoys as a definite part of your strategy. If you’re a big fan of decoys, however, this is a high-quality one that’s about as realistic as you can get without stuffing the real thing.
- Realistic detail
- Customizable expression
- Easy to carry
- Good all season round
- High-quality materials
- Higher price range
We couldn’t leave Scarface off our list. Its realism is just unbeatable. Not only does it come with its namesake scar on its face, but the decoy has a realistic cloth tail. The head is also on a pivot, so it moves in the breeze. It’s easy to forget it’s a fake at all.
It’s designed for versatile use. Any hunter could benefit from this stand in any situation, but since it looks like a big buck, it’s especially good for the rut when male deer are looking to pick fights.
Like the Flambeau decoys, this is a full three-dimensional decoy that’s a little more expensive than other simpler decoys. This gets you the high-quality materials and manufacturing Primos is known for. It can be broken down too, so you can move it to all your favorite spots.
- Very realistic
- Cloth tail
- Pivoting head
- High-quality design
- Higher price range
Primos Waggin Whitetail
Once again, Primos lands two spots on our list. The Waggin Whitetail is another example of their quality craftsmanship using high-quality materials.
A nice thing about this decoy is its versatility. It’s just a moving tail, but this works great stand alone. Or you can attach it to a full decoy to make it even more realistic. If you’re on a budget, check this out. You can get the tail and then spring for the full decoy when you’ve got the cash. It doesn’t even have to be a Primos decoy.
The movement of the tail is realistic. In fact, you can simulate two different movements: short or long twitch. It comes with a remote that controls the movement with a 40-yard range, so you can easily use it from your tree stand.
- High-quality design
- Stand alone
- Two realistic movements
- 40-yard-range remote control
- Moving parts
Montana Decoy Dream Team
With the Dream Team you get both a buck and a doe for a great price. This gives you a lot of options for use and at different times of the year, pre-rut, rut, even post-rut.
These decoys are two-sided flat prints. This along with their ability to fold down make them highly portable. We like them because they’re kind of a middle ground between large three-dimensional decoys and smaller bow-mounted decoys. The only problem with this that they’re flimsier in the wind, so they’re best on calmer days or at least close to the tree line so they’re more protected.
The two-dimensional design also makes it easy to set up. It’s a good option for public-land hunters who change places a lot but still want a full-sized decoy. The prints are HD photos of a real buck and doe, so they’re definitely realistic.
- Low price range
- Versatile options for use
- Two sided
- Foldable and portable
- Easy setup
- Realistic HD prints
- Flimsy in the wind
Miss Muley is Montana’s mule deer version. Like the Dream Team, it’s a two-dimensional two-sided print of a mule doe. It’s light and compact, and you can easily fold it down to move it to new locations. You can easily set it up with the Montanta Quickstand. Although, it unfortunately comes separately.
One special thing about this decoy is its size. Even in open spaces, you can use it to stalk game. It’s shaped to hide you well while still giving visibility.
The print is an HD photo of a real mule doe, and it’s convincingly realistic. If you live out west and like to hunt open areas from the ground, this is a great option.
- Two sided
- Light and compact
- Shaped for stalking
- Realistic HD print
- Stand not included