By Josh Boyd
The magical time of the year, which we as hunters refer to as the rut, is now upon us. It is during this period of time that daylight deer sightings tend to skyrocket, previously unseen bucks seemingly appear out of thin air, and shot opportunities can arise in a matter of seconds. In essence, there are few more wonderful times than now to be an avid whitetail hunter.
However, the rut does come with its own distinct challenges. Perhaps the most significant of which relates to capturing a preoccupied buck’s attention, to bring them within range for a clean and ethical shot opportunity. Luckily, savvy hunters can take advantage of a buck’s territorial aggression, by decoying them into range. While the use of a decoy is often overlooked by many hunters, this tactic can be downright deadly in the right situation.
The following are 5 tips to assist you in decoying a rutting buck into range, over the weeks to come.
Trigger A Fight or Flight Response
Bucks, much like people, tend to vary in their personalities. While one rutting buck might charge 400 yards across a cut cornfield to maul a sapling if he deems it necessary, others will steer clear of a fight at every available opportunity. However, the vast majority of bucks will attempt to ward off an intruding buck during the rut, when first encountered at close range.
For this reason, it can be extremely helpful to set up a buck decoy in small fields or other social areas with moderate sight distance, where does are known to congregate. When a buck is provided his first glimpse of a perceived intruder at close range, a fight or flight type response is typically triggered, as they feel a confrontation to be unavoidable.
Face A Decoy Toward Your Location
If you have ever watched firsthand as two bucks have tangled, you might have noticed that each respective buck circled to approach one another in a head-on fashion. This tends to be standard behavior in the bulk of circumstances and serves as a key observation that hunters can use to their advantage.
By turning a decoy so that it is facing your location, an approaching buck is far less apt to hang up out of range. Instead, most will circle in a manner that brings them between the perceived intruder, and your location, thereby maximizing your chance at a potential shot.
Even sub-dominant bucks are more likely to circle in this manner, in a bid to assess the decoy’s place within-herd hierarchy.
Keep Scent To A Minimum
Few factors have as great of potential to prematurely end your decoying efforts than those related to less than intensive scent control. It is important to remember that a buck will naturally circle downwind, as they attempt to uncover a “new” buck’s identity by way of scent. Unfortunately, in this situation, a buck can easily determine a decoy to be a phony, rather than another buck.
In a bid to minimize the occurrence of such misadventures, it is vital to eliminate as much human odor associated with a decoy as possible. Be sure to thoroughly spray down any decoy that is to be used, with scent eliminator. Additionally, it is advisable to wear gloves when carrying your decoy afield, to avoid any unintentional scent contamination.
Use Buck Scent To Add Realism
As previously mentioned, bucks rely upon their sense of smell to identify one another during the rut. Bucks are often just as capable of locating one another through their sense of smell, as they are able to distinguish between estrous, and non-estrous does. Therefore, it is natural to assume that a buck will attempt to key in on the scent of a decoy, which they perceive to be a competing buck.
A hunter can use this knowledge to their advantage, by applying buck urine to the rear, or leg region of their decoy. Alternatively, tarsal gland scent can be used in much the same manner. As a result, approaching bucks tend to be transfixed with the idea of uncovering the newcomer’s identity, allowing an awaiting hunter to ready themselves for the shot.
Do Not Forget A Doe
While many hunters focus their attention on the use of a buck decoy. The use of a doe decoy can be equally effective. This tends to be especially true when used during the seeking phase of the rut. While a doe decoy might be of little use when attempting to capture the attention of a buck that is already preoccupied with another doe, it can be just what is needed when bucks are cruising in search of a mate.
When using a doe decoy, one can apply many of the same techniques that are used when hunting over a buck decoy. Scent control is still paramount, and estrous scent can be used to add a degree of realism to the scene which you are attempting to portray. However, it is often helpful to face a doe decoy away from your stand, as bucks will typically approach a doe from the rear, when attempting to check for estrous.
Fake It Until You Make It
The use of a decoy during the rut can absolutely swing the odds of success in a hunter’s favor. However, one must still be in the right place at the right time. After all, the events of the rut are far from predictable. A quality decoy is just another tool in the ever-growing arsenal of today’s deer hunter, that can be used in the best strategic manner.