Using Decoys for Big Game Hunting

News & Tips: Using Decoys for Big Game Hunting

Years ago, before I'd ever heard of big game decoys, I had a buddy that cut the silhouette of an antelope out of cardboard. He put two stakes on the bottom and had a handle on it so he could carry it and hide behind it. I always wanted to do this but for some reason never did.

 Montana Decoy's Miss September decoyI used to do a lot of antelope hunting in Colorado and Wyoming. I loved to hunt right at daylight and would go out every morning before work in Colorado bowhunting. I'd crest hills with the sun behind me. They couldn't make out what I was, and since they were in the rut and aggressive they'd charge up challenging me. In fact, when we'd get left over doe tags in Wyoming, the bucks would always mess up our stalks. They'd come charging over, sometimes within 40 yards, protecting their harem.

Due to all of these experiences, I knew that a decoy would work. But that was nearly 30 years ago and the only option then was a homemade cardboard decoy.


Then I had another buddy that skinned a cow. Three of them would get under the hide and stoop over to sneak up on deer, antelope and elk. That seemed to semi-work for him but a week or two into the season it got a little stinky.


Now let's fast forward. Seems like there have been more developments in outdoor gear in the last 20 years than there has been in the previous 100 years. Before that, a real shocker might have been inventing blue/black plaid wool shirts instead of red/black wool shirts. Now, there are a million calls, scent covers, high tech bows, scopes, knives, mosquito repellers, heated insoles and now-super realistic decoys.


We've used decoys duck hunting for how many decades? So why would you think it strange and hesitate to use a decoy for big game hunting? If you've never used a big game decoy hunting, you're missing out on a good tool. If you elk, deer or antelope hunt in areas where you can easily drive to, it's a no brainer to use one. But if I'm hiking in a ways, I'm still more than likely to pack one along.


Montana Decoy has taken the big game decoy market by storm. They're light weight, realistic looking and they're easy to carry. I teach about 40 seminars per year and in my turkey, varmint, deer and elk seminars, I recommend using their decoys. I probably have about one of every Montana Decoy made.


Inflatable decoy
Inflatable decoys make it easier to carry when out hunting.

But here's why I recommend using decoys. Let's say that we're hunting elk and are going to set up and call. When a bull comes in, he's expecting to have to challenge a herd bull if you're bugling and even if he's just coming in to your cow call, it's in the back of his mind that he may encounter another bull so he's really looking around.


What's he supposed to think if he comes in to a lot of calling and doesn't see one hair nor hide of another elk? That's a red flag to him. He expects to see something. That's how it is in the natural world isn't it? He hears elk calling and goes and meets up with them.


It always amazes me how an elk can come in over a ridge and walk straight to where you are. He can pinpoint you from a half mile away it seems. Same with varmints coming in. So if you put the decoy in a clearing off to your side, their focus will hopefully be on the decoy and not on you; thereby allowing you to make a little bit of movement as you draw to shoot.


Myself, I favor the Montana Decoy's Miss September decoy; however, her rear end sticks up a little abnormally. This is easy to remedy. I cut a few inches off the back pole much like when replacing a tent pole.


One thing that I recommend is making a tail to clip on the rear end on your decoys, especially when varmint hunting. Make the tail of a material so it can slightly move with a moderate breeze.


You'll want to put your decoy so approaching animals can see it from as many directions as possible. If you're using a foam turkey decoy or even a foam deer decoy, you don't have to worry, but if you're using a Montana Decoy it is flat. So I like to use two – one facing north and one east (or whatever). That way they can spot it when coming in from any direction.


Bass Pro Shops does carry inflatable and full-size decoys that might work in your circumstances. I live in Idaho and it's tough duty when you're elk hunting. I'm scrambling up and down mountains all day. If you live where you can drive to an area or even have a blind set up you may try one of the heavier ones. Don't leave it out at your blind though. You don't want them to become accustomed to it, you want it to be a new attraction. Like, "Wow, there's a deer." That will make them more comfortable to come in.


So do you have to have a decoy to be successful? No. It's just one more trick in your bag that may increase your odds. What if it increases your success rate 10 percent? That means you'll kill six more elk, six more deer and six more antelope in your life than you would have. That makes it worth it doesn't it?


Safety Tips

  • Some people use decoys to hide behind to sneak up on animals, but I'd be nervous in rifle season and maybe even in bow season. How many times have you seen an elk or deer sneaking in through the brush and had to take such a shot? Hunters may not be able to distinguish that it is a decoy.
  • Try not to hide on a level plane with your decoy if possible. That way if another hunter slips in and perforates your decoy he doesn't inadvertently also give you any body piercings.