BOWHUNTING: Decoys for Dummies
by Justin Karnopp
Sometimes a faux cow can be the difference in convincing a bull to commit to the last bit of ground between you and arrow range.
When I erected the decoy, the antelope buck, though a few hundred yards away, instantly stopped on the horizon and stared in my direction. Then he began a beeline march toward me across the dry lake bed. The September heat was enough to mirage the pronghorn, and the scene was that of an African plain, a greater kudu or sable marching my way. Such daydreaming might have distracted me from the hunt, but my tag had been punched the previous day after a ground stalk. Mostly I just wanted to see how this naturally curious animal would react. I was content to skulk 20 yards away and watch as the buck nearly got intimate with the decoy.
That was my first experience using a big game decoy. It happened to be a Flambeau CommAndelope carried in from the truck, a full-size hard plastic model that worked great. But I wouldn’t want to lug that thing in my elk pack. Bowhunters need a decoy that is lightweight, packable and quick and easy to assemble. Two-dimensional, foldable decoys are the choice of most hunters, whether they are made of plastic or fabric.
Master the Illusion
When hunting alone, build the decoy and keep it close at hand before beginning your calling sequence. As soon as you have an idea of where the bull is likely to come from, erect the decoy to the side and behind you. Do so quietly and quickly, as bulls are generally closer than they sound and there’s always the chance another one is coming in quietly to investigate. “I’ve had success setting the decoy up somewhat concealed in the trees,” says Oregon hunter Doug Brady. “When an elk can only see parts of a decoy, it rouses their curiosity and often brings them in for a closer look. When elk hold up, I move in the direction of the herd another 30 or 40 yards, set up and wait for an ambush.”
Steven Frey, a Montana elk hunter, swears by decoys, especially during midday when elk go to bed. “If I can get the wind, I quietly approach the bedding ground, set up my decoy, and back off,” he says. “I do some soft cow calling and add the occasional ‘squeal’ bugle to sound like a small bull testing the waters.”
If hunting with a partner, set up the designated caller behind a tree near the decoy and position the shooter in front of a tree or cover, 20 or 30 yards ahead and to the side of this setup. This allows for a more likely broadside-shot opportunity.
When sitting a waterhole during midday “down hours,” position the decoy within your comfortable archery range and in an open spot with plenty of shooting lanes. “I always set up a decoy on the edge of water and don’t call at all,” says Frey. “But I’ll periodically splash the water with a stick or a rock.”
You’d have to have a death wish to use a decoy in the field during rifle season, but archery hunters need to be cautious too. I heard one story from a Montana hunter who claimed to have mounted an elk rump decoy onto his bow via his stabilizer bolt and simply walked up to a herd drawn and shot the bull. Maybe he was being completely truthful, but he loses style points for being downright foolish. There’s just no telling when another bowhunter, or worse, a poacher, is going to be around and mistake the decoy for the real thing. Never sit behind a decoy and always transport them broken-down and tucked away.
Two manufacturers that make some of the best decoys for bowhunters are Renzo and Montana Decoys. Both of these are compact, lightweight, and can be erected quickly. Renzo’s Elk Decoy is made of foldable plastic, and sells for $80. Montana Decoys, $90-$100, are made of polyester and feature a spring steel band inside the body that folds up but can be erected instantly. Montana Decoys also make the aforementioned elk rump, which has a dedicated following among archers.