Welcome to part five of the Wildlife Photography/ How to Get Close video series. To quickly recap what we’ve covered so far, in part one I covered the ever-important topic of proper wildlife photography etiquette, which is the foundation for everything else I’ll be covering in this series. So if you haven’t watched part one yet, please be sure to do so. In part two, we looked at the topic of using wildlife photography blinds, in part three we covered the use of tree stands, part four was about using calling techniques, and in this fifth and final installment, we’ll be exploring the topic of using decoys in your wildlife photography efforts.
What are Decoys?
A decoy is basically a full-size replica or model of a living creature of one kind or another, including birds, mammals, reptiles, and even insects. In conjunction with using animal and/or bird calls as we looked at in the last espisode in this series, decoys can also be an effective tool for attracting certain species and bringing them a little closer into camera range. The quality and availability of decoys have come a long way in recent years and decoys are now available in a wide variety of very realistic, lightweight, collapsible, and packable models to choose from. Decoys of animals as big as a cow moose, or as small as a mouse, can be purchased from stores that sell hunting gear, gardening products, pet supplies, pest control products, and even toy stores. Basically, anything that resembles your subject animal, its food, its mate, or its enemy can be effectively used as a decoy.
Keep in mind too that a decoy doesn’t necessarily have to be fancy or highly detailed either. Anything that has the right shape, color, and size of the animal or bird being represented will often work. I’ve seen very effective decoys made from a simple piece of cardboard or plywood. And, sometimes all it takes to visually lure an animal into camera range is to simply flash a certain color through the bushes or trees in sight of your subject species. For example, quickly waving a white rag can effectively imitate actions such as the flicking of a deer tail or the flashing of a moose antler. You can indeed get quite creative when it comes to decoy use.
How to Use Decoys
Much like the tactics that can be used for calling birds and animals that I covered in the last episode, decoys can be used in many of the same ways, and when used in conjunction with calls, they can be extremely effective. Traditionally, decoys are used to draw birds and animals into an area for feeding or breeding purposes by imitating species of their own kind enjoying a tasty meal in a safe haven, by imitating a potential mate, or by imitating a challenger for that potential mate. Decoys can also be used simply as a way to draw birds or animals to a specific area that might be more ideal for photography purposes by giving them a sense of contentment and companionship without drastically altering their behavior, which is what I recommend.
Just like using calls, as I covered in the last blog/video, the point of using decoys for wildlife photography is to get your subject animal a little curious and bring them in a little closer, not to radically alter their behavior as one would for hunting or pest control purposes where the animal is going to end up as either food, or be irradiated for being a hazard or a nuisance. So again, use your decoys strategically and sparingly.
There are many other ways that you can use decoys, but much of it will depend on the behavior and habits of the particular creature you’re photographing, so you’ll need to learn as much as you can about your subject species and act accordingly. As a final word of caution, just as with calling techniques, you also need to be careful when using decoys in places where potentially dangerous, predatory animals are around, as the decoy and calls you use might attract something much larger than you bargained for and for all the wrong reasons. So once again, use your decoys and calls carefully, strategically, and sparingly for wildlife photography purposes. Check out the video below to see and learn more…