Last Updated on December 27, 2022
“You hear a bull a-comin’, a-comin’ round the bend, and if that bull elk sees you… you’ll never see him again!”
Good thing you can avoid this scenario! That’s because you did your homework and found this post about 2023’s best elk decoys. Seducing an elk into making a deadly decision rarely happens by chance. It’s the culmination of preparing to ensure all the pieces are in place to take an ethical shot. Soon, you’ll be ready to lay the smackdown on that big beast.
Elk calls and scents can lure elk closer, but smell and sound are only two pieces of the puzzle. Elk, like you, are influenced by all five senses. They’ll be searching for a cow elk when they come to investigate a scent or a call, and your ugly mug is the last thing they want to see. Situations like these are when an elk decoy can help close the deal.
I created this post to help demystify decoys and point you in the right direction to make an informed purchase. I’ve included a buyer’s guide for the eight best elk decoys of 2023 and included some helpful tips near the end.
With brands like Montana Decoy Co, Horn Hunter, Ultimate Predator Gear, and others leading the charge, you’ll be in good shape come bow season.
Stick around. I’ll get you pointed in the right direction.
Table of Contents: Best Elk Decoys of 2023 [Show/Hide]
- What Type of Elk Decoy do You Need?
- Full-Body Elk Decoys
- Best Partial Decoys
- Best Shoot Though Elk Decoy
- The Only Shoot Thru Elk Decoy: Ultimate Predator Stalker Elk
- Extra Accessories
- Tips for Using Elk Decoys
- Final Thoughts: Best Cow Elk Decoys of 2023
- More Hunting Gear & Resources
Fifteen years ago, elk decoys were a relatively niche piece of gear.
But many new products have hit the market recently, and decoys have become a bit more mainstream.
Without diving into the ins and outs of calling sequences and how they affect your hunt, it’s important to note that different decoys will work better in different situations and for types of hunters.
Whether you’re hunting alone or with a partner and how dialed-in your calling is will heavily play into which type of decoy is best for you. Here are a few common styles of elk decoys you may run across when trying to find a September solution.
Full body decoys can be either a cow or a bull. They take advantage of the fact that the elk you’re after will be able to see, what appears to be, an entire elk when they’re strolling through the woods. A full-bodied decoy can not only help hide your body, but they can be just enough of a distraction for you to take an ethical shot.
A whole body or torso decoy may be ideal because it gives the elk a larger target to look at, causing a distraction and focusing their attention on the decoy and away from you. Although full-body decoys typically pack nicely into your backpack, one concern with using bait this large is finding a proper space to deploy it.
These are more advantageous for those hunting with a partner or in groups, as your partner can make calls behind the decoy while you set up in the path of the approaching elk. They can work fine if you’re hunting solo, but I prefer a more miniature decoy in these situations as I can deploy one by myself and in tighter spaces.
Partial decoys are smaller and more compact cutouts that only display an elk’s head or butt. These aren’t intended to hide the hunter or accomplice but rather provide a quick distraction to a curious bull. They can be deployed and packed up quickly, making them an excellent solution for run-and-gun style hunters.
Unlike full-body entire body decoys, which are bulky when packed down, partial decoys are pretty compact and don’t take up much room in your kit. Every ounce matters, especially when you plan on taking thousands of steps a day through steep mountain terrain.
Smaller decoys are perfect for those who hunt alone, as you can set them up at the “scene of the call” and then quickly move downwind to try and catch the elk when it comes in, giving you enough time to get into a position for a deadly shot. Partial decoys are the logical choice for backcountry solo hunters, but they’ll work well in almost any situation.
Last year I was working a young 5×5 all morning. I could tell I was close to him but couldn’t see him. I sat and waited, hearing him bedding up for the day. I backed out and came back later in the day, waiting for him to get up for the evening. I played it perfectly.
I let out a small location bugle, and to my surprise, an elk responded with a soft and non-challenging bleet. So far, so good. I sat there for about 45 minutes as I could hear him coming out of the dark timber to investigate. I could sense which direction he was coming from, but I couldn’t see him. He fell utterly silent about 30 yards away.
I figured he’d present himself from the thick brush just ahead at any second.
I decided it was time to knock my arrow and get ready to draw back. The second I flinched, a huge herd bull (not the one I had seen earlier that morning) stood up about 25 yards from me. Before I could do anything, he was gone.
If I had a shoot-through decoy ready, I’m confident I would’ve been eating backstraps that night. That bull located me long before I could locate him, but had he seen a familiar face after rising from his bed, he might have let down his guard long enough for me to draw on him.
I cried a little bit that day.
If this sounds like a situation you might find yourself in, then a shoot-through decoy is perfect for you. It mounts to your bow, and you can shoot your arrow through the middle of the decoy elk’s chest.
The following full-body elk decoys are designed to help you fool an inquisitive wapiti and provide cover as they come into range. A lot of times, if you have a partner, it’s wise for them to hide behind the body and continue calling while you get into position. If your hunting situation permits, it helps to have two or three of these whole bodies, which creates an even more welcoming situation for an incoming elk.
Best Overall Full Body
Montana Decoy Co Eichler Cow Elk
If you didn’t already know, Fred Eichler’s name is synonymous with bow hunting. His signature elk decoy from Montana Decoy Co will help bow hunters close the gap and keep elk occupied long enough to take an ethical shot.
This specific model features a quartering elk, which I prefer over a broadside model. A curious bull is likelier to try and circle this decoy before coming in to investigate, and this behavior is precisely what you’ll need to get a good broadside shot on him.
You can use this decoy with its included stakes, or if you prefer to have a lighter load in your pack, you can tie it to the surrounding trees. It’s pretty large when packed up, in my opinion, but if you want to close the distance, this extra bulkiness will pay off in the end.
- Pros: Very realistic, lightweight without the stakes, quartering elk allows you to move with the elk if he is circling downwind.
- Cons: A bit bulky, quite heavy for backcountry solo hunters (especially with the stakes)
- Best for: Hunting with a partner
Best Decoy for Quick Deployment and Agility
The ElkFan from KILLERGEAR is a one-0f-a-kind product. This realistic front-facing cow decoy will give you or your partner cover while closing the gap in almost any situation, including in open areas where you can not readily stake in.
This decoy features an “umbrella” style, meaning you can deploy it quickly and move in whichever direction you need while closing in on a group or a satellite bull. The handle on the back of the decoy allows you to maneuver in a more nimble way than the traditional decoys on this list.
I love that it can be used hands-free and comes with a ground stake that deploys from the handle. This style will allow you to move with the decoy and quickly set it down to take a shot without exposing yourself. My only concern is the durability of this decoy, as it has many moving parts and pieces.
- Pros: Easy to carry and deploy, agile, and movable, which makes it more dynamic than others
- Cons: Questions about durability, ears are a bit wonky looking, a little heavy at 2.3 pounds
- Best for: Run-and-gun hunters that need a decoy that can be quickly deployed and taken down
Best Broadside Decoy
RMEF Montana Cow
Montana Decoy Co has been cranking out elk decoys for years, and their RMEF broadside cow has a hyper-realistic look. It’s quite the large-and-in-charge product and will help hide your silhouette and (hopefully) fool a Wapiti or two.
Need a great reason to purchase this decoy? A portion of every sale goes to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and their cause: protecting elk and their habitats. If that doesn’t sell you alone, please note that there are loads of online reviews for this thing, which are overwhelmingly positive.
I’ve seen other hunters use this decoy and watched a cow elk nearly run this thing over a couple of seasons ago. It’s a bit bulky and heavy when you have it staked, though, so I don’t think it’s the best backcountry or solo option.
- Pros: Bigger target means more significant distraction, better concealment
- Cons: Not very agile, a bit bulky, and heavy with stakes for backcountry hunters that carry all their gear with them
- Best for: Those who want to support RMEF and those who don’t plan on packing in 5+ miles
Best Decoy For the During the Rut
It can be hard to pull a wallered-up bull away from his harem of cows, as he’ll likely walk away from a fight with a bigger bull. This spike elk decoy is perfect for these bulls during the rut since it’s a non-threatening and unassuming young fella. Larger bulls won’t hesitate to try and chase it away, making this particularly deadly during the mid-September breeding frenzy.
A bull will likely get peeved if he thinks that a young spike is pulling off a cow or two into his realm of influence. That’s why deploying this spike decoy alongside one or two cow rumps or torsos is particularly effective.
As with all decoys, be aware of your surroundings, as there are many novice hunters on the mountain with itchy trigger fingers. Don’t use this decoy during rifle or muzzleloader season. Many hunters, even in horn-restricted areas, won’t hesitate to pop a shot off at this spike without a second thought.
- Pros: The original and only bull elk decoy, very realistic, perfect for during the rut
- Cons: Not safe for rifle, muzzleloader, or public land
- Best for: Private land hunters, those who do not plan on setting up behind this decoy (think 20+ yards away at all times)
Who needs a big ol’ decoy when you are in the thick timber and can barely see 25 yards in front of you? All you need is a minor distraction that allows you to get into position and lay the wallop on an elk. The following options are small, packable, and easily deployed in various situations.
Best Tried and True Option
Heads Up Cow Head
I’ve my eyes on a few decoys from this list, but the Heads Up is the only decoy I’ve ever brought along in my pack. It weighs under a pound and packs down nicely on the rear of my pack. It can be deployed in a variety of situations quickly and quietly.
You can use the Heads Up with a partner or on your own. If you do have a hunting partner, have them set up upwind and call while using this as a distraction. As the bull circles downwind, like they almost always do, you can be lying in wait to take a shot on the distracted sire.
It can also be used solo with the Heads Up mount, allowing you to attach this efficiently to your bow or any other hard surface with ease. Versatility like this makes this the #1 option for backcountry elk hunters.
- Pros: Lightweight, durable, versatile
- Cons: Not much cover to hide behind, making it a little better for dense and elk-rich habitat
- Best for: Backcountry and dark timber hunters, those who don’t want to sacrifice added weight for a decoy
Best Minimalist Elk Decoy
Montana Decoy Backcountry
The Montana Decoy Co Backcountry is hands down the best option for those looking for an ultralight, easy-to-set-up decoy. This elk rump is perfect for solo elk hunters and anyone hunting deep in the backcountry to create a quick distraction for bulls.
If you go farther and harder than the competition, this decoy will give you every advantage you need. There’s nothing a big rutted-up bull wants to see more than a big juicy cow butt. That makes sense, right?
Compared to Montana Decoy Co’s other rump model, this model weighs a minuscule 8.5 ounces, making it the lighter of the two. It packs up into a super-manageable 9″x9″ footprint and would pair with the Heads Up decoy to make for a deadly distraction combo this September.
- Pros: Ultra-light, quick to deploy, easy to maneuver
- Cons: Not much cover and concealment
- Best for: Backcountry hunters
Realistic 3D Elk Head
Horn Hunter Butt Head
The Horn Hunter Butt Head is the only 3D product on this list and will provide a slightly more realistic look than others. This upper torso decoy is rollable and packable and features a mono-pod style stick that allows you to move the decoy in whichever direction you need as a bull is coming in hot.
It’s made by Horn Hunter, a division of the time-tested Carlton brand, meaning you can count on it being a top-notch product that the manufacturer stands behind. To me, this accountability provides hunters with real value. Not to mention, it’s one of the most reasonably priced options on this list.
The Butt Head is a true-to-life decoy in size and color with a fully 3D head. Elk are super in-tune critters, and the 3D silhouette of this product might just give you an ever-so-slight advantage. I have had my eye on this one for a while, and this may be the year I grab to test out on my next archery hunt.
- Pros: 3D realistic look, vivid colors, easy to maneuver with a nimble design
- Cons: A bit heavier and bulkier than the other two partials on this list
- Best for: Solo hunters, those hunting in tighter spaces
Pay close attention if you’re a solo elk hunter or hunting in an area where elk are highly pressured and spooked. If only you had a solution to give yourself some added time to draw on a very timid and alert elk!
The Heads Up decoy above can mount to your bow but is a little awkward to shoot around. But the decoy below from Ultimate Predator Gear is a shoot-through decoy, which is far less distracting and cumbersome if you want something that’ll mount to your bow.
The Only Shoot Thru Decoy
Ultimate Predator Gear Stalker Elk
1… 2… 3…
You’re likely hunting in the west, but this isn’t the Wild West. Elk are much faster and quicker than you are, so if they see you flinch while they’re locked on your location, you’re done for, pal. Trust me; I’m pretty experienced in spooking off elk. I’m not trying to brag, but I’m pretty good at it.
I just clicked the purchase button on this sucker before I began writing this post. I want to have it in my pack this year just in case I get into a situation where I need to draw on a bull in close quarters. I hunt public land, and these elk are wise to hunters like me. They become very suspicious and alert at the first sign of a human.
I hope this decoy from Ultimate Predator Gear gives me the advantage I need this September. Sure, it may end up being another piece of gear I toss into the garage halfway through the season, but it comes highly reviewed and rated and might just give me an extra second or two on the draw.
- Pros: Ability to manuver bow quickly without spooking off critters,
- Cons: May create unnatural vertical movement on the draw
- Best for: Open area stalking, those looking to get really close to their prey
I use trekking poles when packing deep into the mountains or while packing out elk. Not only does a sturdy set of sticks save my knees, but I can forgo the stakes included with my decoy and use these to mount my bait. Doing so allows my trekking poles to serve double duty and also saves precious weight in my pack.
This bottle of estrus scent spray is perfect for helping draw that bull in even closer and clouding his judgment. I don’t use this stuff all willy-nilly like other hunters, but only in certain situations. I like to spray down my decoy area and then set up downwind. Doing so attracts the bull to the decoy and not to me.
Hunting with decoys is easy once you understand the dynamics of elk behavior. I could write a whole book on that subject, but I’ll save us all the time. Here are some simple tips and tricks I like to use when utilizing elk decoys.
Hunting With a Partner
Scent control between you and your hunting partner can not be overstated. You can both have all the necessary skills when calling in a bull elk, but if he wanders into your location and smells you, the jig is up. When I hunt with a partner, and I’m working a bull, I like to set up downwind from the decoy while my partner stays behind the decoy.
At this point, have your partner spray some estrus cow scent into the air from the location of the decoy, which will likely get the bull’s attention. When he circles downwind, you’ll be there lying in wait to ambush him.
If you plan on hunting solo this fall, like thousands of other hunters, you’ll need to have a solid plan to lure elk into your location. A bull will likely circle downwind from you if they’re coming into your bugle or cow call. For this reason, I like to set up my decoy at the point from which I’m calling.
Then, when you’re sure that elk is coming in to check you out, creep downwind about 20-25 yards. The bull will focus on where you set your decoy up, and this circling motion will likely give you a better opportunity at a broadside shot.
Take Care of Your Decoy, and It’ll Last for Years
Decoys are valuable tools to have in your toolkit. You may never use it successfully, but if you do, you’ll be loyal to it for life. If you want your equipment to stand the test of time, like my Heads Up decoys have, take the extra time to pack it up correctly and ensure it’s protected when traveling through rough terrain.
Early Season vs. During the Rut
Sometimes, it’s hard to work bulls before the rut has started. They’re likely in larger groups or way too weary to come into calls. For this reason, I like to sit on water sources and known paths heading into and out of feeding areas during the first part of archery season. From there, I can use a decoy to hide behind myself. If deployed correctly, I won’t be worried about bulls coming into a call and scrambling for concealment.
During the rut, I like to have both a spike bull decoy and a cow decoy side by side so that I can utilize specific calling sequences that make a bull think an inferior spike is trying to pull one of his cows away. Nothing pisses off a big ol’ rutted-up bull more than a young punk trying to move in on one of his ladies.
Are you ready, partner? Do you have what it takes to take on one of the toughest critters in the forest? Are you going to be the hunter who is prepared for every possible situation in the backcountry?
We hope so.
That’s why we created this top-to-bottom post about 2023’s best elk decoys. It’s our job to give you all the necessary information you need to make an informed purchase for the upcoming archery season.
I’m just a simple who wanders through the Rocky mountains while geeking out over the industry’s newest gear and techniques. Why? Because I have one simple goal on my mind: harvesting an elk. There’s nothing better than a perfectly cooked elk steak, and anything that can inch me closer to that succulent meat will probably end up in my pack.
From the best hunting socks to the sturdiest boots to the best elk hunting decoys, I do my best to give readers helpful knowledge from firsthand experience to give them a leg up when choosing gear. Hunters, especially elk hunters, are notoriously stash with information, and I created this blog to break that stigma and help newer guys find their way.
Good luck this year, and remember: If you’re lucky enough to be in elk country, you’re lucky enough.
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