Scents are perhaps the most over-hyped product on the hunting market. I’ve personally followed seminar speakers, deer pee company owners, who actually swore that no other product in the industry was more effective at killing trophy bucks than their pee in a bottle. One told the audience with a straight face that if his scent and clock-operated scent dripper combo didn’t result in them shooting the biggest buck in the area within five days, the user was doing something horribly wrong.
These over-the-top claims have led many to believe scents are the modern equivalent to snake oil. That’s a shame, as scents can be deadly effective. The trick to making them so is in how, when and where they are used.
Cover Your Tracks
Let’s begin with cover scents. Personally, I’ve never had luck getting other scents to mask my own if I haven’t already done everything I can to cut odors. When I do, they generally work fine, but so does not using any cover scents.
Covering my tracks is a different issue, though. We’ve been told to wear clean rubber boots. There are issues with that, though. For one, rubber boots give off their own odor. I’ve yet to have boot bottoms pass my own sniff test. If I can smell them, deer can, too.
Another issue is that we break grasses, weeds and sticks, and we upturn leaves and disturb the dirt while walking. These are all natural odors. The catch is, they typically have an accompanying odor — like that of a deer, fox, squirrel, dog or another passing animal — that explains what created them.
Odors without an explanation, I believe, can put deer on edge. I don’t believe they spook deer, but I reason it does put a percentage of deer on alert. That’s a plausible explanation for a deer nervously following hunters’ tracks to the stand.
Cover scents on boot pads are extremely effective at allowing me to step anywhere without deer busting my track. My go-to cover scent is straight, non-estrus doe urine, but most any non-attractive, non-threatening animal urine should work fine.
My goal isn’t to attract attention. It’s merely to provide information about what created the disturbance. This might seem like a minor thing, however, it’s my failsafe method when I’m concerned a deer might bust my track. That can be a big factor in certain situations.
Make Decoys Smell Real
Decoys are a far sexier topic than covering your tracks. The commonality is that scent is key to making both more natural. Anyone who has been downwind of a rutting buck knows they smell. Does also give off odors.
Making decoys smell real is important for effectiveness. To do so, dip scent wicks in the appropriate scent and place them near the decoy. Personally, I use a small Y stick placed right off the back side of the decoy to hold the scent wick. Getting the scent up off the ground helps it disperse better.
Of course, strive to keep the decoys free of foreign odors. That’s a no-brainer. However, keep the deer scent off decoys as well. That allows the decoy to be switched between sexes without “gendered confusion.”
Stop Deer In Their Tracks
Stop deer in your shooting lane, and you might get a shot. Grunting a deer to a stop is often effective. The downside is that it puts deer on edge and focuses attention on the hunter. The odds of spooking the deer and them “ducking the arrow” increase.
Scent can stop a buck as effectively as a grunt while directing his attention away from the stand. Those who hunt the wind have the wind blowing from the deer toward the stand. That allows you to either hang a scent wick or dribble a little on the ground, just on the opposite side of the trail. With the trail less than a foot downwind of the scent, the deer will smell it.
Do this where the trail and shooting lane merge, and you’re likely to stop Mr. Big in the perfect spot and focus his attention away from the stand.
Speaking of hunting the wind, here’s a variation to help combat getting winded. Taking odor control to the extreme, I often set up where I believe bucks might approach from upwind.
An example of this was setting up on the downwind side of a doe bedding area halfway down a ridge side. It was a morning sit in the middle of an unseasonably hot stretch. Between a long walk in, high temps and the likelihood of bucks approaching from above, I needed to help minimize the odds of getting winded.
Two scent wicks drenched in Wildlife Research Center’s Special Golden Estrus were my aces in the hole. Placing one 20 yards out on both sides of my stand, I hoped that any buck cruising the ridge, checking the doe bedding area just below my stand, would hit the scent’s odor stream before reaching mine.
Not long after first light, my plan was put to the test. As the buck cruised the ridge top, he suddenly froze. Nose in the air, curling the scent, he did a 90-degree turn and made a beeline for the scent wick. When he reached it, I already had my Mathews at full draw. Moments later, I watched him fold.
To this day I have no idea if my odor-control system would have passed that tough test, but I’m thankful that the scent strategy allowed me to skip the exam, as well as draw him in for the shot.
Location and timing are both key to making the estrous scent work. Bucks are far easier to sucker when they are actively scent-checking for does. In this case, Mr. Big was cruising the ridge, as it was downwind of the doe bedding area. He was actively using his nose, trying to find a hot doe.
That’s critical in successfully using estrous scents. Place them on an alfalfa field in late October and you’ll likely be disappointed in the results. Bucks are going there with food on their minds at that time. However, sit on the downwind side of a doe bedding area on that same day, and the bucks you run into there are using their nose to try to find hot does.
That’s precisely why I exclusively use scent drags of estrous scent when hunting doe bedding areas. They’re deadly effective in that situation, where elsewhere, results are mixed at best.
I begin scent drags 100 to 200 yards from the stand. Trying to draw a buck farther than that isn’t effective. Also, recharging the drag helps ensure the trail isn’t followed the wrong way.
Finally, remember that if all goes as planned, a buck will be following your drag. If you walk straight to the tree, that’s what the buck will do, never offering a good shot. Instead, take a route around the stand that offers easy shot opportunities, and hang the drag in a shooting lane.
Mock scraps greatly increase your chances of a “chip-shot” opportunity, they’re one of the biggest advantages mock scrapes provide. Whether it’s planting a scrape tree, as I’ve described in previous Bowhunting World issues, or making a traditional mock scrape, the lick branch should be pointed towards the stand. Doing so focuses attention away from the hunter and strongly encourages broadside and quartering-away angles. The rest is merely following a series of steps:
1. Select a location with a potential lick branch pointing toward the stand where you expect the deer to be traveling within shooting range. It’s also best when the forest floor is relatively open and flat or sloping slightly upward toward the lick branch.
2. The lick branch should be around nose level to passing deer, drooping downward toward the earth. Existing branches can often be pulled down to accommodate this or be added to a tree with brackets or wire.
3. Following the tip of the lick branch down to the dirt, begin about a 2- to 3-foot oval. Offset the majority to the front of the lick branch.
4. I then attach a Wildlife Research Center’s Magnum Scrape Dripper to a branch above the lick branch, keeping it out of the way. Filling it with Active or Golden Scrape can keep the scrape charged with scent for up to two weeks.
Effective Scenting In Action
About 100 yards out from my stand, I drenched the drag cloth in Special Golden Estrus. I attached it to a stick by a string and held it out to my side as I approached the stand. Stopping every 10 steps, I lifted the rag, gave it a few more squirts, and resumed, attempting to strengthen the odor as I approached the stand.
Nearing the stand, I carefully plotted a hooked route around the tree, being sure the path would present numerous shot opportunities. Reaching my mock scrape, positioned between the stand and the doe bedding area, I paused to inspect the large tracks it now held.
No longer freshening the drag, I continued to the doe bedding area’s edge, taking a path that I hoped would stop any bucks slipping between the stand and the bedding area in that shooting lane. Lifting the drag, I hung it from a branch in that same lane and headed for the tree.
Several hours later, a distant grunt was the first sign of deer activity I’d noticed.
Moments after that, I spotted the beast cruising through, about 60 yards down from my stand. Hitting the scent trail, he froze. Raising his head, he tested the wind again and again, while I silently prayed my odor-control techniques would stand up to this test.
Eventually, he’d had enough temptation. Placing his nose to the ground, grunting with nearly every stiff-legged step, he followed my scent trail to the shooting lane. Already at full draw, all I had to do was settle the pin as he paused to investigate the mock scrape. With the arrow finding its mark, he ran an exaggerated horseshoe route and collapsed less than 50 yards from the stand.
The question on which scents to use is an important one. I personally use Wildlife Research Center’s Special Golden Estrus on scent drags, for doe decoys, and when trying to stop a buck. The company’s Mega-Tarsal Plus is used for buck decoys and Select Doe Urine on boot pads. Finally, I start my mock scrapes by filling the Mega Scrape Dripper with Active Scrape and switch to Golden Scrape when it comes time to hunt.
Here are some more scent options, including some new ones for 2014.
Code Blue’s (www.codebluescents.com) Rack Rub Licking Branch Gel is a forehead gland and preorbital scent for stimulating rub activity. It can also be used on licking branches when creating mock scrapes. Screamin’ Heat enhanced estrous scent is Code Blue’s newest estrus scent, collected from a single doe.
Hunter’s Specialties (www.hunterspec.com) has two new scents for this year. The 2 Hot Does contains a collection of premium whitetail doe estrus collected at peak cycle from two separate does and blended with ingredients to attract bucks. The other is Premium 180 Day Estrus , which was developed by wildlife biologists and H.S. pro staff members to cause repeat visits and trigger territorial competition. Both scents utilize HS’s pheromone stabilization process.
Tink’s (www.tinks.com) continues to offer the #69 Doe-In-Rut in the amber bottle, but the company also offers it in a spray can. Tink’s #69 Doe-In-Rut Mist is 100 percent natural doe estrus urine collected from live whitetail does during their estrus cycle. Its fine mist promises to produce long range attraction.
Wildlife Research Center’s (www.wildlife.com) Special Golden Estrus Xtreme is a super-premium doe urine with estrus secretions promises to be even more intense, more powerful and longer-reaching than the company’s Special Golden Estrus. Also new is the packaging of Golden Scrape with a Magnum Scrape Dripper, allowing both to now be purchased as one.
Mock Scrapes As Scouting Tools
Most realize mock scrapes can be effective hunting tools. What many miss is that they can also be super-effective scouting tools.
Bucks have a very hard time ignoring an oval of fresh dirt under a licking branch. They appear to be compelled to check it out, at least once. This is so powerful that mock scrapes are my secret weapon for capturing bucks on scout cams. In fact, I add a mock scrape to more than half the cams I place.
Deer tracks also provide valuable intel. Though mature buck tracks vary in size and don’t directly correlate with rack size, a big track does generally indicate a mature buck.
Because bucks scrape much more than does, rounded tips on their front tracks is another buck indicator. Additionally, because the 1 1/2-year-olds haven’t done much scraping yet, rounded tips generally indicate a buck is 2 years old or older.
Simply because of how bucks approach a scrape, front tracks are most often collected, providing all this info. The odds of that happening can be increased by offsetting the dirt oval to align a bit in front of the lick branch and exaggerate its size to a diameter of around 3 feet. This enlarged “scrape” further increases its visual draw, reducing the need to use scent to get the buck to investigate it the first time.
With all this in mind, carpet bombing a hunting area with mock scrapes is a valuable scouting tool.