With nearly 300-million olfactory receptors, whitetail deer are known to possess an extraordinary sense of smell. As hunters, we may not comprehend every physiological and biological detail behind this innate sense, but we do understand that a whitetail can smell far better than we can.
A whitetail’s ability to smell plays a crucial roll in social behavior and in the overall process of reproduction. When the rut gets underway and a whitetail buck makes a scrape, he is leaving behind both visual and olfactory cues. Scent from the interdigital glands, preorbital glands, forehead gland, or tarsal glands, is left on the ground and on the ‘licking branch’ to communicate a myriad of information to the local deer herd.
While man might be proficient at deciphering the various languages of homo sapiens, deer biologists are still trying to figure out the complexity of communication integrated into the secretions and smells that come from the glands of a whitetail. As a well-respected deer biologist once stated, “Simply through the sense of smell, deer can recognize other deer, learn about the other deer’s sex, dominance status, reproductive state, and so on.”
To the whitetail, scent is language all of its own.
For decades whitetail hunters have utilized buck and doe urine, and various other scents, to play on a whitetail buck’s territorial, feeding and breeding instincts. It’s no secret that whitetail will respond to strategically placed scents that mimic those left behind by ordinary whitetail behavior. Empirical evidence suggests that by replicating some form of whitetail scent, whether doe or buck, the hunter can increase the odds of success.
Walk The Chalk Line
Anyone familiar with carpentry has undoubtedly used a chalk box. But did you know the chalk box is also a handy gadget for fooling a rutting whitetail?
Most hunters are familiar with the drag rag, a tactic where the hunter drags a piece of cloth soaked in doe urine behind him, in order to mimic the scent left by a hot doe. This trick has been successfully used for years, but now there’s a new convenient twist.
Originally the drag rag was a short piece of cordage drug behind the hunter, which left a scent trail for a buck to follow. But, what if you want to make more than one scent trail, limit your human scent or don’t want to disrupt the area around your setup?
By simply adding a little weight to the end of the chalk box string, fastening some cotton swabs, and applying fresh doe in heat and/or buck lure to the swabs, you can unwind the string from the chalk box and toss it in the direction you want to make a scent trail. When finished, simply wind up the string, weight and swabs—a much simpler way to leave a scent trail for a buck to follow.
I’ve also heard of hunters who have replaced the nylon string with cotton and applied doe in heat directly to the string while it’s inside the chalk box. By adding a little weight the string can be let out behind you, then retrieved once you reach your stand. While winding the string back in the chalk box the odor absorbing cotton string will have left a fresh scent trail that hopefully a rutting buck will follow.
Personally, I’ve replaced the factory chalk box ‘hook’ with a small carabineer. To make a scent trail I simply fasten two unscented tampons by tying a loop in the string of each. One tampon is then scented with doe in heat and the other with buck urine. Once I’ve laid down the scent trail, hoping to mimic a buck following a doe, I’ll leave the tampons where the odor can drift downwind.
While some might not like the idea of another item to carry or mess with on the way to the stand, I’ve found that a properly placed scent trail will usually draw a buck or doe to investigate further. Especially when hunting with my boys, a scent trail can often provide a few more seconds to make the shot and helps position deer a little closer to my stand.
While the chalk box does makes for convenient retrieval and storage of string, be sure to store the chalk box in a sealed container or Ziplock bag. This will ensure your gear won’t smell like a rutting whitetail.
Boots and Trees
Both out of curiosity and sexual drive, a rutting buck will travel a considerable distance to sniff out a doe. But for the hunter to quickly and strategically place scent that will attract a rut-crazed buck is not always convenient. Such as, it’s difficult to use a drag rag when hunting in an area that is extremely thick and brushy.
One of my favorite methods of scent placement is to use Conquest Scents, EverCalm – Deer Herd Stick and VS-1 – Estrus Whitetail Stick on the bottom of my hunting boots. By placing the smell of deer on the sole and toe of my boots, I’m accomplishing two things: I’m leaving a scent trail and I’m masking human odor.
If hunting an area where you can create a scent cone, Conquest Scents, EverCalm and VS-1 work extremely well. By placing EverCalm or VS-1 on trees and limbs upwind of a stand site, these handy sticks will make quick work of making your area smell like deer. Repeatedly, I’ve had a suspicious long-nose doe catch a whiff of EverCalm and go on with her business.
Another unique use for EverCalm and VS-1 is once in your stand, remove the lid of either scent and simply let it smell up your entire hunting area. Both EverCalm and VS-1 come in a deodorant style, re-sealable container. Due to their unique wax composition, neither scent will spill, leak or freeze.
Remember that deer will come to the smell of their kind, so if you place EverCalm where an approaching deer thinks another deer should be, and as they approach they don’t see a deer, they’ll quickly figure out something is wrong. This is a mistake I learned the hard way.
But if you place the scent on trees or branches upwind of your stand location, deer are more likely to move past you towards the source of the smell—offering you a shot—rather than them stopping 50-yards away staring in your direction.
Rope and Tampons
We’ve already mentioned tampons, but if you’re not secure in your manhood, than ignore this next tip. For the rest of you, I promise it will work.
Not only do tampons make great absorbents for your drag rag, they also make exceptional scent wicks. They are sterile, come unscented and can hold a considerable amount of deer urine. Simply apply the scent or deer urine to the tampon and use it’s handy-dandy string to tie it in place.
Cotton rope will also hold a considerable amount of scent and has been used by some of the most successful whitetail hunters. By applying scent to a frayed end of the rope, the ‘wicking’ action will disperse the scent in the general area. One inch diameter rope, or larger, can also be hung above a scrape and can serve for both a ‘licking branch’ and scent wick.
When placing scent wicks, always consider the wind direction and try to hang them so approaching deer will go past your stand site and not stop short of it. Additionally, be sure to use your wind checker to see how thermals and wind will carry the smell of any scent to an approaching deer.
Knowing you fooled a whitetail’s nose and lured him into shooting range only adds to the depth of satisfaction that comes when hunting allusive whitetail.