Using lures and scents to attract whitetail bucks into archery range is nothing new; hunters have been doing it for ages. But not everyone nabs the results they’re after. In fact, some hunters walk away with poor experiences involving spooked deer or no response at all. So, they stop using scents altogether.
Many of these poor experiences can be attributed to oversights or a general lack of education. While scents can be successfully used dozens of different ways, they can also be used to your hunt’s demise.
For example, some simply drag a scent trail without premeditating how and where deer will encounter it. Plus, in the excitement of things, many forget to check the wind. When bucks spook, most hunters blame the scent, but it’s usually their odor or carelessness that raised the white-flag response.
Perhaps you’ve experienced poor or mediocre results with lures, scents and attractants. If so, you’ve landed on the right page, because I’ve interviewed two noted experts, and they’ve shared mistakes that prevent hunters from experiencing positive results, as well as some fresh ideas that can enhance your scent setups.
The advice will help you deploy killer scent setups right now.
The Mock Scrape
“Mock scrapes are simply great locations for photographing deer with trail cameras,” said Kip Adams, certified wildlife biologist with QDMA.
“Research shows about 84 percent of scrape use occurs at night, so hunting directly over them usually yields little success. However, they can be great places to hunt near if you know where a buck is likely to come from. You can set up closer to his bedding area and capitalize. Mock scrapes can help you identify and pattern deer, and they’re a lot of fun to monitor.”
“Scrapes commonly appear in less than ideal locations for stand placement,” said Terry Rohm of Tink’s.
“Either a suitable tree isn’t available, or ones that are won’t work with prevailing winds. To solve this, create a mock scrape within reasonable proximity but where you can fashion a better overall ambush. Of course, you’ll want to hit the mock scrape with a lure like Tink’s Power Scrape.”
“Most bowhunters aren’t successful over scrapes or mock scrapes because they overhunt them,” Rohm continued. “The more time you spend around the scrapes, the more scent you’ll inevitably leave behind. This will shut down daytime activity. Hunt them only when the conditions are ideal.”
The Drag Line
Drag lines are probably the most common way scents are used. Now, wind direction must be the chief consideration in how you lay down your scent. One of the most effective scent trails is a giant figure-eight pattern, the intersection being broadside and straight upwind of your treestand within easy bow range.
Regardless of where a buck encounters the scent or which way he follows it, if he stays on it, he’ll eventually walk by your stand.
Rohm suggested that scent must be applied liberally for best results.
“Most bowhunters don’t soak their drag rags enough,” he said.
“There are always questions about how deer decide which way to follow a scent trail. Well, a buck is most liable to follow it to where it’s the strongest and freshest. Of course, if the rag isn’t soaked with enough scent, its potency diminishes as you approach your stand location. Soaking your rag will ensure most bucks follow it to your stand rather than the other way.
“A lot of guys mess up by dragging the scent right to the bases of their trees, or they stop short of their stands,” Rohm said.
“This will give away your ambush. Plus, the buck will likely be head-on, offering no shot or even a chance to draw your bow. Drag it past your stand within shooting range, then hang it or leave it on the ground right there. This will ensure the buck walks past broadside for an easy shot, and if you don’t get him there, he’ll stop to smell the rag once he has passed by, offering a quartering-away opportunity.”
Tarsal Gland Tricks
Adams said tarsal glands are probably the most important gland deer use to communicate.
“Bucks, does and fawns carry their scent on their tarsal glands, and that’s why all sexes and age classes rub-urinate throughout the year,” he said.
“Of course, bucks rub-urinate more frequently during the breeding season. I personally like to use the tarsal gland from harvested deer — especially bucks — near my hunting setup, as the scent is natural and part of the whitetail’s normal routine. Deer are very inquisitive, and the scent of a familiar or unfamiliar deer can make them investigate their way right into my shooting lane.”
“All deer rub-urinate on their tarsal glands, and they do it year-round,” he said.
“Tarsal glands emit lots of information like age structure and dominance. They’re just another way deer communicate. Deer process so many different chemicals that collect on the tarsal glands. I’ve seen buck tarsal glands work particularly well in early season when bucks are in bachelor groups, and they can also work well during the rut, but honestly, a doe-in-estrous scent is hard to beat in November.
“Now, commercial products such as Tink’s Trophy Buck Lure and Intruder Tarsal Gland work well, but hunters can also collect tarsal glands from harvested deer,” Rohm continued.
“The fatty tissue must be cleaned away, otherwise it can spoil quickly and become foul, especially in warmer temperatures. I know guys who actually shave the hair off so they don’t have to worry about spoilage caused by fat and skin. The hair carries the waxy secretions with all the scent anyway.”
The Curiosity Setup
“During the rut, bucks eat very little, so food typically isn’t a prime attractant,” Adams said. “Foods and food-based attractants (where legal) typically work best pre- and post-rut, although they can draw does which, in turn, could bring a buck in.”
Rohm shared similar opinions.
“Family groups of does and fawns inhabit a core area with food,” he said. “This can be a food plot, but it can also be a food-flavored attractant in areas where cultivating a food plot isn’t an option. Where legal, food attractants can concentrate does, and when the rut kicks in, the bucks will scent-check family groups of does at those locations.”
Additionally, manufacturers produce apple and persimmon scents, as well as blends that have fawn, doe and buck urine. These and others can certainly trigger curious behavior from bucks. During the rut, as Rohm mentioned, the most effective scent is usually a doe-in-estrous lure.
“I prefer using scents with decoys in setups where cover is thick and visibility is limited,” Adams said.
“If the decoy can be seen from a long distance, I prefer not to use scents to avoid providing too much info to bucks. If they can see the decoy but can’t smell it, that sometimes brings them into range so they can determine who the ‘intruder’ is. I’ve seen many hunters use far too much scent on decoys. Remember, a deer’s sense of smell is likely far greater than ours.”
“Most hunters don’t give a buck’s nose enough credit,” he said.
“They carry their decoy, it’s been in the back of their truck — it’s been here, it’s been there. And, they don’t spray it down with a scent-eliminating product. You need to spray it really well to remove foreign odors. When a buck busts a decoy setup, scents or the decoy itself are usually blamed, but it’s most often that he smelled traces of human odor or vehicle fumes on the decoy. Or, it could be that the hunter ignorantly placed the decoy downwind from their treestand.
“Another mistake hunters make is spraying scents directly onto the decoy,” Rohm added.
“When you retrieve the decoy after hunting, you’ll get the scent on your clothing. I believe it’s best to use some type of deer scent with a decoy, but the fact that you’re trying to beat multiple senses means you must be as authentic as possible. In other words, use doe urine or estrous with a doe decoy and buck urine with a buck decoy. Apply it to the ground or a scent bomb underneath the decoy. Don’t apply it directly to the decoy.
“When using a buck decoy, I face it toward my stand,” Rohm continued. “A buck wants to attack another buck head-on. In contrast, a buck will usually approach a doe from behind to scent-check her, so I place a doe decoy facing away from me. You really have to take your time to determine where a buck will most likely approach from, noting the wind direction and placing the decoy where you can shoot.”
The Steady Stream
Misting scents like Hot Shot — a Tink’s product that separates the scent from the propellant — are a great way to pull deer in or help mask your scent when the wind switches, or if you hunted the wrong wind because of limited time.
Other battery-operated products such as WYNDSCENT or Hunters Specialties’ Blade Driver help hunters broadcast scent from any given location throughout the day. The scent molecules travel with the thermals and wind direction.
The benefits are twofold. First, the constant scent dispersal helps mask your scent. Second, it could attract deer traveling through downwind from the unit.
“In particular, I remember one hunt in Montana where we had a wrong wind for the location we were hunting,” Rohm said.
“Deer were behind us along the river in the willows, and I started spraying Hot Shot. Next thing I knew, a really nice buck came up over the bank looking for that scent. We weren’t calling or anything. I use the product religiously while I’m on stand, because thermals are unpredictable and winds can change. And, I really use it when the wind is blowing where I believe deer will come from.”