My flashlight lit up the narrow trail I hacked days earlier down to a wetland edge. The whitetails I targeted followed it with the regularity of New York City subway commuters. I stopped just short of the main trail and yanked a bottle of estrus-based doe urine from my pocket. With its misting nozzle I aimed for some nose-level vegetation on both sides of the trail and hazed the area lightly with scent.
As I climbed into my treestand in the predawn, I felt good that any buck passing would pause for a second, giving me precious seconds to draw and settle my Mathews bow for a successful hunt.
Some of you, firearm or archery hunters, probably question my decision to use scents. I know a handful of outfitters who flatly decline to allow the use of scent around their stands for fear of spooking deer. I don't blame them. Cheap scents, poorly-executed deployment or lackadaisical scent control on your behalf all could lead to a whitetail spooking or worse, associating the smell with a trap.
One outfitter even told me of a hunter using a whole bottle to soak up a half dozen or more scent wicks that he hung like Christmas ornaments around his stand. He found them the next time he put a different hunter in that stand. It might have worked, but likely would raise white tails in alarm rather than stirring curiosity.
The use of deer scents can be a boon to your hunt, but only if you use them right.
To ensure you can get your scent positioned appropriately in shooting lanes, you need a plan. Begin by clearing paths to and from shooting lanes that you can use, thus avoiding direct travel on deer travel routes. Despite your best efforts to be scent free with clothes laundering, rubber boot usage and spraying down with scent-eliminating products, you still likely leave a bit of you on every branch you brush by. Your boots may even be spreading a bit of you on the ground.
How do I know? Coyotes give me the best gauge of my scent-elimination success. Whenever a coyote slips through the brush and crosses one of my access routes, I watch them for a reaction. Most of the time they hit a wall and slink out like a scolded dog, or worse yet, turn and flee. I rate a coyote's sniffer one notch above a deer, but a buck could react the same way if you're careless.
By avoiding the main trails and pruning access routes to shooting lanes from your stand, you avoid leaving any scent where you hope to shoot a deer. Clear and trim vegetation so you can move back and forth to your shooting lane without anything touching your clothes. Only your boots should hit the ground and those should be scent free as well. And as noted earlier, you simply use a mist or spray dispenser to lay a fog of spray where you hope to stop a buck for the shot.
You never have to step into a shooting lane and you can glass for spot-on accuracy. I follow this routine when hunting with my bow, even when I'm carrying my muzzleloader into dense cover.
This corridor-clearing chore should be done in the preseason, and at the same time you may want to create a mock scrape for the perfect shot placement. Your goal is to create a primary scrape, one that gets attention, so scrape out plenty of dirt area. Deer love to scrape in areas with little vegetation, so make it easy on them and clear a wide area to reveal black earth. You can even mix in some deer urine for deep-earth penetration.
And to continue interest in the scrape, use a dripper to disperse scent. Models that heat up and open during the day to release scent, then shut down at night when it's cool, fake the impression of daytime deer visits. If your trickery works, bucks will take over the scrape and eventually you won't need to add any scent at all. Deer will provide their own scent distraction while you focus on shooting from a nearby hide.
Picking out a deer scent from dozens of choices is about as confusing as trying to purchase the right perfume for the leading lady in your life. Do your research. You want to purchase high-quality, fresh scent, not leftovers from last year as they could break down and spook deer.
Some manufacturers claim their urine is from a single doe or buck. Others mix and match while some even have concocted synthetic versions. If your budget allows, go with those that fill bottles from a single deer, but truth be known, most of my experience with scents is with bottles filled in community whitetail restrooms.
As long as the urine smells fresh and doesn't have an ammonia tinge to it you should be OK. As you shop look for bottles that dispense with a misting nozzle to deposit a diversion in shooting lanes. If you're re-filling mock scrape dispensers no mister is needed. Keep any purchase cool and out of direct sunlight.
As for what scent to use, I've never really seen a huge difference. Straight buck or doe urine can sidetrack a buck, or doe during any season. I've used estrus-based scents from September through December with similar, curious results. If you believe an estrus scent could spook a buck in the early season, save it for the rut.
My entire theory on scents is to use them as a minor distraction to pause a buck where I want him to stop. After more than 30 years of hunting whitetails from Canada to Texas and points East and West, I've only had a handful of experiences where whitetails actually followed a drag or picked up a scent wafting on a breeze. Most stumbled upon it right where I placed it and paused out of curiosity. If it was the right buck it was the end of the story.
Despite nearly 30 years of having most bucks ignore my wafting wicks and drags, I still go through the drag-rag motion from time to time. Nevertheless, my true passion and success is with the simple placement of scent via a spritz or freshening of a mock scrape. When a buck is distracted with one of these scent traps, it's less likely to see me drawing my bow or raising my rifle.
During the hunt, I prefer to stay away from shooting lanes. As described earlier, I try to stand a few feet away from a shooting zone and mist scent into the area. Lean out to where you want a buck to pause at your ambush site and apply the aroma of whitetail with a spray.
Sounds easy, but you need to place it correctly. Whether you spray or use a wick my experience has been it needs to be a nose level. I've sprayed and dribbled scent on trails only to have deer disregard it and walk over it like trash on a city boulevard. Wicks and spray dispensed at deer-nose level receive attention. It's the sector they're surveying as they travel, and that's even more important during the rut as bucks pick up the pace — even trotting between ridges. They're not as perceptive as you've read when on the hunt for a hot doe.
If you do need to freshen a scrape or refill a dispenser during the hunt, wear scent-free footwear. Splashing in mud or water on the way to your stand can help in adding natural cover scent to the tread. Also don latex gloves as you handle dispensers to avoid leaving any traces of you at the scrape. If a buck reaches up to rub its preorbital gland and suddenly smells the McMuffin you had an hour earlier it could lead to a string-jumping ending.
An hour after sunrise, a brawny whitetail buck I knew from trail cameras circled the wetland before me. I had a hunch his circle would end right under my stand and a few minutes later the scattering of does signaled his approach. Like a scripted movie he came down the trail and paused to investigate the scent I had sprayed two hours prior. Totally immersed in the olfactory delight, I was able to draw my Mathews and send an arrow off for an ending to my season that had the smell of success.