The Best Scent Strategies for the Rut

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Turn His Nose Into His Biggest Weakness

Use scent lures to up the odds during the rut. (Photo by Peter Eades)

White-tailed deer are olfactory-driven creatures. They depend on their keen sense of smell more than any other of their perceptions to avoid predators, locate food, and so much more. While many whitetail hunters depend on calls, food products (where legal), or decoys to bring bucks beneath their stands, many hunters fail to consider this incredible sense of smell while formulating plans of attack. Try these tips to get the most from whitetail scents this fall, and help set up more and closer shots at trophy bucks during the rut.

Scrape Seeding

Scrapes, more accurately, community scrapes, are used extensively by all members of the whitetail herd—mature and young bucks and does alike—as a means of communication. Scrapes might actually begin to appear by early to mid September, but become more conspicuous as the rut kicks in and pawing becomes more pronounced.

Adding whitetail scent to an existing scrape, or scrape seeding, is a worthwhile ploy during whitetail rut dates. (Photo courtesy of Tink's)It’s the former and later aspects of scrapes that can help you produce more buck encounters. In habitats where hunting pressure is heavier, bucks usually visit scrapes under the cover of darkness. You can encourage more frequent visits and daytime appearances by introducing scent that makes a dominate buck believe another buck has moved in on his action—Code Blue’s Whitetail Buck Urine or Wildlife Research Center’s Golden Buck or Buck Fire, for instance—or that a doe is seeking a suitor—Code Blue’s Platinum Standing Estrous or Wildlife Research Center’s Golden Estrous.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this—especially during midweek days—is through the use of a scent-dripper system like the Magnum Scrape-Dripper from Wildlife Research Center. A special design dispenses scent only during the warmest periods of the day. Once a buck detects a pattern of fresh scent appearing only during daytime hours, he becomes more inclined to appear during legal shooting hours.

In the big-woods settings of northern Idaho where I hunt most, seeding scrapes has become my No. 1 ploy for ambushing big bucks. The key is finding major scrapes, and ignoring minor frustration-displacement scrapes, which are constructed and seldom revisited. Major scrapes appear early and grow in size as the season progresses.   

Mock Scrapes

While scrape hunting is effective under the right circumstances—competition for limited does helps immensely, making scrapes less important in areas where does far outnumber bucks—not all scrapes appear exactly where needed. Too often major scrapes appear in places making it impossible to keep your offensive scent out of the noses of approaching deer or in places where it’s difficult to access your stand without alerting them.

Scrape drippers are especially useful for adding realism to mock scrapes, as they create the illusion the scrape is being visited regularly. (Realtree photo)Mock scrapes are the answer. Creating mock scrapes allows you to place them exactly where needed to take advantage of favorable winds or the perfect stand location.

Start mock scrapes a couple weeks before bucks begin to show interest in does, and they become that much more effective. Of course, they can certainly prove effective when constructed on the fly during the rut. If started early, use scents reflective of the season. Tink’s Power Scrape scent, for instance, come in pre-rut starter and rut-date formulas. Scrapes invariably include an overhead or licking branch, which deer use to deposit forehead and preorbital gland scents. Use a rake or stick to scratch out a clean patch of ground, which also provides a visual. Start the scrape with bottled scents applied directly onto the licking branch and poured into the scrape.

One of my favorite approaches here continues to be Code Blue’s Grave Digger—sterilized dirt infused with time-released scent pellets in pre-rut and rut formulas. Each time these scent pellets become wet or are pawed by deer, they release fresh scent. Or, allow a Magnum Scent Dripper to create the illusion of consistent use, charged with something like Code Blue’s Scrape Mate or Wildlife Research’s Golden or Active Scrape lures.

This can prove a hit-and-miss proposition: Mock scrape sometimes ignored; other times hammered. I’ve experienced the best results at sites already heavily traveled by deer and less success attempting to pull deer off established lines of travel to my needs.

Drag Lines

In areas with healthy buck-to-doe ratios, where competition for does is more intense, I’ve also experienced worthwhile results by creating drag lines with estrous-doe scent. This can become especially useful for pulling a buck off a major scrape presenting scent-control issues or a lack of a viable tree to climb.

Scent drags can be especially useful for bringing bucks closer in areas where competition for does is intense. (Photo courtesy of Tink's)Bucks work scrapes regularly during the rut in hopes that a doe has left a calling card behind. A drag line beginning at a scrape makes biological sense. I douse a clean scent pad with doe-in-heat scent, toss it into the scrape, and drag it directly away and beneath my stand site some distance away. Products such as Tink’s classic #69 Doe-In-Rut Lure, Code Blue’s Standing Estrous or Wildlife Research’s Golden Estrous work well.

I’ve also developed an approach I believe makes my drags more effective. I attach the scent pad not only to the standard drag cord, but also attach that drag cord to a long, lightweight switch of willow or similar material (wearing scent-free gloves, of course). While dragging scent upwind of my stand, I take care to walk on clean trails or ground, while holding the switch at arm’s length and depositing scent 10 to 20 feet upwind of my own spoor. In this way, if I’ve accidently accumulated scent on my boots or pants cuffs, I’m less likely to alert wary bucks.

Without a scrape to play off of, obvious points of interest include game trails, field edges, and even fence lines of adjoining properties you wish to pull bucks across. If I have time, and it does not risk alerting area deer, I make two or more drag lines, all leading into my stand site. I take great care to steer bucks away from ground downwind of my stand position.

Scent Stops

In lesser whitetail habitats—just like calling or decoying—using scents in a straightforward, proactive manner will typically prove less successful, though they aren’t completely worthless.

Place scent in shooting lanes to help set up standing shots while deer pause to smell the scent. (Realtree photo)Whether hunting the best or worst whitetail habitats, scents always prove useful for setting up higher-quality shots—especially for bowhunters. Even in lackluster whitetail habitats where rut dates can string out for months, I use scents to help set up higher-quality shots. Do this by placing scent wicks in shooting lanes where deer can pause to take in a whiff.

Whenever possible, I also try to place a scent like Code Blue’s Tarsal Gland Gel or Wildlife Research’s Trail’s End behind a stump, tree trunk, or bush, where deer stopping to smell the scent leave vitals exposed while their eyes are shielded behind the obscuring object. This makes it easier to position myself for the shot and make the conspicuous move of drawing my bow.

Hunters in prime habitats would do well to remember this as well, terminating drag lines behind such cover to create situations where it’s easier to hit anchor without being detected.

Deer Scents and CWD

Will using natural deer scents to attract white-tailed deer soon become a thing of the past?

Alaska, Arizona, Virginia, Vermont, CWD-zones in Pennsylvania and others have banned the use of real deer urine in response to mounting concerns over Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). They have outlawed natural deer scents based on outbreaks of the incurable prion disease. Synthetic urines/scents and non-cervid urines/scents (fox, for example) are still allowed.

Opponents say this is a knee-jerk reaction with no solid evidence to justify their concerns. Proponents say the risk is no longer acceptable. Certifying scent products CWD-free requires actually killing and testing 10 percent of a captive herd, a measure few manufactures are willing to accept.

Expect this to become a hot-button topic in the future, and keep an eye on your state’s regulations regarding scents to assure you don’t unknowingly break the law.

Don't Miss: Do You Pee in Scrapes and Mock Scrapes?

Editor's Note: This was originally published on November 4, 2015.

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