Deer Scent Strategies

Find out when, as well as where and how, hunting scent lures can be used most effectively on whitetail bucks.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

The sense of smell is the most refined of the whitetail's senses, which might explain why scent drives nearly all whitetail behavior. At no time of the year is this dynamic more apparent than in autumn, when reproductive odors flow into the mix and scrapes become a focal point for scent marking. The urine a buck deposits into a scrape -- and the scent from his saliva and his preorbital and forehead glands -- attracts other deer, which frequently return to check his scent and leave some of their own. All of this activity can quickly turn a scrape into a heavily worked piece of real estate -- precisely the type of place where hunting lures can really shine.

My first use of deer lures more than 15 years ago was nothing more than an extension of the techniques I had used as a trapper. And if I had learned anything in that former pursuit, it was that the absence of human odor is the linchpin in any scent strategy.

Whenever I doctor scrapes or lay down scent trails, I use commercial scent eliminators to kill the odors on my clothing, and I always wear knee-high rubber boots. To eliminate human scent on the boots I periodically wash them with soap and warm water and then rinse them with boiling hot water. I also use latex gloves when I'm applying scent to canisters or pad devices, and I carry a de-scented trowel for working the dirt underneath a scrape's licking branch. A bit anal retentive? You bet. But I've learned over the years that this attention to detail has its own rewards.

Truth in Labeling
Among the myriad scent mixtures on the market, doe-in-estrus, dominant buck and glandular lures are the ones I've found to be most effective on rutting bucks. A quick word about each:
l Much of the doe-in-estrus urine on the market is whitetail doe urine collected from a herd in which some does are in estrus and some are not. Not to worry. Even these diluted mixtures work on lovesick bucks.

l Dominant-buck urine is typically collected during October, November and December, when the animals' testosterone levels are peaking. One caveat:
Yearling bucks and does have a tendency to flee when they get a noseful of a dominant buck's odor, which is why I limit using this class of scent to areas that I know hold mature bucks.

l Glandular lures are typically a blend of doe urine, estrous-doe urine and glandular products, which can include dominant-buck urine and tarsal glands. For this reason, you should be aware that glandular lures can have the same negative effects that dominant-buck urine has.

Not all whitetail lures are created equal. When purchasing any whitetail lure it's wise to ask a few questions of the vendor. If the lure is urine-based, it's important that it has been collected recently -- generally no more than several months before you'll be using it. Ask if the formula has been kept refrigerated, which extends the life of urine-based lures. Also find out if non-whitetail ingredients have been used in the product, since non-whitetail urines, oil of anise and other products are sometimes used in certain lures without the consumer's knowledge. In my experience, these mixtures are inferior to pure whitetail concoctions.

Whatever lure you buy, refrigerate it once it's been opened. This goes double for natural doe-in-heat lures, because estrous pheromones in particular have a very short shelf life.

Getting Started
Though doe-in-estrus and glandular lures can work any time after bucks peel velvet, in my experience they're most effective during the two weeks prior to full-blown breeding. Bucks are cruising widely then and are more likely than ever to respond to anything that smells like a doe coming into estrus. With the rutting moon shining full on November 11 this year, that two-week window will fall between November 1 and 15 this season.