No matter the day, week, or month, deer stink. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, so let’s just say deer always smell like deer. Understanding what deer smell like at different parts of the season is key to a full-season scent strategy. Fortunately, there are a number of scent options to utilize from the start of deer season right up to the cold, bitter end.
When the first day of deer season dawns across whitetail land, deer will be in a fairly consistent feeding pattern. They’ll travel from bed to feed, and they’ll likely make a few rubs and paw a few scrapes along the way. For the most part, this buck activity is little more than social behavior and a warm-up to the big dance in November.
This is my favorite time of year to pair mock scrapes and trail cameras. Yes, scrapes play a fairly significant role in the buildup to the rut, but scrape activity in the early stages of the season is less about breeding and more about socializing. Just about every buck in the area will spend at least a few moments pawing and working the licking branch on an active scrape located near a prime food source.
This is where a product like Code Blue’s Grave Digger Scrape Mate comes into play. Infused with buck urine, this scrape enhancer adds an authentic aroma to mock scrapes, and is perfectly suited to the earliest stages of the season. If you need a synthetic option due to regulations against the use of natural urines, Synthetic Buck Scent is ideal. Add some Rack Rub Gel to the licking branch to complete the ruse.
During those couple weeks just prior to serious seeking and chasing, buck urine and non-estrous doe urine should be used in scrape setups as well as on wicks as a cover scent.
Another great way to attract bucks and position them for trail cam photos is to use a horizontal rubbing branch, and the pre-rut period is a great time to do so. To make a horizontal rubbing branch, cut a pole from a wrist-sized sapling and rig it horizontally between two larger trees. Use a sharp implement to create a mock rub along the pole and apply Rack Rub. You’ll be surprised how often bucks hit this mock rub.
Now things are getting serious. This is when the aroma of hot does begin to filter through the woods, and bucks of all shapes and sizes begin to move about in search of the source of that scent.
Again, scrapes are ideal locations for scent placement. Continue with your use of buck urines, but also begin to employ estrous scents. I’m a fan of Whitetail Doe Estrous Gel in scrapes, as the gel tends to maintain its potency longer than liquid scents.
Place estrous-soaked wicks upwind of bedding areas and downwind of your stand to draw deer to you. I also like to use an aerosol can of estrous scent, like Code Blue’s PST Whitetail Doe Estrous, to mist the air if I see a buck out of range and downwind.
The peak of the rut is when Whitetail Tarsal Gland scent comes into play. Utilizing tarsal scent in combination with doe urine (estrous or not) can trigger an aggressive response from a cruising buck, and is a critical component to successful grunting and rattling. Bucks will often attempt to approach the sounds of calling from downwind. When they hear and smell another buck, you up your odds of convincing them to investigate further.
My post-rut scent strategy blends pre-rut and rut tactics. I’ll continue to doctor scrapes with buck urine, tarsal scent, and Rack Rub, but I’ll revert to non-estrous doe urines until about a month after peak breeding. Then, I’ll utilize estrous scents during the secondary rut.
About the Author: Tony Hansen manages for and hunts mature whitetails in his home state of Michigan, where sweating the details is the only way to succeed. When not hunting his own properties, he can be found pursuing deer on public land throughout the whitetail’s range. Tony’s writings have appeared in Outdoor Life, Traditional Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, and Bowhunter.