It happens every deer season. Someone walks down the hunting aisle of a local sporting goods store, sees the deer scents and attractants section and begins to wonder how they can tip the odds in their favor during their next hunt.
When it comes to using scents and attractants, success comes from knowing the right scent to use at the right time. For example, you might not want to use an estrous scent in October, but it might be the best thing to use in Mid-November.
Let me give you an example…
A Lesson In Scent Usage
It was the third week of October in Indiana, the pre-rut was on, and the deer were fired up. I had just climbed into my ladder stand, hung up my backpack, and pulled up my bow. As I prepared for this afternoon hunt, I had no idea what was about to happen.
I had just pulled an SD card from one of my trail cameras on my way to the stand. I had gotten to the stand a little earlier than normal, so I figured I’d have time to go through some of the pictures and check activity from the previous couple of days.
Mock Scrape Magic
I had hung a dispenser of a new scrape blend scent that we were trying out and the results were extremely positive. I had bucks coming to this mock scrape nightly, but a new buck had shown himself that I had not seen before.
As I was going through the pictures, I randomly picked my head up and scanned the woods I was hunting, as well as a nearby cornfield.
Then, I saw movement.
I got ready and then a deer came into full view. It was a spike, and he was on the move. So, with the opportunity of some interaction, I let out a few soft grunts. He stopped and looked, but that was all.
I decided to see what he would do if he heard a bleat, so I did. He turned and came in on a string.
Now, on my way to the stand, I had broadcasted some Battle Ballz in front of me. When the spike hit the scent; he walked in figure 8’s trying to pinpoint the source.
Success using scents and attractants comes from knowing the right scent to use at the right time.
Bleat, Grunt, Broadside
That’s when the hunt changed even more. While watching this young buck walk around in circles, I looked to my left and saw a second deer. It was him, the 9-point buck I had seen on my SD card just saw on my SD card just moments earlier!
I grunted at the buck and he put on the brakes. He didn’t look like he was going to commit, until I bleated once again. This bigger buck wasn’t about to let a little spike be near a willing doe, so he turned and walked in.
Thanks to the scent I had spread on the ground earlier, those bucks were able to keep their minds and their focus on other things. The grunt call, coupled with the scent, allowed me to take this nice 9-pointer.
As you can see, each “tool” we haul into the woods can make or break our success and overall hunting experience. In this case, the scent was the difference maker. But it’s not just the fact that there was a scent involved. It’s that it was the right scent at the right time.
You see, this was mid-October, and my scent selections were a scrape blend, and Pay Dirt, a fresh earth scent, (I also used a dabble of another scent we were also testing for the next season.) As scrapes were popping up daily, one of our buck tarsal scents could have been another good choice.
On this hunt, the cover scents proved extremely effective, as a slight breeze was blowing straight toward those two bucks that afternoon.
Please note that it’s very important to follow your state’s laws when using scents and attractants. For example, Indiana’s game laws dictate that you can’t pour scent on the ground, but you can use in a scent dispenser which, makes the scent non-edible. What Scents To Use… And When
When hunting with scents, I recommend the following guidelines, to ensure the best hunt possible.
Beginning Of The Deer Season
When deer season starts, regardless the month, use food scents!
Food scents are what separate a scent company from a urine company. What do I mean? Well we all know that urines have a time and place, but urines (deer, fox, skunk etc.) are used mostly during hunting season. A food attractant, however, can be used any time of the year.
Now, why would you want to attract deer any time of the year? The answer is simple, scouting.
Food Scents + Minerals
Scouting cameras are used more than ever before, and having a way to attract deer to those cameras are just as important as the camera itself. Lots of people say they use mineral or salt licks. Yes, using those is a great idea. Food scents however, can last for such a long time – even longer than mineral – because when used in a scent dispenser, the scent is protected from weather, such as rain or snow.
Now, using scent with mineral is a deadly combo. We’ve found that using scent at your mineral site attracts game to that location faster, and from a further distance. This is helpful when taking deer inventory, promoting antler growth, and scouting for sheds. As I like to say, “the scent brings them in, but the mineral keeps them there.”
In mid-to-late October, as bucks are starting to rub and scrape, and pre-rut action is in full-swing, use scrape and tarsal scents.
During this time of year (pre-rut), scrapes are one of the best locations to use scent that you could ever ask for. The reason? Well, because scrapes are spots that you can predict bucks will visit.
I’ve kept a scrape active for months by changing my scents up through the various stages of the rut, drawing in countless big bucks. Use multiple scents together to simulate buck and doe activity. For example, when using a scrape blend or buck with tarsal, try adding some fresh dirt as well. By doing so, you will give the impression that thebuck was just there, and you might just be able to get that dominant buck to shrink his home range and visit that scrape more often.
During The Rut
The beginning of November is a great time to use this estrus doe scent. However, because all does don’t come into estrus time, Buck Nuggets and Battle Ballz are also a great choice through first of December, or what is sometimes referred to as the secondary rut.
Post rut, in my opinion, is one of the hardest time of the year to hunt. Temps are dropping, deer are tired, and food is scarce. During this time of year, I switch gears and go back to the food scents, using them like I did in the early season. Remember, tree foliage is bare during this time of year, and anything you can do to draw the eyes and nose of a whitetail is critical.
Hide Yourself… With Food
Food scents are a good cover scent as well. So what if you walked into the woods smelling like apples, sweet corn, or acorns? That doesn’t sound too bad at all!
One tactic is to hang a dispenser of food scent where I would want to attract the animals, and hang the same scent in the stand or ground blind with me. Now I’ve doubled the attractant and doubled the cover scent at the same time.
A comment I heara lot is… “How will apple scent work if you don’t have apple trees on your property? No way Jose!”
Well, let me ask you a question. Do you know what a steak smells like? If all of a sudden you smell a steak, what’s the first thing you think? Probably something like, “Man that smells good… where’s that coming from.” You don’t think “nope, that couldn’t be a steak… there’s no butchered cows around her.”
Use food scents as an attractant as well as a cover scent.
Use cover scents all year long
While using scent in or around a scrapes, use multiple scents. Try using a buck and doe combo in your scrapes. Another trick is use a buck scent and dirt scent at the same time.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different scents, even in the off-season. Scent sites are very effective ways to scout shed heads after the season ends.
Hunting scents surely have a time and place. Keep in mind that your camo, tree stand, bow, and hunting scents are all tools we as hunters can use to have more success in the field and possibly create opportunities you’ve never had before.
Every hunting season, many land managers, owners and hunters debate whether or not they should harvest yearling spike bucks. It is an age old debate in deer camps across the country.
To Shoot Or Not To Shoot A Spike
So what is the answer? The answer is yes, and no. The truth of the matter is that there are times when the harvest of spikes is beneficial to a deer herd, and times when it is damaging. Each tract of land has its own management needs and determining factors of when and why to harvest spike bucks.
I may be speaking for myself here, but when many hunters go to the stand, they are looking for a “wall hanger” type of buck, not a spike. However, more times than not, it’s a spike that shows itself first and the hunter gets disappointed.
Then comes the internal debate: “should I shoot the spike and take his genetics out of the herd?”
Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works. A bounty of spikes is considered to be a problem, but that isn’t always the case.
I will venture to say that most hunters practice “see spike, shoot spike,” as they believe they are genetically inferior animals. That is invalid.
See Spike, Shoot Spike?
Steve Nelle, a Natural Resource Specialist and Wildlife Biologist, once analyzed 15 years of records from a central Texas ranch that was practicing “see spike, shoot spike.” They were harvesting every spike they saw. After analyzing these records, he determined that the buck size was not increasing because they were reducing the number of bucks moving into older age classes.
There are a lot of factors that determine whether a buck will be a spike, 4, 6 or 8 pointer as a yearling, and older in life. These factors include rainfall, habitat, nutrition, carrying capacity, and competition.
Let’s dive into these factors to determine whether or not you should shoot the next spike you see next deer season.
Rain Is A Good Thing
To me, the most influential ingredient in spike development (or lack thereof) is rainfall. Rainfall ties every other factor together. If your land is experiencing a drought, it would be a poor decision to take a spike.
Depending on the severity of the drought, the deer herd population could decrease naturally and throw your age structure and sex ratio into shambles. You’re going to want the spikes to mature into older age classes to see what they become.
If you have an encouraging amount of rainfall, shooting spikes could be beneficial. The high rainfall creates a domino effect of good habitat and nutrition, which will lead to buck growth and less population attrition.
Habitat And Nutrition Are Key
Habitat and nutrition fall into the same category for me. If your deer herd doesn’t have good habitat and nutrition, survival is going to be difficult, as will antler growth.
Poor habitat and/or nutrition is going to lead to poor antler growth and more spikes. It would be a poor decision to harvest a spike during this time.
There is no way to tell what the potential of a spike is when the property he is living on will not let him get to his full size each year. When your property does have good habitat and nutrition, there is going to be less die off, and bucks are going to be able to reach their potential for that year. You will then be able to determine if you should take spikes or not. Improving the habitat and nutrition on the land is critical.
Carrying Capacity: Herd Numbers And Ratios
Carrying capacity is the next important factor in determining whether or not to shoot a yearling spike. Here are some questions for you to answer.
Do you have too many young bucks in your herd or do you have a shortage?
Can your property handle the amount of deer you have?
Do you have a poor sex ratio?
If you have a surplus of young bucks, I encourage the harvest of spikes. The spikes will take up essential food for the other young bucks. Let the young bucks have that food; they may have a greater potential of becoming your dream buck.
FYI, a deer eats around 2 tons of food per year. If you have a shortage of bucks, do not shoot spikes — or at least not every spike! Again, it is crucial for these bucks to graduate into older age classes to see what they will become.
Competition: A Buck’s Fight To Survive
The last factor to cover is competition. When I say competition, I mean the deer having to compete with livestock and other wild game for food, not to mention just finding a way to stay alive! In the end, the goal of all wild animals is to reproduce and live to see tomorrow.
Most ranches in Texas have cattle that will compete with whitetail for food. Some even have sheep, goats or exotic animals. All of those other animals take away important food and nutrients from deer. The less nutrients a yearling buck is getting, the greater chance he has to be a spike.
Predation is a factor as well. The more predators on the property – such as coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions – the higher the predation rate on fawns will be. With a higher predation rate, there is a greater need for each spike buck to mature into the next age class.
Did I Mention Rain?
Do you see how rainfall is the catalyst to it all? Once again, I believe rain is the most important factor when it comes to spike management and deer management as a whole. Unfortunately, we cannot control mother nature but the more rain a property gets, the better.
Higher rainfall totals throughout the year provide growth of vegetation, which equates to thicker habitat for living, survival and higher nutritional values.
Nutrition is a yearlong need for a whitetail deer, but the more nutritional value a yearling receives from February to September, the better.
With that said, what is almost always overlooked by hunters is the fact that a buck’s antler potential also comes from the mother’s gene pool. If the mother doe is stressed and has poor nutrition throughout her pregnancy, the buck offspring she produces will have smaller antlers than if she had great nutrition throughout the pregnancy.
Maybe you don’t have time to manage your hunting property. Maybe you’re just hunting for meat and antler size doesn’t matter to you. That’s great! That’s the beauty of hunting.
You can manage how you want to manage, and hunt how you want to hunt (as long as you follow laws). However, if you do manage your herd, the next time you see a spike and have the mental debate on whether to shoot it or not, think about the the variety of factors that effect that deer and your herd.
At the time of writing this article, I have been shooting bows for about 14 years. I remember the first time I heard someone mention aiming drills because they were “panicking” when they would shoot their bow. I thought they were crazy. Boy, did I ever find out that my time with target panic was coming.
So, What Is Target Panic?
Target panic is basically being afraid of missing the target, thus causing an anxiety of sorts.
It wasn’t until the Summer of 2018 that I found myself having a problem with target panic. I first noticed it at one of the Total Archery Challenges. My shot process would fall apart every time that I would draw and try to take aim at one of the 3-D targets.
As I fought through the rest of the summer, I forced myself into thinking I could just ignore it, shoot more, and it would get better. I did this nonsense all the way through late fall.
I somehow managed to harvest an elk in early September, with one of the best shots I’ve ever made. Looking back it was a miracle or just luck. That’s the only way to explain it with all the struggles I was having. After elk season, I didn’t shoot much for a few weeks until I was getting ready for archery whitetail season.
This is when things got worse.
From Bad To Worse… To Missing Completely
The first step to curing target panic… Admit you have a problem.
While shooting one day at a 3D deer target, I started missing completely at 40 yards. I was only hitting the deer every two or three shots! Needless to say, my issue was getting expensive very quickly, at the loss of several Easton Full Metal Jackets. From an archery standpoint, I was pretty much falling apart. I knew then that I had a big problem.
Obviously, everyone reacts differently, but the following is the detail on what happened to me.
Itchy Index Finger…
As I was going through my shot process, I would knock an arrow, attach my release to the D-loop, draw the bow and find my anchor.
After this is where I was a complete mess.
When I would go to acquire the target in my peep, my heart would begin to race, my mind would scramble, and the second that my pin would reach the desired spot on the target, my index finger would have a mind of its own and just yank the trigger.
Basically, I was shooting my bow the same way you would shoot at clay pigeons with a shotgun.
Those who have been in archery for any length of time know that, with all that movement, it was impossible for me to have any type of grouping. I was anticipating the shot so badly, that I simply could not be accurate.
So, If you cannot simply draw your bow, acquire and hold on your target, then squeeze your trigger without anticipating the shot, I am willing to say that you have some sort of target panic.
So I have target panic… now what?
How I Cured It
First things first… you have to ADMIT you have a problem. When I finally came to terms with the fact that I was experiencing target panic, I began calling around to a few of my friends that have been shooting for years. I got several different answers. I also watched YouTube, read articles, Googled information, and tried a pile of other things.
Now, I’m not saying everything that I tried and learned didn’t work. For the most part, it was all great info. But, I wasn’t getting any better. Finally, once I got sick enough of not being able to hit the broad side of a barn, I got in touch with a local pro named Gregg Copeland.
Gregg is a phenomenal coach, who I had met at a few indoor, Vegas-style shoots. He had me to meet him at the local bow shop that had an indoor range, so he could see how bad things really were.
Thankfully, I don’t get my feelings hurt very easily, because my shooting was downright laughable. I also enjoy joking around and Gregg knew that.
After my first 3 shots he told me that he would let me shoot at him at 40 yards and not worry a bit. This is all the more funny if you’ve ever seen Gregg… he’s 6’3”, 350lbs!
“First things first,” Gregg said. “We start with aiming drills.”
Target Acquisition Drill
He placed me 10 feet from the target. He then had me knock an arrow, draw the bow, and hold the pin on the target until I started wavering. I would then let down, rest for a minute, and repeat. I would say that we did this 20 to 30 times. By the end of the aiming drills, I was able to at least aim without completely losing my cool. A huge sign of progress already! Aiming was something I hadn’t been able to do in months!
Tension Release Drills
Next, Greeg had me tighten the tension on my bow release to as stiff as it would go. This forced me to squeeze the trigger until the shot went off, so I that I could no longer “punch” the trigger, as I had been doing.
Now, keep in mind, we never moved back any from the aiming drills. We were still only 10 feet away from the target.
We went through the release drills a good 20 to 30 times. By the end of those, I was able to make decent shots at 10 feet. At that point, Gregg could have told me to stand on my head and I would have done it, because the sequence he had me doing was working!
I was taking each piece of advice like it was gold, and to me it was.
He wanted to see how I would do if we stepped back to 15 yards. Sure enough, in that short time, I was able to repeat what he had taught me and hit right where I was aiming.
After the lesson we shook hands and he left me with instructions of what to do once I got home. Gregg told me to go and set up at ten feet from a target and practice aiming drills every day before I shot a single arrow. He also forbid me to shoot a single shot past 15 yards until I was able to make perfect shots at that distance. I did these exact drills for at least a month.
So, Does It Work?
Following Gregg’s instructions, I rarely missed a single day of shooting. After about a month of nothing but the daily drills, the anxiety finally subsided and I was able to enjoy shooting my bow once again.
I am now able to shoot pie plate groups out past 80 yards. I am not saying I am currently the best that I have ever been, but I am well on my way.
One of the things that I took from shooting with Gregg was how much importance he put on the shot process.
He told me multiple times, “without a shot process, you have no shot.” He said, “without all the right ingredients, you can’t cook what you desire, so you sure ain’t going to shoot what you desire with out the exact process every time.”
Look at it this way, if you are struggling with target panic, with the right methods, and hard work, you are only 3,000 to 6,000 shots away from it being “fixed”, and yes, it is fixable.
Five Steps To Fix Your Target Panic
Follow these steps to begin to fix your target panic:
Hold your pin on the target until you start to waver let down rest 15 to 30 seconds and repeat. Do this at least 30 to 50 times a day before you release a single arrow.
Go Through Your Shot Process
Know how to, grip, draw, anchor, aim, and squeeze the trigger. This is your shot process… master it.
Shoot with in 15 yards of the target and don’t go any farther for at least 2 to 3 weeks.
Once you can go through the shot process and not experience any anxiety, then start with 20 yards and work your way back.
Go Back and repeat steps 1 through 3.
Now, I try and do things that might trigger target panic. For instance, I will shoot at a 3-D deer out to 70 yards, extremely quartered away. I also have a basket ball size target that I will try and shoot at farther distances as well.
By doing these things, I am simply just trying to make myself uncomfortable. This way, I can remember my shot process, regardless of the situation, and still make the shot smooth and clean.
You do the same things at 20 yards as you would at 80 yards, you just have to convince your brain of that. Through this process, I have learned so much about archery and have experienced a whole new love for shooting my bow.
So, having target panic wasn’t so bad after all. I guess you could say there was a silver lining. I have 100% come through target panic as a better archer. Come September, the Elk better be on their “A” game, because I will be on mine.