doe smelling deer scent

Deer Scents | How And When To Use Them

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.

Scent Ballz Scent Dispenser over scrape

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.

The buck gave me a clear, 35-yard broadside shot. Let’s just say I recovered him 125 yards away.

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.

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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.

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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.”

Pre-Rut

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 the buck 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

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.

Using scents of food that deer eat can be extremely beneficial.

A comment I hear a 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.”

Well, deer have the same thinking.

Scent Control Is Key

Proper scent control starts at home! Clothes stored in a sealed container with a food or cover will lessen the human odor you leave while walking, sitting, working or scouting in the woods.

Tips To Remember

  • 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.

In Conclusion

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.

Bryan Hussung, CEO of Scent Ballz
spike buck pic

Deer Management Dilemma: Should I Shoot Spike Bucks?

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.

whitetail buck in grass

With proper nutrition, habitat and rain, today’s spike buck could be a future wall hanger. (photo by Jeff Coldwell)

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.

Rainfall, habitat, nutrition, among other factors affect buck antler growth.

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.



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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.

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.

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.

The state of the nutrition on your hunting land helps determine whether you should take spikes or not.

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, axis deer 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.  


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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.  

Rain is the catalyst for all deer management.

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.   

Final Thoughts

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. 

Happy hunting!

Kevin Burke of TX Sunrise Outdoors.
6-point buck

Defining Success In Hunting | Maybe There’s More To It…

Deer season was nearing to a close and I’d only let one arrow fly all season.

One.

And, it was to kill a coyote that came by my stand on an early season hunt. Mission accomplished there, but the deer are what really get my heart pumping.

Since I bow hunt all season long, by that time of year, I usually have tagged a whitetail and filled the freezer. But, that season was been different than most. I’d had quite a few career-related changes that had limited the amount of times I’d been able to get in the woods.

deer sounds N1 Moment

Hunting has provided many “successful” days. But, what really defines “success” in hunting?

So, how did I feel about this?

Well, honestly, I’ve usually begun to get a little bit of an itchy release finger, especially if I haven’t taken a deer yet.

So, during a season like that one, I really began thinking about what defines a successful hunting season.

Maturity In Hunting

It’s a thrill to get to take a mature buck and maybe even take home a set of monster antlers. But, it’s also something that doesn’t come easily, especially when hunting at close range.

I’ve learned over the years that if you want to be in the action when the rut comes, it’s often wise to have been hunting the does all season long. Where do they feed? Where are they bedding? And, where are their travel corridors in between?


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Knowing the answers to these questions requires not only logging some time in the stand, but also being patient enough not to start slinging arrows at every deer you see. Bottom line… maturity is required in hunting as well as in life.

Even with the challenges this year that have limited my time in the woods, I have been able to hunt a handful of times. And, I’ve gotten to observe quite a few deer and had the opportunity to shoot many of them. But, I didn’t draw.



As I’ve gotten older, I also see the value in learning all that I can about my craft. Much of that learning comes from hunting with friends and other seasoned hunters.

Everyone has their own strategies and methods for taking whitetail and other wild game. Many hunters might try to prove that their methodology is superior. I simply enjoy the fellowship and sharing of information.

Giles Canter of N1 outdoors with archery buck

There is a lot to be learned during every hunt. For me, much of it has nothing to do with deer.

I set out to know more every hunting season than I did the year before. This is possible whether I shoot a deer or not. There is always something to observe and learn. And that’s one of the things I love about this way of life.

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It’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I look to the skyline from my tree stand and realize that it’s been months since I’ve even looked up and around me to observe the beauty and wonder of God’s creation.

Slowing Down The Pace

Life tends to move at a breakneck speed. Technology is not only allowing the flow of information move more quickly, it’s allowing us to get more done in a shorter period of time… which means we pile more and more things on our plates. Which means we move along even faster. I think you see the pattern here.

hunting success forest sunrise

Sometimes the hunt isn’t about hunting at all.

Life gets crazy and I get wrapped up in finishing the next ‘to-do” on my list. It’s during moments in the stand, that I often realize that I have focused much of my time on trivial things. Whether I’m after whitetail or chasing turkeys, hunting gives me the chance to hopefully get away from all of these distractions for a short time.

Sure, I may have my phone with me to capture the occasional wildlife video, but it sure is nice to not be tied to the computer that I’m currently typing this article on!

I’m thankful for moments in the woods where I can enjoy the incredible attributes of nature that God gave us to show us that there is a magnificent Creator.



Listen Loudly

I hope you are getting a chance to read this in a quiet place. But, chances are, you are cramming this information in as you do other things at the same time. It’s amazing how many distractions technology creates. Getting into that perfect tree stand location not only gives me the opportunity to test my hunting skills, but it also allows me to test my listening skills.



In the quiet of the woods, there are many sounds you can hear that you wouldn’t otherwise. Likewise, maybe there are things that God has been trying to tell me and teach me. What are the things He has been trying to teach me that I have drowned out with the noise of work, family and other duties?

Hunting gives me the chance to evaluate how well I have been listening to the One who gave His life and gives me reason to live. It gives me a chance to listen loudly in the quiet of the landscape. For that, I am truly thankful.



Conclusion

So, it’s not just about the kill or the size of the quarry. I don’t have to kill a world record to be happy. Hopefully, I can improve my hunting skills, but also be able to slow down and listen to the what the Lord wants of my life. Now, that is a good definition of hunting success.