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.
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. Again, 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.
As a deer hunter, a whitetail deer hunter is a welcome sight, but not necessarily a rarity. But, catching a glimpse of the incredibly rare piebald deer is a scarce and beautiful sight. Every now and again, hunting enthusiasts get to witness rare images of a piebald deer on social media, discovered by a “lucky” select few hunters. This unique deer features impossible-to-miss white markings, standing out like a unicorn in a forest full of horses. In fact, many hunters focus exclusively on these hard-to-find critters – determined to add a new trophy to their collection.
But – just how rare are piebald deer?
What is a Piebald Deer?
DID YOU KNOW? The name “piebald” originates from the word “pie” – short for magpie, a black and white bird in the crow family. Piebald deer look bald because of their patchy appearance… Pie + Bald = Piebald!
Contrary to what many hunters believe, piebaldism is not a combination of a regular whitetail deer and its albino counterpart. Piebaldism is a genetic abnormality responsible for the piebald deer’s appearance. It’s a rare condition that affects less than 2% of the whitetail deer population.
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According to geneticists and researchers, the name “piebald” originates from the word “pie” – short for magpie, a bird in the crow family. The magpie has black and white plumage. The piebald deer has a genetic abnormality, causing patches of white across its body. This patchy look gives it a mixed up appearance, in which the patches, or lack of pigmentation almost make it “bald.” Pie + Bald = Piebald!
Piebald deer come in a range of colorations and variations. There is no stock-standard. Some piebald deer look as though they’ve been splashed with white paint. Others may look almost “airbrushed” or spotted. It is believed that this recessive trait must be carried by both deer-parents, maternal and paternal, in order for the offspring to be piebald. That’s what makes the condition of piebaldism so exceptionally rare.
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Piebaldism presents itself in many different forms, varying from moderate to severe depending on the circumstances. While some piebald deer can live normal, long, happy and healthy lives, most aren’t so lucky.
Interestingly, piebaldism isn’t just isolated to deer. Throughout nature, we see many other species experiencing this genetic abnormality, including horses, certain dog breeds, python snakes, moose, bald eagles, and on some cases, even humans.
Piebaldism | More Than Just A Coloring Abnormality
Apart from the strikingly unique coat, a piebald deer usually has other distinguishing features, include shorter-than-normal legs, an arched spine (scoliosis), and a prominent oral overbite. Beyond the surface, a piebald deer normally experiences certain organ deformities, and even arthritis.
According to geneticists, this boils down to something called “pleiotropy,” which causes one single gene to control numerous traits. The affected traits range from pigmentation to bone development and more. It’s not unusual to see a piebald deer with debilitating genetic mutations and severe birth defects. Combined, these factors make it exceptionally challenging for piebald deer to survive in the wild – let alone make it to adulthood.
In one recent case study, Missy Runyan, a New York-based wildlife rehabilitator, was called to the scene of a distressed fawn in May of 2017. The white-as-snow piebald fawn was plagued by severe birth defects, including life-threatening internal genetic mutations. The fawn didn’t live for much longer, but Runyan managed to X-Ray the fawn’s body and detect numerous internal abnormalities. The results showed internal defects that made it impossible for the fawn to survive in the wild.
Piebaldism Vs. Albinism
The genetic causes for piebaldism and albinism differ, something you can easily spot by gazing into the affected deer’s eyes. While an albino deer’s eyes are pink, accompanies by a pink nose and hooves with pink hues, piebald deer have brown eyes, a brown nose, and black hooves.
Piebald deer should also not be confused with melanistic deer, which typically lack brown or white color variations and usually appear to be black across their entire bodies.
While geneticists and scientists are still hard at work to fully understand the genetic mutation that causes piebaldism, one thing is for sure: If you see one, you should count yourself lucky. Few hunters will ever get the chance to get a glance of this rare creature out in the wild.
Piebald Deer | To Shoot…Or Not To Shoot?
More and more hunters are emerging on social media, slammed for their short-lived success at when taking rare trophy piebald deer. In various parts of North America, these rare white animals are seen as “sacred,” and not to be harmed. Certain indigenous communities see piebald deer as “returning ancestors,” serving as a “reminder that something of significance is about to happen.”
There are also various “myths” and “legends,” stating that by capturing and killing a piebald deer, you will “experience bad future hunts,” or, “guarantee your own death in a year’s time.”
Laws Regarding Piebald Deer | Check Your State Hunting Regulations
If you aren’t superstitious, do your homework by researching the rules and regulations of your state. For example, it is illegal to shoot any white deer in Wisconsin, as herds of white deer are rising in numbers, making locals rather protective of the rare animals.
While certain jurisdictions have laws in place to protect piebald deer, among other white animals, many locations allow (licensed) hunters to lawfully harvest these rare creatures without consequence.
According to Brian Murphy, wildlife biologist and the Executive Director of the Quality Deer Management Association, there is no biological reason to protect piebald deer or albinos. Protecting them should not be regulated by the state, but rather, should be the decision of the landowners and hunters.
While piebaldism is indeed rare, population problems are apparently not a concern. Emerging research shows that the act of hunting a piebald deer will have no significant impact on the deer population, let alone damage it. If you would wish to take such a rare trophy (and meat) back to your home, and if it is legal to hunt them where you live, there’s no reason not to hunt piebald deer.
Have you ever seen a piebald deer out in the wild? Leave a comment on this post or share your photos with us here at N1!