With his nose to the ground the buck followed my scent trail heading away from my stand. My binoculars told me this was one of the bucks in the area I was after, a very respectable 4x4 with massive antler bases. I didn’t like to see him head off the wrong way, but I wasn’t too worried because I had planned accordingly. About a half hour later the buck reappeared following the same scent trail but now in my direction. When he reached 22 yards out, I drove a Hoyt-propelled CX shaft through both lungs and the buck toppled over after a short dash.
Some bowhunters complain of not having a lot of shot opportunities at bucks. Many see plenty of deer but just can’t get them "on their doorstep." One of my favorite tactics to lure in bucks close is by leading them with a scent trail. If you can fool their unbelievable sense of smell, you’ve got it made.
To begin, when using scent in any way for whitetail, you must keep foreign odors out of the picture. Scent Killer, rubber boots and rubber gloves will help you to reduce scent transfer. You want to leave the good smell, not a danger smell. To a nose as powerful as a whitetails’ I don’t think there is such a thing as "totally scent free," but I am positive by using the Scent Killer system and paying attention to details I can reduce odors to only trace levels even a mature buck will tolerate in close proximity.
We have many different tools to create scent trails; hunters might use boot-pads, drag-rags or atomizers. My preferred way of leaving a trail is with a device called a Pro-Drag. It is a super absorbent piece of felt tied to a string. I can tie the string to a stick found in the area. This way I’m able to drag the scent trail off of the exact path my feet are leaving. Obviously, in thick brush or heavy timber you can’t drag the trail off to one side, but wherever possible, this method will leave the cleanest, most pristine scent trail possible.
This type of drag also leaves the scent in contact with the ground almost continuously. It leaves a much easier trail for the buck to follow than boot pads. Boot pads are still a good way to leave a trail, but with each step you take the scent away from ground contact. With the Pro-Drag, the scent is in contact with the ground most of the time so the buck can put his nose to the ground and "go to town."
When leaving a scent trail in a straight line, you’ve only got a 50-50 chance the buck will follow your trail in your direction. Half of the time they follow it in the wrong direction. Since they’re looking for the "goodies" at the end of the trail, even if they do follow it in the wrong direction, when they get to where you started the trail and they don’t find what they’re looking for, sometimes they’ll follow it back in your direction. It might not be that they immediately turn around and go back in the other direction. I’ve seen a buck come back several hours later and follow the trail the opposite way. In fact, I’ve watched bucks go back and forth several times on a scent trail. If a buck crosses your trail and heads the wrong way…don’t give up hope.
A cure-all for this problem is a figure 8 scent trail. Create your scent trail in a figure 8 and place yourself downwind of the intersection of the 8. This way regardless of where the buck cuts the trail or which way he follows it, eventually he’ll wind up in front of you.
This may or may not be the best way for you to leave a trail; you have to use your judgment. Maybe you would be making too much commotion or contaminating the area too much with human scent to make this tactic work like it should. But I’ve seen this method fool even mature Pope & Young candidates time and time again.
During early season my favorite scent to use is Trail’s End #307 or Hot Musk. Closer to the rut I like to use Special Golden Estrus. Just think about what that specific buck wants at that specific time of the season. You need to give them a reason to follow your trail.
Obviously, every situation is different. As I said, sometimes this tactic may require more commotion or scent transfer than is wise to perform. However, this can also be a great way to bring bucks in close enough for an easy archery shot.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.