Keys to Bringing Whitetails Close
The big Minnesota buck stood at the edge of a picked corn field about 250 yards away. Even at that distance I could see he was a definite "shooter." Rather than skirting the field and coming by my stand located just off of the corner of the field, he chose to cut straight across the middle. What to do? I picked up my rattle-bag and cracked it as hard as I could. He stopped and turned his head in my direction. I hit the rattle-bag a second time and he came on a steady trot in my direction! Once he reached 100 yards he slowed to a fast walk and started to swing downwind. Long story short -- he stood 60 yards downwind of me hardly moving a muscle for over five minutes. The only movements were his ears and his nose waving in the breeze trying to locate the two bucks that he had heard fighting. He turned and slowly disappeared over the ridge.
What makes a situation seem real to you? If you can see it, hear it, smell it, touch it--the more senses we appease, the more that condition will seem real. If to us, why not a whitetails? By using different techniques, a hunter can appeal to a variety of the whitetails’ senses at once. On that day, I sure wish I would have had some scent out to coax him in the final 60 yards.
Decoying can appeal to their sight, calling can fool their hearing, and scent, or the lack of, can trick their sense of smell. Why not appeal to all three at once or at least combine two of them. After having success with scent and calling, I’ve been experimenting more with decoys. I find when using decoys, adding scent, calling or any combination will almost always help, but you have to pay attention to a few details.
First, you have to start with the correct decoy. I believe decoy posture and movement are particularly significant; some decoys are in an alert posture. This typically brings other deer in alert and edgy, also. You’ll often get them to come to within 40 to 60 yards or so, snorting and stomping the ground at your decoy. Or maybe it’s at whatever has your decoy so alert.
When is it natural for a standing deer to be totally motionless - when it’s alert and about to bolt? I’ve done a number of different things to add motion to a decoy, from tying a string to a chicken feather or white hanky, taping the string to the hind end or ear of the decoy and letting the wind move it, to tacking a real whitetail-tail to the hind end of the decoy and operating it with a monofilament line. Granted, in a 15 mph wind the chicken feather was fluttering so fast it looked like the decoy would soon take flight, but I believe even that extreme motion is better than no motion at all. There are decoy kits on the market to help convert standard decoys into motion decoys and decoys with moving parts.
Sometimes an alert posture will work. In fact, sometimes I want an alert, aggressive posture. For instance, if I’m after an older, more dominant buck, "playing the competition card" and using aggressive tactics has worked great. When after younger bucks or any deer, success depends on many other factors.
What time of year is it? Are you after a buck, doe or will any deer do? What age class buck are you after? Best advice here, think about what "the specific" deer wants at that particular time of year and give them a reason to close the distance. For any deer, any time of year, I feel a decoy in a feeding, greeting or bedded posture is best.
As far as scent goes, you first have to start by eliminating foreign smells. After your decoy is cleaned in Scent Killer Soap, only touch it with gloves and make sure it’s stored in a place where foreign odors are not going to be transferred. If you have to transport your decoy, place it in a garbage bag or something to seal out foreign odors.
When choosing lures and scents, again, think about what the deer wants at that specific time of the season and give it to them. Early season with a doe decoy, I might use plain doe urine…just something to add realism to the scenario. Closer to the rut with a buck decoy sometimes I’ll use a combo of Active Scrape and Mega Tarsal Plus. One gives a full spectrum scrape aroma and the other is a territorial intrusion scent. I’m trying to create the illusion of my fake buck moving into his breeding territory. Think about "how" and "why" a buck might interact with your set-up. Try and make it seem as natural as possible. Give them a reason to close the distance.
When dispersing the scent, I prefer to put the scent on a Pro-Wick or a Key-Wick near the decoy rather than putting the smell right on the decoy. Simply because a week later it smells like last week’s pee. This way I don’t have to constantly scrub down my decoy. Keep the decoy clean.
Calling can be the third weapon in your arsenal. Once again, situations differ. It might be adding some soft, social grunts during early season while using a buck decoy or maybe adding an estrus bleat in combination with some estrus lure during the rut. One of my favorite tactics, just before and after the peak of the rut, is to set-up a small buck decoy standing over a bedded doe decoy. Then I’ll do my best imitation of an intense buck fight. In between rattling sequences I might imitate an estrus bleat. I try and create the illusion of two bucks fighting over my fake doe in estrus. The smell of some Special Golden Estrus should also aid in pulling off the gag. This worked to bring in two mature bucks for me last season.
Even if you subtract the decoy, the combination of calling or rattling and the use of scent can work great. They hear "deer sounds," and then circle downwind and smell "deer smells," it gives them a reason to close the distance.
Some hunters might say "by trying to appeal to more senses you’re leaving yourself open to making more mistakes." Details are important whenever you hunt whitetails. Use common sense; keep human scent out of the picture and present things as naturally as possible. Answer the question of "why" would that specific deer want to interact with your set up? And, if he does, "how" might he interact with the scenario presented? Maybe to be social or for competition. The more realistic you can make it seem, the better it will work for you!
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-in-Chief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.