October 2015
Talkin' Huntin'

How to Reek the Right Way ...

A huge influx of testosterone surges through a buck’s body during late-August and early September. Their antlers will harden and velvet peal from their crown. Contrary to what some believe, they are ready to breed at this point. (Credit: Mikael Males)  

Early Season Scent Strategies

In the whitetails’ world, the period during early season (late August through October) is about being social with other deer and preparing for the upcoming rut and then winter. The does will bring their fawns into communal feeding areas where they will eventually be introduced to the other doe/fawn family groups in the area and the bucks will be mostly social with other bucks in the area.

As most know, smells play an important role in basically all aspects of a deer’s life and using scent is one of my favorite ways to lure early season bucks into range. Knowing their social structure and understanding the needs of the animals during this time is a key to consistently producing results with scent.

Many feel they shouldn’t use scent until just before the rut, when actually early season can be the easiest time to draw a response. Whitetails are amazingly curious animals. You just need to know what smells they favor at which times and how to dispense them so the encounter ends up in your favor.

You may see bucks and does feeding side-by-side in an agricultural field, but, for the most part during early season, they are primarily social only within their own sex groups. Testosterone is a "scoundrel" that will soon goof that up, but, for this short time, this is the case. Knowing this to be true, it makes the best sense to use "buck smells" to attract bucks and "doe smells" to attract does or fawns. This is obviously applicable only to "deer smells" (scents that actually come from deer such as urine, glandular lures or musk-type smells). This is not the case for curiosity smells or food lures – these scents have the potential to work on any deer at any time.

  A Magnum Scrape-Dripper allows you to freshen a set-up location day after day without physically having to enter the area and leave human scent behind. It discharges scent during daytime hours, conditioning bucks to show up early and hang around longer. Mature bucks will feel an urge to claim, mark and defend breeding territory earlier in the season than younger bucks. This is one reason why mock scrapes can work well early in the season.

When it comes to older bucks, they may, or may not, be social with the other bucks. Sometimes older bucks can become very reclusive animals. They really don’t need this communal contact like it seems younger bucks more often crave.

During late-August and September, dramatically increased amounts of testosterone start flowing through the buck’s body and, contrary to what some believe, from this point on "he is ready to breed." The further South you go, the later this seems to happen and it will be spread out over a longer period so we have more of a margin for error in the South. Divergent to what some may say, it’s actually the does that control when breeding will take place. Bucks will remain social with the other bucks until the does exhibit signs of coming into estrus.

Although, I’ve had a positive reaction to estrus lures during early season, it’s probably not a good tactic to employ on opening day. Typically, when it comes to "deer smells," you want to use the odors when they would naturally occur anyhow. If you are specifically after a mature buck, stirring things up with some Special Golden Estrus may be a tactic you wish to try, but, for most "early season instances," you are probably better off with plain urine, food smells or a curiosity scent like Trail’s End #307.

There are many ways to dispense scent during this period, but two of my favorite tools are a Pro-Drag and a Magnum Scrape Dripper. The Pro-Drag is the best tool I have found to create a scent trail with because it holds a lot of scent and it’s easy to control. You can use any type of liquid scent when making a trail, it doesn’t have to be a "deer smell," you are alright to use food lures or curiosity scents, too.

During early season, I’ve had very good luck with scents such as Trail’s End #307 and Select Doe Urine. There’s no doubt that if I had to only pick one it would be Trail’s End #307; however, I’ve had many positive early season encounters with just plain buck urine or doe urine. Food smells like Scent Storm Apple or Scent Storm Acorn Cover Scents will also work. These are sold as cover scents, but they are also pleasing, attractive food scents to whitetails.

When testosterone begins to enter the picture, mock scrapes can be a very effective tactic. Typically mature bucks will feel an urge to claim, mark and defend breeding territory earlier in the season than younger bucks so this can be just the ticket to draw a response from one of the big boys in your area. Mock scrapes are also the best spot I have found to take an inventory of the bucks in your area with your trail cameras once hard antler occurs. You won’t see many does, but you’ll get to see what you have in the area for bucks.

The Magnum Scrape-Dripper is a great tool for dispensing any type of liquid scent. This device is heat-activated and will drip only during daytime hours, conditioning deer to showing up during legal hunting light. It doesn’t have to be used just at mock scrapes; it works great at dispensing all kinds of scent such as food lures or curiosity scent.

The Magnum Scrape-Dripper can operate for two to three weeks on one fill up. Actually, you don’t want to "fill it up." It works because of the air pocket left inside. The Magnum Dripper will hold a full 4 ounces of scent! This unit refreshes your scent set up during legal shooting hours so you don’t have to. When you’re ready to hunt, the site is pristine, void of human scent and "primed" for you to hunt.

Around opening, and for the following couple weeks, a scent trail of Trail’s End #307 can be "killer." One reason why this lure is so effective is because it appeals not only to a whitetail’s curiosity but also to their sense hunger and desire to repopulate – you really can’t go wrong. If you do catch them in their dependable summer patterns, move fast; however, with testosterone entering the picture and the does soon to show signs of coming into estrus, things will change very fast.

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.