January 2018
Talkin' Huntin'

Closing the Deal

Stimuli combinations bring whitetails close.

 

When presenting a setup to the deer, you need to give the specific deer a reason to close the distance. Maybe the reason is competition or maybe it’s breeding. Think about the sights, sounds and smells present with that scenario and duplicate them.

The big buck stood at the edge of a picked corn field about 200 yards away. Even at that distance I could see he was a definite shooter. Rather than skirting the field and coming by my stand just off the corner, he cuts 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 at a steady trot. Once he reached 100 yards he slowed to a fast walk and started to swing downwind of where he had heard the sound. Long story short – he stood 100 yards downwind of me hardly moving a muscle for almost five minutes. The only movements were his ears searching for the two bucks he had just heard and his nose waving in the breeze scanning for other supporting evidence. He turned and slowly disappeared over the ridge.

What makes a set of circumstances seem real to you? If you can see it, hear it, smell it, touch it – the more senses we satisfy, the more that situation will seem real. It’s also true for whitetails and other animals! By using multiple techniques at once a hunter can appeal to a variety of the whitetails’ senses. On that day, I sure wish I had some scent set-up or a decoy placed out to draw his attention and coax him into bow range.

Does, fawns and young bucks will often ramble straight into a well-placed decoy, scent placed out properly or a vocalization sounding authentic, but a mature buck almost always needs confirmation from more than one sense before it enters the unknown. They do trust their sense of smell entirely, but if they see or hear something and aren’t sure, they’ll almost always wait for confirmation before proceeding further.

Whitetails trust their sense of smell completely; if you can fool it, you have it made. Just like sight is our most believable sense. After all, "You’ve got to see it to believe it." For whitetails, their entire lives revolve around their sense of smell. That doesn’t always mean using scent to draw them in; it also means practicing a strict routine of scent elimination. In fact, it’s probably most important to keep foreign smells completely out of the picture. Scent Killer Gold is one of my most important tools. For instance, if a mature buck smells the sweet odor of estrus, but there’s also a danger smell, their instinct for survival outweighs all else and all your work will be for naught.

Decoying can appeal to their sight, calling can deceive their hearing and scent, or the lack of it, can con their sense of smell. Why not do something to appeal to more than one of their senses at a time? After having success with scent and with calling, I’ve been experimenting more with decoys. Obviously, decoys are not something most people use every time they venture afield but using scent and calling (or rattling) are tactics I often use.

I find, when using decoys, adding scent, calling or a combo of both 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 that decoy posture and movement are particularly significant details we need to get right.

Some decoys are in an alert posture. This typically brings other deer in ready to act and edgy. You’ll often get them to come to within 40-60, snorting and stomping the ground at your decoy … or maybe it’s at whatever has the decoy so alert. Sometimes I may want an alert, more intimidating posture, but for most deer throughout most of the season you’ll be better with other, less-intimidating postures.

When is it natural for a standing deer to be totally motionless? When it’s alert, when something is wrong or out of place, or just before it’s about to bolt?

I’ve done a number of different things to add motion to decoys from tying a string to a chicken feather or white hanky, taping the string to the hind end or ear and letting the wind move it to tacking a real whitetail’s tail to the hind end and operating it with monofilament line. Granted, in a 15-mph wind the chicken feather starts fluttering so fast it looks like the decoy will 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 so hunters have many options, but motion is a definite key.

Sometimes an alert posture will work. In fact, sometimes I want a ready-to-act, aggressive posture. For instance, if I’m after a mature buck, playing the competition card and using aggressive tactics has worked great for me. When after younger bucks or any deer, success depends on many other factors. The biggest detail to keep in mind is – you must give that specific deer a reason to interact with your setup.

What time of year is it? Are you after a buck, doe or will any deer do? What age-class buck are you after?

Part of the fun of hunting is trying new and different techniques, trying to make something happen. Here the author poses with a buck lured in by calling and scent.

 

 

My best advice would be to 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 at any time of year, I feel a decoy in a feeding, greeting or bedded posture is best.

When using scent with your decoy, start by eliminating foreign smells. After the decoy is cleaned in Scent Killer Soap, only touch it while wearing gloves and make sure it’s stored in a place where foreign odors are not going to transfer. If you have to transport your decoy, place it in a garbage bag or something that will seal out foreign odors.

When choosing lures and scents, again, think about what the specific deer you’re after wants at that specific time of the season. For instance, early season I might use plain buck or 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 that my fake buck is moving into his breeding territory. Think about how and why a buck might interact with your setup. Try and make it seem as natural as possible and, again, give them a reason to close the distance.

When dispersing the scent, I prefer to put the scent on a Key-Wick near the decoy rather than placing it on the decoy. Simply because a week later the decoy smells like last week’s pee. This way I don’t have to constantly scrub my decoy. Keep the decoy clean!

Calling is another weapon in your arsenal. Every situation is unique. 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 to create the illusion that two bucks are 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 a couple of years ago.

Taking the decoy out of the picture and using scent and calling/rattling together happens much more often than adding a decoy to the list of tools. But, even minus the decoy, the combination of calling or rattling and the use of scent can work great. They hear deer sounds, circle downwind and smell deer smells. It gives them a reason to come closer.

Where a decoy needs some forethought, the tools you’ll need to effectively use calls or scent can easily be carried at all times in your pack.

When I specifically venture in an attempt to rattle in a buck, I almost always use real antlers. Their true-to-life resonance and the extra-subtle sounds you can create with them such as scraping a tree or smacking the ground can’t be done with a rattle-bag or any of the manufactured plastic gadgets. However, I have rattled in more bucks with my rattle bag simply because I carry it with me all the time.

Decoys are fun to use, but it’s really that one-two punch of calls and scent that produce the most consistent results. Some hunters think by trying to appeal to more senses you’re leaving yourself open to making more mistakes.

Details are important whenever hunting whitetails. If you use common sense, keep human scent out of the picture and present things as naturally as possible, results will follow.

Answer the question, "Why would that specific deer want to interact with my setup?" And if he does, "How might he interact with the scenario?" Maybe to be social or maybe it’s for competition.

The more realistic you can make the setup, the better it will work.

 

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.