Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Deer Scent and Calling Tactics Through The Seasons

© By Othmar Vohringer

Using deer scent and calls is still somewhat mysterious to some hunters. What scent should we use and when should we use a particular scent are just some of the questions I get. Then there are hunters that think that using scent and calling is a hunting strategy. It is not! Using scent and calls are tactics that should be used in a sound deer ambush strategy to make them work. Failure to realize this and it becomes utterly useless.

Then there are the skeptics that believe scent and calling does not work and is a waist of time and money. Is it? Depends. Deer attractant scent and calls can work great in positioning that elusive buck in front of your stand. On the other hand use a particular scent or call at the wrong time or over-do-it and it will scare the deer away into the next county.

To make scent and calls work it is imperative to know exactly the changing social behavior of the deer in your hunting area as the season progresses. For example, it totally defeats the purpose and actually will hurt your success in shooting a buck when you use a doe-in-estrus scent during the early part of the season when the actual rut is still a month or two away. The best way to know what the deer do in your hunting area is to study their behavior patterns and then adjust you scent and call tactics accordingly.

Early Season

Mid September and in some areas up to the middle of October the bucks are still in velvet and some does are still nursing or weaning fawns. This is the time to appeal to a whitetail’s sense of curiosity and appetite. Eyeing up or chasing does is the furthest thing from a buck’s mind. At this time of year the bucks still travel in bachelor groups.


The scents that can work well at this time are food based attractant scents and plain doe or buck urine based scents. Other scents are curiosity scents that also can work very well. A curiosity scent is not based on a particular food source. These are scents that appeal to a whitetail’s curiosity; the smell is simply attractive to deer. Some of these curiosity smells are peanut butter, vanilla and anisette. There are commercial scents available mixed with plain deer urine containing vanilla and or anisette.


Deer are quite social and will communicate with each other by using different sounds and behavior patterns. The calls that work best in the early season are plain doe and buck grunts. A social grunt is the equivalent to us saying Hello or how are you? This is a very easy call to reproduce with any deer call usually consisting of three to four soft “uuurrrrp – uuurrrp – uuurrrp”. A lot has been said and written about early season fawn bleats and if used correctly they can work as well to bring a doe or a curious buck into shooting range. There are two basic fawn calls and only one of them is worth trying in my opinion. That call would be a normal fawn bleat sounding like a youngster looking for its mama. It’s a call that a fawn will often make during the time when the doe weans it . On the other hand, the much discussed and promoted fawn-in-distress bleat is not a call that I would consider even remotely useful. A fawn in mortal danger will make a blood-curdling cry for help. Since deer have no actual defense possibility all they can do is rush to the scene and run in a mad dash around and around in an attempt to confuse a predator and lure it away from the fawn. With deer running like mad everywhere there is no way to get a clean shot at any of them, so I do not recommend a fawn-in-distress call as a valued call to attract a whitetail to your stand location.


As it get cooler and the nights longer the bucks start to get antsy and agitated. The joke Mother Nature plays on the bucks is that they are ready for business long before the females will be. In frustration they start to trash bushes with their now velvet-shed and hardened antlers. The bucks become progressively more intolerant of each other and engage in sparing matches. Small rubs start to appear on trees and saplings here and there. Often we can even see some haphazard scraping activity and these signs are indications of bigger things to come in the next few weeks.


As tempted as you may feel to use a doe-in-heat or a buck-in-rut deer lure, keep it in storage, it’s not the time yet. During the pre-rut I still use the same scents as in the early season. What changes is my calling tactics.


Now is the time to add some variety in your calling and to add some light antler clicking. The pre-rut is the perfect time to imitate sparing bucks. Mix your calling to make it sound realistic. When bucks fight they don’t just stay motionless in one spot and bang the antlers together. As bucks engage in a little sparing to get rid of their frustration, they first circle around each other and make grunting sounds. Sometimes they stomp the ground with their front feet and eventually they will engage the antlers by clicking them gently together. This is usually followed by a little pushing and shoving.

It is these sounds that I try to duplicate by giving a few soft buck grunts with my call while rustling the leaves with my feet or scraping the rattling antlers over tree bark if I am in a tree stand. My rattling sessions start by grinding and clicking the antlers gently together. I may continue with a calling session for about four to five minutes. If nothing happens I will repeat another calling session a half hour later.


It is November and the bucks now actively begin to chase the does around in anticipation of the first females coming into the estrus cycle any day now. The does are not quite ready yet and actually try to evade the bucks while the boys get even more agitated than they already are. Now the bucks actively start to freshen up old scrapes and rubs, eating become less of a priority at this time of year as the interest in the opposite sex starts to take over a buck’s brain and they become very aggressive toward each other. The bachelor groups are dissolved, as each buck becomes a solitary wanderer perhaps permitting a young buck to follow him around on his quest to pass his genes on to as many does as possible.


As the behavior of the bucks change so do our scent tactics. Now I pull out all the stops by applying doe-in-estrus and buck-in-rut urine and glandular lures to spike scrapes and create scent trails leading to my stand site. There are many different ways scent can be applied and I will write about that in a later article. The aim of my scent tactic is to attract a buck to me believing that he is following a female in heat or that he has to investigate an intruding buck.


During the rut doe-in-estrus bleats mixed with antler rattling have worked very well for me in the past. With this tactic I give a passing by buck the impression that two bucks fight over an estrus doe and that this might be a good chance to snatch that doe away from the other bucks. Mimicking a strange buck with a buck grunt or two can be a highly effective way to coax a buck into shooting range too.

This rut scent and calling tactic will work all the way through to the end of the hunting season.


Deer calls and scent can work great if used correctly and not viewed as do-it-all tactics. For scent and calls to work everything else has to be right too. The best results can be expected if the area is scouted and the stand locations are chosen properly. Deer will not make huge detours just to investigate a call or scent and by that I mean the best results can be expected if scent and call tactics are used where the deer are in close proximity.

Here are a few links to game call and scent companies that offer the products that I have used for many years and found to be useful.

Modern Call Products Hands Free Buck and Doe Calls
Knight & Hale Rattle Bag and EZ Grunter
Primos Hunting Calls The Original Doe in Heat Bleat Can and rattling antlers.
Tinks Deer Lure various deer scent products.
Mrs. Doe Pee buck lure.
Harmon Deer Scent Interdigital glad lure.

For additional information on this topic also read Making Sense about Deer Scents

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