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Making sense of scents

What every deer hunter should know about luring prey

Oct. 5, 2009 - 09:49PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 5, 2009 - 09:49PM  |  
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In late August, freshly collected and bottled urine loaded with hormonal markers from a whitetail doe in heat was selling for a little less than $14 per ounce, about the cost of an equivalent amount of sterling silver. Although a set of dangly silver earrings might win you short favors with a special lady, that pungent liquid inside an amber bottle just might pull that buck of a lifetime into gun or bow range.

To die-hard deer hunters, it's no contest on where to invest cash. Deer pee has been a big seller in the hunting market for decades.

I've used deer lures and scent-control soaps and sprays for many years, preferring to maneuver the deer to the ambush site. Some maintain the practice is a bit of snake-oil voodoo. But three mature Virginia eight-pointers that came in on a string last year to a scent wick doused with estrus doe urine and hung near my tree stand tell otherwise.

About lures

Modern whitetail deer lures reportedly originated in upstate New York in 1934, when renowned trapper Pete Rickard developed a concoction he later called Indian Buck Lure.

"Pete Rickard was famous for making lures for trappers. He was like a movie star in the trapping business," said Harold Karshen, owner of Pete Rickard Co.

Rickard's original lure was touted as being able to simultaneously attract deer and mask human scent. The ingredients are secret, said Karshen, who bought the business from Rickard's son Larry. "Others have tried to copy the lure, but they were unsuccessful."

Buck Stop Lure Co. came along in 1953. Its concentrated liquid lure smelled like apples and was popular among hunters for decades.

As trophy hunting for big bucks became popular, lure manufacturers like Buck Stop shifted emphasis from food smells and masking scents to scents that played on a dominant, mature buck's sex drive during the fall rutting period.

Deer rely on three senses: sight, hearing and smell. To tag a big buck, you'd better trick at least two of those senses, and one must be smell. A hunter can deceive a deer's hearing and sight by keeping quiet and still in a tree stand, but its keen nose is harder to fool.

Ron Bice with Wildlife Research Center, a company that makes hunting scents, says not contaminating a scent with foreign odor, such as your human scent, increases the odds of success.

Everything from dirt and pine scent to fox and raccoon urine has been used to mask human scent.

The most disciplined hunters keep their hunting clothes in airtight containers. They don't put them on until they're in the hunting area — away from gas stations, homes and restaurants, where clothes can pick up smells that may alert a deer.

Today, special laundry soaps without perfumed additives or UV brighteners keep duds as scent-free as possible. And some clothes have carbon or silver fibers designed to block or prevent formulation of stinky human sweat. Neutralizing sprays, such as Wildlife Research Center's odorless Scent Killer, can be applied to gear, boots and other outer garments before entering the woods.

Influence the outcome

One way to ratchet up your success ratio is to always try to be downwind from a buck's likely approach, then artfully use lures such as estrus doe urine to influence that approach.

The market for estrus doe urine — urine collected from a sexually receptive female deer — is loaded with premium products.

One common refrain is, "No fillers, added scents or hormones."

For example, Code Blue's Standing Estrous is collected during the 36-hour window when a doe is fully receptive to a buck breeding with her, said company spokesman Mike Mattly.

"We actually bring in a buck to test the doe, to ensure she is at peak estrus," he said. This is the highest of the high-end stuff, selling for $34.99 per 1½ ounces.

Wildlife Research Center makes Special Golden Estrus, a doe urine product it promotes with a 100 percent money-back guarantee.

Buck Stop's 200 Proof and X-Cel are similarly collected at the peak of the estrus cycle.

Pete Rickard's new Bucks Gone Wild mixes estrus doe urine with urine from a competitive, but not necessarily dominant, buck. The goal is to fool a buck into thinking another dude is moving in on his territory. Buck scents also include lures crafted from the smelly tarsal glands on a buck's hind legs.

Working to cover all bases in one bottle is Buck Stop's new Five, a potion featuring rutting buck and doe-in-heat urine, a "calming agent," a curiosity scent and a final "secret ingredient."

Scent dispersion in the immediate hunting area is an art unto itself. For example, hunters can hang a loaded Magnum Scrape-Dripper (sold by Wildlife Research Center) over a scrape — made by deer or man. Scrapes are territorial markers deer frequently check during the rut. Activated by the sun's warmth, the dripper releases scent and conditions deer to visit the scrape during hunting hours.

Code Blue's Drop Time scent dispenser is battery-powered and can be set to deliver scent at time intervals you choose. The company also makes a new PST Whitetail Doe Estrous aerosol that allows a hunter to disperse a canister all at once, flooding the area with molecules, or to retain the canister and release a burst of scent when a buck appears but hangs out of range.

"That dispersion of fresh scent can pull them in," Code Blue's Mattly said.

Just make sure you're upwind of the canister.

Code Blue's battery-operated Temptation Electronic Scent Warmer device heats deer urine to 100 degrees, better releasing molecules and, apparently, making it smell fresh to wandering bucks, which can help on cold days when wicks or rags laced with scent can freeze.

"You can definitely improve the performance of your preferred lures by making sure to use the right scent at the right time of the season," Wildlife Research Center's Bice said. "Early season, a curiosity or food-type scent will work best. Territorial type scents, which are usually a smell from the animal you're hunting, such as urines, etc., will work great from mid-October up to the two-week period before peak breeding. That's when you pull out the stops and use the estrus-type scents."

Bice touts his company's Trail's End 307 as a great early-season lure that works through the rut and Special Golden Estrus from two weeks prior to peak breeding through the end of the season.

Some deer-lure concoctions may make it seem like mad scientists are at work on deer farms, but personal experience proves elixirs can influence deer behavior.

———

Ken Perrotte is a freelance writer in King George, Va.

Tips of the trade

• Position scent in more than one location away from your stand. Pay attention to wind direction and thermal conditions to minimize contamination with human smell. In the morning, air typically warms and rises; evening air is cooling and settling. Anticipate deer travel routes to and from bedding and feeding areas and try to ensure they will intercept a whiff of the scent as they move.

• Bucks move during the late pre-rut, looking for does to come into heat. Find a tree of decent diameter that is being rubbed to shreds in early October. A mature buck is likely shredding that tree. Bucks usually check or approach scrapes from downwind. Position scents upwind to catch a buck's nose.

Web sites to check out

• http://www.buckstopscents.com">Buck Stop Lure Co.

• http://www.codebluescents.com">Code Blue

• http://www.peterickard.com">Pete Rickard

• http://www.wildlife.com">Wildlife Research Center

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