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Whitetail Deer Scents and Lures Part 1

by Darrin Bradley

During my days as a novice whitetail hunter, I experimented with a variety of hunting products. I didn’t question the validity of the products. I simply believed all the whitetail product line propoganda and invested accordingly. One afternoon many years ago, I traveled to a local deer show and faithfully purchased $180.00 worth of commercial scents. One of the products I purchased was corn scent. This particular product claimed if I would apply a generous amount of the scent to my boots deer would not be able to detect me by scent. The product further claimed the corn scent would attract monster whitetail bucks. On several outings, I applied the “magic” corn scent as directed. The result was nil. On one particular evening I was positioned high atop an oak tree overlooking a cornfield. I applied the corn scent in an attempt to lure in a big buck. At that moment, the realization hit me. If the 30 acre cornfield beneath me wasn’t enough to lure in a big buck, certainly a few drops of corn scent wasn’t going to do the trick . I had been taken. I poured the corn scent down the kitchen sink when I returned home that evening. I opened a can of corn, from the kitchen cabinet and poured the juice from the canned corn into the empty scent bottle. I gave the bottle of bogus corn scent to my companion, prior to the evening hunt on the following day, as a gift. “This scent is amazing. Apply it to your boots, and the whitetails will come a-runnin,” I stated, desperately trying to fight back a smile. He applied the scent, generously, to his boots. I placed him in my best stand location. Upon meeting him at dark, he was wide eyed. He had seen many deer that evening and wholeheartedely believed it was a direct result of using the bogus corn scent. He eagerly asked where he could purchase more of the product. Feeling like a modern day carpetbagger I finally told him that the corn scent was a hoax. We had a good laugh on the way home. This humorous scenario was enough had made raise my eyebrows to the topic of commercial scents.

As a warning to the reader: The following material surrounding commercial scent usage is controversial. As stated in article one of this five part series, “I will not claim to be the greatest whitetail hunter in North America. I will not present my opinions as the one and only Gospel”. However; do yourself a favor and try to digest some of the views presented in this piece prior to passing judgement.

Cover up scents are products devised to cover up, or mask human odor in an attempt to keep deer from detecting the hunter. These products claim a deer will smell the cover up scent and not the hunter himself. Some examples of cover up scents include, fox urine, racoon urine, pine , corn , acorn , oak tree , skunk , etc. It has been estimated whitetail deer can smell up to 10,000 times better than a human being and are able to distinguish over 50 different scents at the same time. I measure my hunting abilities by keeping a record of the number of “successful” hunts and “unsuccessful” hunts I particpate in throughout the year. Over the past five years, I have not used any type of scent on 136 hunts. My “success” percentage without commercial scents is 73%. I have also recorded the outcome of hunts in which I used commercial scents, in effort to measure the effectiveness of these products.
COVERUP SCENTS (Scents used to mask human odor.)
Total Hunts Using Cover-up ScentsSuccessful Hunts Unsuccessful Hunts Success Percentage
85 53 32 72%
I was 72% successful when using cover-up scents. This study would suggest cover up scents are not useful to the hunter. My contention is, if deer can smell over 50 different scents at the same time, when a deer is walking through the timber it can smell a cow off in the distance, an acorn under his feet, a nearby cornfield, the cover up scent applied to your boots and you. It just makes sense. I have not used cover up scents for over two years. I continue to harvest mature whitetail bucks with the same ease as I did when using them. I would further suggest to you a whitetail deer can be alarmed by cover up scents which evoke danger responses. These would include predator urines and the scent of skunk. Deer avoid predators. The scent of a predator is alarming. A skunk only sprays when danger is present. Additionally, if the hunter continues to use the same cover up scent over and over, deer may associate that scent with the hunter and possibly pattern your movement in the timber.

Another type of commercial scent exists on the whitetail hunting market. Attractant scents are designed to lure deer. These include doe in heat urine, dominant buck urine, and scents of whitetail food favorites such as apples, acorns, etc. It would be hard for me to discount the effectiveness of these products as I have heard many testimonies in regard to their success. I have heard hunters swear they have seen bucks follow a scent line of doe in heat urine straight into their stand location. I have used attractant scents on 26 seperate hunts over the past five years. I have never lured a buck with attractants at any time during my hunting career. I realize this could be because I do not know how to effectively use the product. I try to follow the instructions on the package, but I continually experience dissappointment. As discussed earlier in the narrative, I define a successful hunt as viewing deer from a stand location. I have obtained the following results when using attractant scents.
ATTRACTANT SCENTS (Scent designed to lure deer.)
Total Hunts When Using Attractants Successful Hunts Unsuccessful Hunts Success Percentage
26 13 13 50%
My career success percentage for hunting is 70%. Using that career success percentage as a measurement, my studies show attractant scents have been of no use to me. Doe in heat urine claims the product will lure bucks. Wildlife biologists have proven the active molecule in doe urine that actually attracts bucks cannot be successfully packaged and dissapates from the product in less than 72 hours. With this fact out on the table, I would think it to be impossible for doe in heat urine to actually work for luring purposes. I am far less skeptical about attractant scents than cover up scents, but my studies show both types of commercial scents are not effective to the whitetail hunter.

Wipe your eyes and put up the kleenexs, for there is good news to share in regard to scent control. Modern techonology currently offers effective tools for those hunters wishing to minimizing human scent. Bacteria is the culprit which produces human odor. The object in scent reduction is to minimize the amount of bacteria we emit in the field. I have experimented with scent neutralizer products by spraying dirty socks, old hats, and even dirty ashtrays. Within minutes, the odors disappear. I am familiar with homeowners that use these same neutralizers to remove odors caused by house pet urination and defacation. Human scent neutralizers are extremely effective in minimizing human odor. Utilize them on each visit to the timber.
On your next visit to a grocery store walk to the isle which display laundry detergents. Take a deep breath. household laundry detergents produce strong odors which are foreign to the whitetail environment. Do not wash hunting clothes in household laundry detergents. You will reduce the whitetails ability to detect your prescence. Wash hunting clothes in baking soda or commercial hunting detergents. Commercial hunting detergents will kill bacteria while reducing ultra violet colors emitted from dyes. Baking soda performs niether of these two tasks.

In the early portion of the 1998 archery season, I was positioned close enough to a hunting companion that I could see him throughout the hunt. I actually viewed whitetails downwind of him which were detecting him from distances exceeding 150 yards. Following the hunt, I asked him if he had seen any deer. He replied, “No” . Deer are detecting you without your knowledge. I have often wondered how many deer detect the hunter without the hunter being aware of the act. Carbon lined clothing is a fairly new approach in minimizing human scent. Prior to using these products, I was a bit skeptical. I went to the trouble of contacting a labratory regarding the subject. The concept behind the product is based upon the idea that the carbon will absorb human odors prior to their emittance into the air. After conducting a study of my own, I discovered I increased my odds of success in the timber by a whopping 22% when using carbon lined clothing. The 22% increase of success when wearing carbon lined clothing is of vital importance. According to my studies, this increase in success is higher than the increases in success associated with some environmental factors. I consider carbon lined clothing the most important tool for whitetail hunting outside of my weapon itself.

In conclusion, one must implement some type of strategy to handicapp the whitetail’s sense of smell. To a whitetail deer, you stink, and you must do something about it to consistently harvest trophy whitetail bucks.

Darrin Bradley

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