Secrets for Bowhunters -
Using Scent to Funnel Deer to your Stand

By The Field Logic Pro Staff

Imagine we’re sitting in a tree with bowhunter Dave Kramber, keeping our movements to a minimum and being careful not to make a sound. It’s open terrain, and we spot a flicker a long ways off, maybe 300 yards, maybe more.

Squint hard and the vague shape of a whitetail deer appears. Antlers, too, you think! You feel the rush of excitement, but he’s a long ways off, and why should he come our way? He lives in these woods, and in addition to his eyes and ears, an unseen force carries a constant supply of information to his nose, which may be his biggest ally of all.

Dave grunts to him, and he looks our direction. But he doesn’t move right away, and if you were looking through a spotting scope, you would see his nostrils sifting the air, checking to make sure everything is the way it should be. Then, slowly—at the pace of an animal who has nothing better to do than survive until tomorrow—he begins to work his way toward our position.

Several times, Dave works the grunt call, and it helps. It turns him generally in our direction. The deer, in fact, is coming in! But we aren’t going to get a shot, because his path is going to bring him past us at about 40 yards, and he’s sticking tight to the only thick cover available.

Then, things turn in our favor. The buck hits a scent trial that Dave laid down earlier, using Trail-Bait. He stops dead and turns and follows the scent, into the open. He comes, nose down in the scent trail, to where Dave places his arrow right on the money, at 11 paces.

This is the kind of ending you don’t often get to write to an encounter with a whitetail buck during the archery season. In most parts of the country, bowhunting opens well before the rut, making traditional scents ineffective.

In fact, most hunters don’t realize that using sexual-based scents too early will not only chase away does and lesser bucks, but can also run off mature deer if the timing isn’t just right.

The challenge—and it’s a big one—is to influence animals in your direction, to funnel deer movement that would otherwise be more random, toward your stand. In it’s most artful form, the use of scents can actually help you position a deer to allow you to draw the bow, and make a high-percentage shot. You don’t have to rely on luck to get a whitetail with your bow. Scents can really help, but you have to learn to use the right scent at the right time. Here are the secrets to choosing the right scent, and using it correctly.

Timing: The Secret To Success With Scents

One of the biggest mistakes made by archery hunters is to use sexual-based lures too early. *Buck-In-Rut (dominant buck urine) is best used during the pre-rut, when bucks are marking their territories with scrapes and rubs. Using this type of a product too early will not only chase away does and lesser bucks, but can even run off mature deer!

*Pure-Heat (doe-in-heat urine) is most effective during the actual rut. It can also actually hurt your chances of scoring if used too early.

Why? For one thing, you want does to come your direction while you’re bowhunting. Bucks are often nearby, often slipping along secondary trails, paralleling the doe’s movements. If a herd of does picks up the scent of a doe in heat, it will vacate the area. Does that are not in heat learn to avoid the aggressive "attention" of bucks that comes to the one that is in heat.

And what about bucks?

Except for the brief period of the rutting season (when they actively seek does to mate with), realize that big bucks are very reclusive animals. Until that testosterone flows in them, bucks make the Unabomber look like a socialite. They won’t magically gain rutting behavior just because you introduce the scent of a doe in heat into the surroundings.

Whitetails are amazingly "tuned in" to the scents of their environment. You might think , "How can it hurt to put the scent of a doe in heat into the area?" You might get lucky, and a buck that’s not rutting might react positively to a product like Pure-Heat. You might win the lottery, too. But more often than not, even the most dominant buck won’t get his buttons pushed by the scent a doe in heat, until his instincts (and hormones) tell him the time is right. Again, influencing deer movement with scents is all about playing the percentages—all about using the right scent at the right time.

Choosing The Right Scent For Early Bowhunting

During the early season (roughly from September through early October in most parts of America), bowhunters should appeal to the whitetail’s most basic instincts: Security, curiosity, and hunger. General attractants are what you want to use. They usually include at least a couple of these "trigger" items. Trail-Bait, which has been called the "bowhunter’s secret weapon," has all three.

Using The Scent Properly

Many bowhunters may be surprised to learn that a general attractant like Trail-Bait can be used to not only bring a deer in close, but to position it for the optimum archery shot!

Here’s how to do it. We’ll use on example, and you’ll see how to adapt it to any type of terrain. Let’s say you know of a thick holding area (the classic in many areas is the wooded swamp) near a good feeding area (like a corn or other crop field). You know the deer trade back and forth between the two areas, but in scouting, you might find 5-8 different trails they use at different times.

Obviously, you can’t be sitting on every trail at the same time. So you might pick a stand location somewhere in the middle, and lay down a scent trail that will help funnel deer right past you, no matter which trail they start out on. You’ll use a food pad or drag (both available from sporting goods stores). First, slip quietly down toward the swamp from the open area. Notice which way the wind is blowing, so you can bring the deer to you on the upwind side. Begin at one "end" of the thick cover. Apply Trail-Bait to the pad, and lay down a scent trail that cuts across the various deer trails and angles up, out of the cover, to the upwind side of you stand. Add scent to the food pad or drag occasionally, increasing the amount as you get closer to your stand.

Go over to the other "side" of the thick cover and do the same thing. Now, you have two scent trails, both of which cut across a number of deer trails leading out of the swamp toward the food plot. Your scent trails are set so that you will be sitting downwind of any deer that follows them.

You have increased your chances of steering deer in your direction.

To finish setting the trail, squirt a concentration of the scent onto a tree or other brush that will serve to stop and position the deer for a shot. Pick a spot that, should the deer pause to sniff this concentration of scent, it will be in a clear shooting lane and facing away from you. This is a proven tactic! It turns the deer, so you can draw your bow. And, it positions the deer so you can make a high-percentage shot.

In the day-to-day struggle to survive, the whitetail deer’s nose may be its most protective armor. You don’t want to confuse it. You want to soothe it. Give the nose what it expects. Whether you’re after a buck or a doe, the right scent at the right time can put more animals in your shooting lane.

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