Pick up just about any magazine pertaining to deer hunting and I'll bet you're going to find numerous advertisements promoting deer scents or lures. Most of them have great ad campaigns with all of them promising just about everything that you will want to hear for bringing in big deer. However, do these products really work?
Many successful hunters swear by mock scrapes treated with different scents or just using the scents alone to attract deer. Somewhat arbitrarily, I personally had decided long ago these products were probably more akin to the proverbial snake oil and were just not for me. However, my use of these types of products was destined to change. Over the past few years we have been doing a great deal of research at the Institute for White-tailed Deer Management and Research using infrared-triggered cameras to count deer. Initially, we used bait to attract deer to the cameras.
Unfortunately, very attractive baits like corn also tend to bring in a host of non-target animals that also like corn. The first few pictures of coons or hogs are fun, but numerous rolls of film burned on these bait stealers gets a little old. It was then that we hit upon the idea of using scent lures to attract deer while hopefully eliminating most photographs of other animals. I admit I was skeptical at first, but eventually I found that I might have to rethink some of my prior assumptions about scent lures. These products really can work. However, they may not work exactly as some advertisements want yo to believe. Let me describe a couple of our studies using scents and I'll explain what I think the results mean. In the first study, we used five different treatments:
1. Mock scrapes without any scents, 2. Mock scrapes with rutting buck scent, 3. Mock scrapes with estrous doe scent, 4. Rutting buck scent without a mock scrape, and 5. Estrous doe scent without a mock scrape.
The mock scrape by itself was solely a visual cue for the deer to find. The scents used without mock scrapes provided a simple olfactory cue. Scrapes combined with scents provided both visual and olfactory cues for the deer to home in on. Keep in mind this was not a test between manufacturer's products.
For the scents I simply went to the store and bought the first brand where there was enough quantity to complete the study without changing lots. I operated infrared-triggered cameras over the treatments for two weeks in late October during the pre-rut stage of the breeding season. The time frame is important because the pre-rut is when natural scraping behavior is most prevalent in whitetails. There were five camera stations for each of the five treatments, for a total of twenty-five stations. Results of this study showed we definitely could attract deer to mock scrapes. Some of the visitors were does and fawns, but the majority were bucks of all ages.
Unfortunately, our study showed that once a buck visited a mock scrape or scent station, they didn't develop any fidelity to that spot. There was only ne buck that revisited the same mock scrape, and it took him five days to do it. Only one buck visited more than one of the mock scrapes although there were twenty-five scattered over about four thousand acres. Also, only one buck stayed at a mock scrape long enough to have consecutive photos that were one minute apart. Also, as with the saying in the real estate market, location, location, location!
The same applies to the use of mock scrapes. Some of my setups I considered surefire places where I couldn't moss bringing in deer. However, after several days of no use at the mock scrape even though other deer sign was in the area, I moved the scrape only a few feet to the other side of the tree. The next day I started getting pictures. This taught me placement of mock scrapes and scents must fit naturally into the deer's world. You are not going to change their normal movement patterns very much at all.
Realistically, what this tells me is you're probably not going to lure in a deer that wasn't already coming by. However, if a buck does come by, you can make him stop. Maybe more importantly, you can make him stop where you want him to. However, you better be awake and you better be ready, because he's not likely to be there very long and if he gets away your chances of ever getting him to come back may not be very good.
Also, combinations are the key to success. Although some deer were photographed at everything I tried, including the mock scrapes without scents, the best results were obtained when a mock scrape was combined with a scent. We all know the sense of smell is critical to deer. During the breeding season, bucks use their sense of smell to determine what other bucks may be rivaling for her attention. In fact, deer have been described as a 100 pound plus nose walking around smelling everything.
When I combined the visual cue of a mock scrape with an olfactory cue o a scent, I had a much better chance of having a deer stop and investigate. These results led to a second study where I wanted to get a sense of deer were attracted sexually to the scent or if it was simply curiosity of a strange, new smell. Now before I go any further, how many of you carry a bottle with yo to your deer stand's and I don't mean a whisky bottle either. I mean an empty bottle to use because you feel the smell of human urine might scare deer away form the area.
Well, human urine was one of our treatments in the second study. Because the first study showed better success combining scrapes with scents, I dispensed with using scents alone. Treatments for this study included mock scrapes with rutting buck scent, mock scrapes with estrous doe scent, and mock scrapes with human urine. Interestingly, I photographed just as many bucks on mock scrapes with human urine as I did on mock scrapes with store bought deer urine.
Also, the age and antler quality of bucks was no different between the scents. There was no indication at all that human urine in the scrapes scared anything away. So much for that old wive's tale, huh? We are currently researching other scents to determine their attractiveness to deer. In the meantime, I still contend commercial deer scents are not arousing the animals and luring them from unknown places. I believe it is more of a curiosity behavior of the animals investigating andy strange and non-threatening smell that occurs in their environment. While deer scents may not work in the way we want to believe, they can attract animals that come within range of the scent.
As long as the animals do not have to alter their movement a great deal to investigate, there is a chance of bringing a deer to a particular spot. Don't be oversold on what deer scents can do. But, in the same line, don't be afraid to try something new. Even if you put out scents and they don't work for you, I don't believe you will have harmed your hunting situation in any way.