Stinking it up

Masking scents and lures should be part of every deer hunter’s bag of tricks.

Passing up a few does during the Area 7 still and early muzzleloader hunts, and later missing a respectable 6-point during the late muzzleloader season, I began second-guessing myself. After all, the freezer was getting pretty bare, and a deer in hand is worth… Well, you get the idea.

The good news was there was still a lot of season left, but with the peak of the rut basically over and what was left of it on the wane… Well, again, you get the idea.

There was no doubt I’d have to bear down and raise my game a notch or two if I was going to turn things around. This was precisely why I happened to be on a between-season excursion the weekend prior to the last split.

I was looking for some out-of-the way location off the beaten path on our lease near Burns Point, down Bayou Sale, south of Franklin. Moreover, I was hoping I might find some overlooked sign that the others hunters in our club might have missed.

What happened next astounded me. While sneaking through some low underbrush with my face to the wind, I peaked through some thick myrtles just in time to get the gist of a conversation.

“They stink, I tell you. The S@#!O$X%B#!s stink!” a nice wide 8-point buck was saying to the 10-point next to him.

I was shocked to first find out that deer conversed in this manner. These weren’t grunts and bleats. But second, to find out they used this kind of language.

All I could figure was they must have heard it from somewhere. Most likely, from a guy who missed a shot at them.

The 10-pointer, clearly the more experienced of the two, replied, “Bro, that ain’t nothin’. Last year, this big-bellied hunter walked right past me. It wasn’t nothin’ pretty, I mean to tell you. I don’t know what he ate for breakfast, but I’m telling you — he stunk up the place something fierce. Poo-yee-yi.”

The 10-point was barely finished when the 10-point said, “It’s one thing to have to share the woods with hogs, but have you ever smelled a hunter who actually ate one? Good gawd, humans are nasty.”

To say the least, I was insulted, embarrassed, and downright mad at these two rogues. I wanted to slap their pasty-faced whitetails clear into next year’s Buckmasters Extravaganza, but knew as an outdoor writer, I’d suffer through an ethics violation for harvesting deer out of season.

Once I regained my composure, and my common sense prevailed, I decided to pull out all the stops and attempt to beat them at their own game. I’d give them a whiff of their own medicine.

Having mixed results over the years using deer cover scents, attracting lures and urines, I contacted some of the experts to get their take on the finer points concerning use of these products. After all, extreme circumstances call for extreme measures.

Hunting in Louisiana can find you slapping mosquitoes in miserable heat on day only to leave you shivering the next. Deer movement and the rut often hinge on these extremes.

Urines and lures can turn to ammonia (alkali gas) or become contaminated with bacteria. Therefore, how you handle them and the weather you expose them to play a crucial role in how effective they are.

“You got to be careful,” says Keith Ainsley of Doc’s Deer Products. “We double seal under our cap, as bacteria coupled with air and heat is what breaks urine down. When deer urinate on their hock glands, they produce different chemical compositions before and after the rut. In hot weather, it is tricky. Urines change to ammonia, and they dissipate, thus making them less effective. With urine, the fresher the scent, the purer the scent, the more effective it’s going to work.”

Now I was getting somewhere. Clearly, some of my past failures I could attribute to not properly handling these products. But I had had my successes too.

Once, while bow hunting in the snow, in another life outside the Sportsman’s Paradise, I had applied a little fox urine to my boots. For over a hundred yards, I watched a doe sniff every one of my boot tracks all the way up to my stand. Her curiosity got the best of her, without a doubt.

On another occasion, I used medicine bottles to hold cotton balls I doused really well with doe pee. Using a string, I tied them to tree limbs and other brush about 6 feet off the ground. Setting them strategically around my stand, 30 yards or so away, I attempted to use the light wind currents coming off the bay to my advantage.

It worked, or at least seemed to, as five does came underneath my tree. One actually stood up on her hind legs, testing the contents of the bottle fixed in one of the trees. Even though it was a doe day, I passed on all of them in hopes of taking a nice buck.

Ron Bice of Wildlife Research Center said lures can be effective at any time during the hunting season.

“Curiosity scents used outside the rut basically are not a food lure, but still truly have an appeal,” he said. “Deer are very curious. Using a urine or musk lets them know a strange buck has been introduced into their territory.

“Since deer generally know the other deer in their area, when they encounter another deer scent, they move in just to check it out.”

One of the tactics Bice employs is laying down a scent trail.

“I recommend applying scent to a drag or whatever you’re going to leave a trail with,” he said. “It could be a rag or Wildlife Research’s Pro-drag.

“Take a length of string and tie the drag onto the end of a stick. Using the stick, you can lay down the scent trail while you stay off to the side three or four feet away. As you lay the trail, he won’t smell your scent.

“Whatever you do, don’t let yourself be a human scent wick. Lay down a scent trail.”

All manufacturers recommend never applying scents or urine to your clothing or boots for good reason. Berwick resident Jerry Gauthier tells a story where a black bear attacked the bag that held the scent he was using to attract deer.

“While I was in my stand, a bear came charging out of the brush and attacked the bag I left at the base of the tree I was in,” he said. “After ripping it to shreds, he took off. That was pretty cool.”

Ainsley says deer down in Louisiana tend to be more cautious and more nervous than other locations.

“Maybe it’s because more hunting pressure is on them,” he said. “What I tell people is to use scent like cologne. More is not better. Don’t overpower what you’re trying to catch. Use a little less, then pay a little more attention to wind currents. A little less makes a little more and adds curiosity. Get them coming in curious, not nervous. When they are raging in rut, you can use a little more.”

A subtle scent will attract deer moving in a certain area.

“Obviously deer move no matter what,” Bice said. “They move to eat, procreate, drink; therefore, a scent will have a draw. Deer find each other with their noses. What’s key is it doesn’t really matter about what the temperature is. Deer may hold up a bit, but sooner or later they are going to move. They still have to do what deer do.”

Now I was armed with some thoughts and tactics that I knew would help provide the whiff I was looking for in getting even with the big 8- and 10-point bucks. But, something was missing. What about cover scents and scent elimination?

According to Bice, earth scent is probably the most common in use out there, but it doesn’t necessarily work in our swamps and marshes. I used the earth cover scent and twice was busted by big bucks while hunting the coastline. I deduced that earth may smell like earth in a midwestern farm field, but marsh doesn’t smell anything like earth.

“A lot of times when use of cover scents is negative, it is a human scent encountered at the same time you were utilizing the scent,” Bice said. “But I do believe you should use a masking scent conducive to your area. Scents utilized in the right place, in the right environment, and at the right time work. If you have coon or fox in your area, coon urine or fox urine on your boots works well.

“Hunters who don’t use scents are missing out on some fun experiences in their own hunts. Do they work every time? No, but it becomes part of a bag of tricks.”

Ainsley is adamant when it comes to using scents.

“You can use all of the sprays and scent blocks you want,” Ainsley says. “Take a piece of your scent-eliminated clothing, and give it to a blood hound, and he will follow you right up to your tree. A deer’s sense of smell is as good or better. Hang a piece of scent-blocked clean clothing in a tree, and it will spook deer. Hang it on a tree for a couple of weeks, and they will get used to it. The biggest mistake people make is improperly using scents.”

With my bag full of fragrant-ungulate-monarch-extreme-secret (FUMES) tricks that I received from these experts, I can now work on settling my score with the two hunt-wrecking rogues. Because the next time I see those pasty-faced whitetails… Well, I think you get the idea!