In order to beat the whitetail deer you’ve got to have an edge. They’re out there, in the woods 24/7. They are intimately familiar with their surroundings and well equipped for survival with their keen eyes, ears and noses. And it’s that nose, more than anything, that will signal your presence more often than not. Fortunately, there are ways to counter that factor.
Cover scents are used to mask human odors with naturally occurring aromas. The most common are vegetation scents, like pine, cedar and fir. The key is using a scent that occurs in the area you hunt, so it isn’t foreign to the deer. You can buy bottled scents or use the real thing. When hunting around home, I store my bowhunting clothing in an airtight container with a few fresh fir boughs.
Earth is another common cover scent. Yes, you can actually buy bottles of earth scent, or scent-impregnated wafers. You can also throw a little fresh dirt in your clothing bag.
Some folks use animal scents, like fox or raccoon urine. I used to use skunk. It’s powerful enough to mask some human odor, but also tends to put deer on alert. It also makes me very unpopular at home.
In addition to masking your own odor, you can also use scents to attract deer. Food-based attractants use natural or synthetic extracts of things like acorns, apples, corn, persimmons and other preferred deer foods.
Because they’re not actual food, these scents are not considered bait. They merely simulate the presence of food. Deer attracted by these aromas will also be looking for visual clues, like actual food, so they likely won’t hang around long. But it just might be long enough to draw them out of cover and into bow or gun range.
The most common attractants are deer scents, and they can be both glandular and urine-based. Glandular scents typically contain extracts or synthetic imitations of odors produced by one or more of a deer’s scent glands.
The most common of these glandular scents are from the tarsal or interdigital glands. You can purchase commercial bottled liquids or gels, or use the real thing.
When I can get my hands on a freshly killed deer, I’ll cut off the tarsal glands and tie them on a length of cord. I drag them behind me when walking to my stand, and hang them on a nearby branch while sitting.
By far the most common and popular type of deer attractants are urine-based scents, and you have plenty to choose from. You can get plain buck or doe urine, or a mixture of the two. Blends also may contain both urine and glandular scents.
You can use regular buck or doe urine throughout the season to simulate the recent presence of a deer. Deer are social animals, so it is presumed the scent of others of their kind will attract them, or at least put them at ease.
Without a doubt the most popular scents are the estrous doe scents. Scent companies advise that these are most effective just before, during and after the rut.
And they suggest you not use them too early, as it could confound things and actually work against you.
Scents have come under greater scrutiny recently from folks concerned they may somehow play a role in the spread of diseases like CWD (chronic wasting disease). But each year, millions of gallons of urine-based scent attractants are poured on the ground, sprayed on vegetation or applied to saturated scent wicks.
The scientific community has yet to find a single shred of empirical evidence connecting the use of urine-based scents and the spread of CWD. If you’re concerned, however, several companies make synthetic scents designed to mimic the real thing.
Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at: