October 24, 2010

Hunting: Let common sense guide the use of scents


Light was fading fast on what appeared would be another deerless afternoon.

Warm temperatures, high winds and some questionable practices on the part of my Illinois outfitter had conspired to produce a miserably unproductive hunt to that point.

I'd just changed stand locations and didn't expect the new one would be much better, especially when I noticed the timed scent dispenser hanging 25 yards away.

My skepticism vanished, however, when I caught a sudden movement in the stream bottom below. Deer! Hefting binoculars, I saw it was a doe, not my preferred option, but would make a nice consolation prize if she came within range.

I watched as she crossed the bottom, made a sudden 90-degree turn and walked straight to the scent dispenser. First she nosed the canister, then investigated the mock scrape underneath it for several minutes before sniffing and licking the overhanging branches. Satisfied with whatever she'd found, the relaxed deer made her way casually up the hill, unfortunately (for me, not her) just out of bow range.

It was a pleasant and somewhat unexpected surprise. I'd inherited the stand site from Mike Mattly, public relations manager for Pradco Hunting Division, makers of Code Blue scents, among other things. Mattly hunted it the previous afternoon and morning, and generously bequeathed it to me after seeing two nice bucks. I wasn't particularly pleased when I initially learned the stand had been "salted" with deer scent.

In theory, it should have worked in my favor, but when it comes to using scents, I tend to be very skeptical.

I also sort of go through phases based on whether my most recent experience was positive or negative. I've had several instances where using scents cost me a shot opportunity.

In one case, a big rutting buck was chasing a doe right to me. When she hit the scent trail I'd laid down, she slammed on the brakes. He hung up in the brush, then they both bolted back from whence they came. I've watched several other bucks bolt with tail between their legs upon encountering scent I'd laid out.

I've also had positive encounters. In a single morning in Kansas, I had three shooter bucks hit my scent trail, turn 90 degrees and walk directly to me. Why I allowed three shooters to walk within bow range is another story for another time.

As my most recent encounters have been either negative or neutral, I had sort of sworn off scents, until Mattly forced my hand. Now the pendulum has swung back the other way.

Scents, like calls, do work, when applied with a liberal dose of common sense.

Quality counts. With scents, as with most everything in life, you get what you pay for. Most companies keep their scent collection and/or preparation techniques secret, but they run the gamut.

On one end is something like Code Blue. The contents of each bottle are collected under laboratory conditions from a single deer. At the other end, I've heard unconfirmed rumors of one scent producer that collects and bottles yellow snow from deer wintering areas. I can't imagine much worse conditions for product degradation.

Freshness also influences effectiveness. Even the best quality scents will degrade over time. How fast that happens depends on several things, including quality and how you store them. Exposure to air and sunlight speeds the process.

In general, a bottle is good for one season. You may save money by storing your unused scents from one season to the next, but it could cost you a good buck.

Be meticulous. Controlling human odor is no less important when using scents. In fact, it's probably more important because you're stimulating the deer's already super-keen sense of smell into hyper-drive. Scents can sometimes give you an edge, but they won't make up for what you lack in woodsmanship.

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