Whitetails nose knows good, bad scents

Published 1:14 pm Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Outdoors Columnist
The nose of the whitetail deer is probably responsible for more deer hunters failing to bring home the venison than any other factor. It's true they have an excellent hearing ability and decent eyesight, but a buck's nose is his equivalent to the U.S. Radar Defense System.
How many times have you heard that disappointing "alarm snort" when going to or from your stand. Most of the commercial cover scents will at least provide some suppression of human odor, but many believe a dusting of baking soda after a good shower with non-scented soap is just as affective.
As deer hunters we concentrate our efforts primarily on cover scents that mask our own scent, or attractant scents that appeal to the love-making thoughts of the dominant buck. But many are overlooking another option that can be added to their little bag of "good smell tricks" that can be very productive during the rut.
A "challenge scent" used correctly can bring the dominant buck on the run to a hunter just as a whiff of human scent can make disappear. Like many of our big game animals, deer are very territorial, and there is no time of the year when bucks are more territorial than during the rut.
The dominant buck is familiar with the smell of other bucks that live in his territory. Since most of these bucks are younger or bucks he has already defeated in a battle that established him as the boss, he doesn't get upset when he gets a whiff of one of these familiar deer.
Dominant bucks begin marking their territory during the pre-rut by making rubs on trees that says in buck language "Keep Out – My Territory". It is at this stage the dominant buck gets more aggressive towards any intruder buck that enters his territory. Breeding has not usually begun at this stage, but lines are being drawn.
It is at this stage the challenge scents begin to become effective. Some hunters make their own challenge scents by combining tarsal glands and buck urine. Several of the large deer scent suppliers offer challenge scents ready to use.
While the dominant buck doesn't like intruding bucks during the pre-rut, he gets down right fighting mad when the rut begins and he thinks another buck is stealing his girlfriends. Once scrapes are actually being made and does start breeding, the challenge scent combined with a little doe-in-estrus scent applied to a scrape can be the trick that puts a wall hanger in your den.
Dominant bucks do loose some of their natural caution during the rut while they are busy hunting does and running off intruder bucks, but they are nobody's fools. Proper camouflage, good hygiene, avoiding aftershave and perfume, airing hunting clothes outside before putting them on, stand location, stealth and a good challenge scent all combined together just may be the trick that makes a visit to the taxidermist necessary.

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