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Hunting Whitetail

How To Use Estrous Scent Successfully

by Mike Marsh   |  November 10th, 2011 4

While participating in a management hunt, a friend and I scouted a promising place. Deer tracks led from thick cover to an agricultural field, crossing a long, curvy farm-equipment access trail.

Now that we had found a spot with deer sign, the hardest part of the hunt should have been picking the right deer trail to watch. However, chances were great that any deer we saw would only be visible for a moment as it crossed the road because the vegetation was higher than a deer. Another complication was that there were dozens of trails. Using tree stands was not possible, so I carried a short stepladder to provide enough eye height to see over the cover.

It was obvious that deer would cross the equipment trail somewhere. I gave my friend first pick of the places we found. He sat in a folding stool downwind a couple of trails. But it was a big gamble.

“Do you want some estrous scent?” I asked. “It will bring the deer into the open, close enough for an easy shot.”

The hunt required short-range weapons. Since neither of us would be able to see far, short-range weapons were no handicap. The problem would simply be seeing a deer. When my friend declined the estrous scent, I shrugged and walked away.

I wore knee-high rubber boots to tame human odor. When I was 200 yards away from my pal’s position, I removed my backpack, set it on the ground and pulled out a dishwasher-cleaned peanut butter jar.

Inside the peanut butter jar were three sandwich bags. One held sterile cotton swabs, the second held latex gloves, and the third held an unopened bottle of estrous scent.

After slipping on the latex gloves, I opened the remaining two bags and pinched several Q-tips between my fingers joints. I unscrewed the bottle of scent and returned the bottle cap to the jar, screwing the lid tightly so the urine odor would not permeate my backpack.

I daubed scent on my boots and walked the upwind side of the road, daubing scent onto vegetation every few feet for 250 yards. Then I set up my stepladder. Before taking a seat, I sloshed my boots free of scent in a ditch.

I had been sitting 15 minutes when a fork-horn buck walked out of the brush on the downwind side of the road 70 yards away. He walked across to sniff a leaf glistening with doe-in-heat urine then followed the scent trail. The shot that downed the buck was taken at 30 yards. By prearranged signal, I used a crow call to communicate with my pal and he arrived to help me drag the deer onto the trail.

When he asked if I had any more estrous scent, the answer was no. I had offered, but he had declined. I had used the entire bottle. What’s the cost of a $10 bottle of estrous scent when compared to the cost of participating in a limited-entry hunt?

Before that afternoon hunt was over, a veritable parade of deer — bucks, does and fawns — followed the scent trail, while my pal returned to his post and saw nothing. Most of the deer came within 20 yards before they detected my presence. I had another tag, but kept holding out for a big-racked deer monster that never showed.

To most hunters the number of deer I saw would have seemed impressive. But once a scent-savvy hunter begins thinking logically about how he uses estrous scents, he gets used to seeing deer by the dozen.

Of course, I can read. I knew the bottle said to use small amounts of scent in cotton filled canisters to create “scent bombs” and not to place scent on your person. It also said to place scent posts where you watch them. But deer can’t read. For more than two decades I’ve used bottles of estrous scents by thinking “outside the box.” I’ve also used gels, aerosols, wafers and other ways of delivering doe-in-heat urine. While they’ve all worked, it’s how I’ve used them that made them so effective.

Estrous scent label directions are correct that control of human scent is the most important aspect of using any deer-attracting scent. The second most important thing is wind direction, but some labels show using scents with the wrong wind orientation. You want the deer to detect the scent, but not your scent. I’ve had a few bucks through caution to the wind, even after they’ve caught my human odor from an errant drop of sweat on a hot day. Several bucks have snorted alarm, most likely to warn what they thought was a hot doe they were scenting, yet still stuck around too long to ensure their longevity. But a buck that allows his reproductive imperative to override his olfactory sense when it comes to self-preservation is the exception, not the rule.

Estrous scent trails should be positioned with the wind carrying the scent from left to right or right to left, not with the hunter sitting upwind or downwind of the scent, as some labels show. If the hunter sits upwind, he will probably be detected along with the scent. Seldom is sitting directly downwind from scent effective because if the buck walks between you and the scent post, you would have seen him anyway. If you are downwind, but the buck is further downwind, he will also most likely detect your scent.

I use estrous scents anytime during hunting season, under the theory that deer are curious about other deer with which they have not had contact. Estrous scents will attract yearlings, does and bucks.

Doe response runs from a defensive attitude from a dominant doe, to a posture of contentment from a subordinate doe. A doe that comes to an estrous scent may lure a buck into the open to follow her, especially if he detects the estrous scent along with the real doe as a visual cue.

Laying down an estrous scent trail can bring deer into view anywhere. The tactic even works for hunting from permanent stands and blinds.

While hunting from a permanent stand, the hunter can lay down an estrous scent trail beginning at an active scrape. A cotton swab is used to daub scent onto the licking branch overhanging the scrape and scent is dripped into the scrape. Then a trail is made that will bring the buck into view and a generous amount of scent is placed at the best spot for taking a shot. A buck that follows the trail often dawdles over the larger scent pool, looking for the doe that made it. This imitates the actual behavior of a doe in estrous, which puts him off-guard. He may suddenly realize he is in view of a permanent stand he has known about for several seasons. But by the time he realizes his mistake and leaps for cover, it will be too late if the hunter has remained on high alert, through his confidence in estrous scents.

  • xxxxx

    really need a crow call ?He didnt hear the shot?

    • Dee

      He has a bow in his hand not to mention it's was a short range weapons hunt…

  • darin

    The best way to harvest a deer is hunt the wind. All the other stuff is hit and miss and meant to separate you from your money.

  • Soljerblue

    Thanks for the article, Mije — I learned something.

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