Proper Call and Scent Usage for Big Bucks
A mature whitetail buck is a pretty calm, confident animal. Low-keyed in the shadows, big bucks use instinct and the experience of past seasons to stay out of sight. Just food, water and a comfortable bed – that’s all it takes to satisfy a big buck.
Until Fall Comes!
A mature buck in June does not resemble the same deer in November. With fall and the approaching winter comes a climax of activity. The buck that slinked in the fringes of light now trots arrogantly into the fray. Knowing what these bucks are going through physically helps the hunter use the various tools available to up the odds of success. The dates mentioned in this article are intended for the midsection of North America. Points far north and far south will need to adjust the dates earlier for up North and later for the deep South.
Bucks mostly stay together throughout the summer months. These bachelor groups can be just two that seem to hang together to four or six bucks, or even more. Come mid August, the shortening duration of daylight triggers changes in the whitetail deer’s behavior. They become less tolerant of other bucks and establish a pecking order through sparring.
In states that feature September hunts, the main focus of hunters should be food sources or trails from food sources to bedding areas. Note that at this time bucks may bed directly in or right at the edges of food sources because there’s been no hunting pressure and the summertime livin’s been easy. The first hunting pressure changes this dramatically.
The use of calls and scents is not as effective during the early season as it is later on in the year. More important is that the hunter is as scent free as possible. That means washing hunting clothes in nonscented laundry detergent and showering in a nonscented body wash prior to the hunt. With the warm weather, it’s wise to take an odor eliminating spray to the stand and use it in your hat, under the arms, around cuffs and your neck line.
Hunters can use buck urine at this time as bucks are becoming more curious about and less tolerant of other bucks. Buck urine placed in a shooting lane down the trail you’re watching also is a good way to get a buck to stop long enough to get a good shot. During this very early season, leave the calls at home.
By October the bachelor groups have broken up and deer are establishing their own territories. As October rolls on and the prerut gets into full swing, bucks are sparring hard to establish and defend their ranges and establish dominance. Ever wonder why you see so many bucks with broken antlers during November? It’s because they broke them in October. Now is a fantastic time to set up the scenario of two bucks really working each other over.
Before discussing the use of sound to attract bucks, it’s important to note that in many cases bucks will position themselves directly downwind of the sound so they can scent-check the situation. If you’re not scent free, the deer will wind you.
Start by creating two “scent bombs” by putting cotton into two 35 mm film canisters. Pour an ounce of Code Blue Buck Urine into each canister and replace the lids. Code Blue urine comes one deer to one bottle, meaning that the urine from a single deer is in the bottle, not a blend of urines like a lot of other companies. For the ultimate in realism, use two different bottles of Code Blue Buck Urine for each of the scent bombs (check the serial numbers written on the bottles to ensure you have the urine from two different bucks). Place these two scent bombs upwind and off to one side of your stand, preferably where you can draw the bucks directly in front of your stand. This will fool a buck’s nose, and now to get his curiosity up with his ears.
Knight & Hale’s Pack Rack produces an extremely realistic buck sparring battle. Compact and easy to use, the Pack Rack reproduces the sounds of two bucks smashing antlers, from light sparring to a knock-down-drag-out fight. Begin quietly and have a grunt call handy. Tickle the tines and grunt a few times, then go silent for at least 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, grunt twice and go silent again for at least 10 minutes.
By doing what I’ve just described you won’t spook deer that are closer than you think. Now with nothing in sight you can get down and dirty. Crash the tines together and simulate an all out battle with lots of pauses. Simulate this fight for about a minute then cap it off with a couple of grunts. Keep you eyes peeled downwind.
The use of a multi-toned call is the capper. A call like the Knight & Hale Translator makes a mature buck grunt and a young buck grunt (along with doe bleats). Alternate between the mature buck level and the young buck level to sound like the two different bucks you’re mimicking.
Rut Scents & Calls
There are several stages of the rut to consider. Generally considered to begin three or four days prior to November’s full moon, which occurs this year on the 5th, bucks begin their roaming stage, when they’re expanding their ranges checking on does. The roaming stage overlaps into the chasing phase, then to the peak of the rut several days before the new moon on the 20th. Much scientific research and observation from deer farmers indicate most does are bred during the dark moon.
Beginning around the first of November this year, hunters should add doe urine and a doe bleat to their arsenal. Again, use a scent bomb and add an ounce of doe urine. Now also is the time to start using a scent drag. Soak it in doe urine prior to walking to your stand, then let it drag and create a scent trail to your stand. Hang it upwind about two feet off the ground or in a shooting lane.
Even though you’re adding the doe factor to your plan, don’t remove the buck aspect. Put out a buck scent bomb along with your doe. Since bucks are out checking on the local talent at this time, use the doe bleat, but do so sparingly. Does are not extremely vocal critters, and a couple of bleats every hour or so is plenty. Throwing in a few buck grunts is OK as well.
If you’re calling to a buck you can see and want to draw it closer for a shot, begin timidly and start with a buck grunt. If a grunt gets no response, try the bleat, but don’t overcall. Each time you make a noise the buck is closer to pinpointing where the sound is coming from. And, always remain alert after you’ve called, as bucks may circle around to get downwind before coming in.
As the roaming phase runs into the chasing stage bucks are ratcheting up the intensity level, and so can you. Up until this time your calling and scent usage has been pretty low key, but now bucks are getting the olfactory information that does are nearing breeding time. Now’s the time to add doe estrous urine to your mix.
Using a double drag, soak one tassel in doe estrous and the other in buck urine and let it drag to your stand. Again, hang it upwind and to one side of your stand. You’ve now set up the impression of a buck trailing a doe.
Put out your scent bombs, one of which now can contain doe estrous urine. To add to your scent plan, dribble small amounts of doe estrous urine from the bottle every 50 yards as you walk to the stand, and pour more in a semi-circle around the stand.
While this is the time you can call more and more-aggressively, restrain yourself from overcalling, especially when blind calling (calling when no deer are in sight). Doe bleats are good at this time, but so is rattling and grunting.
If you plan on hunting one or two particular stands throughout the rut, one trick that can work is the use of a scrape dripper filled with doe estrous urine. About the time of the November full moon, fill a dripper like Moultrie’s Scent Boss with premium doe estrous urine and hang it within shooting range of your stand. The Scent Boss is battery operated and drips urine twice a day for eight seconds, keeping the scrape fresh every day. One key to having plenty of bucks during the chasing phase is to have a doe nearing her estrous peak, and the scrape dripper does this.
Another handy item to have along at this time is a multi-sound deer call. One that makes doe bleats and various buck grunts cuts down on the amount of gear you have to carry and ensures that no matter the sound you want, you’ll have it.
This may be the time of year when bucks are most responsive to calling. Except for bedding down and grabbing a bite to eat here and there, bucks are continuously trailing or looking for does.
As the rut peaks dominant bucks will be paired off with does for 24 to 34 hour blocks, and the time between these rendezvous is spent looking for another doe. Buck sightings will go way down at this time, but the bucks that are out and about will be responsive to your calls and scent. Continue with the buck-trailing-a-doe double drag and go more to a doe bleat.
Five or six days after the new moon on the 20th bucks will make themselves scarce as they focus a little bit more of their attention to feeding and resting. Your gameplan should ratchet down as well. Go quiet again. Hunt food sources right before dark. But don’t put your scents and calls away yet.
A week after the full moon in December comes the secondary rut, when does that weren’t bred during the primary rut come back into estrous. This rut is not nearly as intense as the main rut, but there is some elevated activity at this time. Go back to the buck-trailing-a-doe drag and the doe bleat. It’s usually over by the time of the December new moon. The deer activities described in this article are influenced by a variety of factors, and you may not experience them the way they are described. Weather has a tremendous influence. Hot weather during November brings deer activity way down. Storms keep deer down, but the action can be incredible after a big storm passes.
Hunter pressure on deer is a huge factor. The influx of hunters on opening morning of modern rifle season changes everything, pushing deer out of normal ranges and hindering daytime movement. If you hunt areas with lots of other hunters, keep your calling limited and ratchet up your scent usage.
Smart scent and call usage has aided thousands of hunters kill big bucks. It’s important to remember that scents and calls are simply tools that if used at the right time and place can help you in your search for a buck of a lifetime, but they are not cure-alls or magic bullets that are the end answer to deer hunting.