Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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How to utilize scents in the whitetail woods

Back in high school, my friend and I ran a trapline. In winter, we caught muskrats and beavers, and in summer, we trapped foxes for the bounty offered for them at the time. For many of these sets, we relied on commercially available scents. We quickly discovered how effective they could be.

As a bowhunter, just as when I was a young trapper, I find using scents for deer hunting can be a productive strategy for enticing a whitetail within bow range. But those scents must be used judiciously.

Some states have banned the use of products containing deer urine entirely. (If you’re hunting in Minnesota, be sure and read the Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations booklet for rules).

After many years of using deer attractants, I can say with certainty they don’t cause bucks to come running. They can, however, entice one to investigate scent placed on a wick or in an artificial scrape. Given the concerns about the spread of CWD, a deer attractant shouldn’t be used indiscriminately.

While not a foolproof plan, this is what I’ve found to be an effective strategy for persuading deer to investigate the odors I lay down.


Throughout the bow season, I like to hang a scent dripper along the field edges where I hunt. Filled with a synthetic pre-rut attractant scent, the dripper dispenses a small amount of scent during daylight hours and shuts down at night.

The device, when charged with about 3 ounces of attractant, will slowly drip a drop at a time and will work for a week or more, depending on the temperature.

I like to hang it from a tree limb as high as I can reach. Passing deer often stop and sniff the ground beneath the dripper, and sometimes sniff the dripper itself.

Mock scrapes

In addition to hanging a scent dripper, I begin making mock scrapes on my early scouting runs, and it doesn’t seem to matter if I apply any scent to them. Deer seem to be attracted to the smell of fresh soil, and if they encounter my fake scrape, my trail camera photos indicate they often stop to investigate.

Even though I use no scent, bucks frequently urinate in the scrape and rake their antlers through it, lending authenticity to my deception.

It’s the location of the scrape that’s important, so I make them where I can get a shot at any buck that may visit. The trick in making a bogus scrape is to choose a tree with a licking branch about 4 to 5 feet above the scrape. Once I find a suitable tree, I use a small garden rake or stick to scratch the leaves and debris away from the ground cover and create a large 2- to 3-foot circle of bare soil beneath the branch. The idea is to create a scrape big enough to get attention. As the rut approaches, I’ll use a synthetic scrape scent with subtle aromas of fresh earth and territorial musk to enhance its effectiveness.

Simply dumping a bottle of doe urine near a stand will most likely be ineffective, because deer urinate all over the woods every day. Instead, around the last week of October and continuing into November, I use a scent containing doe estrus in the scrapes I made or in any I discover near my stand.

In addition to doctoring the scrape, I put a few drops of the estrous urine on each of my boot pads before walking to my stand. To seal the deal, I also place a few more drops on a drag rag I pull behind me while walking.

Any buck crossing my trail may pick up on the scent and track it, although a scent trail doesn’t mean a buck will follow it directly to your stand.

It may, however, cause a buck who encounters it to mill about the area, looking for the doe he thinks is near. If he encounters the fake scrape I made, so much the better.

Tarsal gland

As the rut approaches, I like to add a tarsal gland scent to the estrous doe urine in any new scrapes I find near my stand. Bucks are becoming more aggressive and are willing to challenge any competitor they think is new to the area. The musky smell of an intruder can draw them near as they investigate the perceived newcomer. I’ve discovered it doesn’t hurt to dab some estrous gel on the licking branch above the scrape as well.

The smell of a tarsal gland can be quite effective, and I used to take them from a buck I killed the previous season. To preserve them, I put them in a heavy plastic bag and froze them for use in the following season.

Now, I think a good commercial tarsal gland scent is more convenient because it can be used on a drag rag, on a scent wick, sprayed onto a licking branch, or sprayed onto scrapes. If you’re using a real tarsal gland, wedge it in a branch near the scrape, but remember to take it with you when you leave.


Scent wicks sprayed with estrous doe urine and hung as high in a tree as I can reach are an effective way to maximize scent diffusion. I like to hang one about 20 yards to my left and the same distance to my right. This way, any breeze can carry the scent as far as possible. Placing the urine on a wick keeps it off the ground and maximizes scent dispersal.

Synthetic deer scents have been developed and they can be used as natural-based scents. These artificials do not contain deer urine or any whitetail biomaterial, and I doubt they can fool a buck into thinking he’s smelling the real thing. However, this doesn’t mean synthetics can’t be effective. A synthetic scent can get a deer’s attention and possibly bring it in close enough for a shot.

When it comes to using scents, my opinion is that less is often more. Scents are powerful, and they can attract or repel.

Using a good deer scent is no guarantee the buck of a lifetime will come by and offer a shot, but it can influence a big buck to investigate what he perceives to be another deer, and that’s all that matters.

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