Hunting > Whitetails

When and What Deer Scent to Use

The most effective scent strategies are also among the most simple to execute. You just need a system.


To avoid danger and stay alive, a whitetail uses its ability to detect faint odors more than any other sense. Without argument, its nose is its greatest aid in survival; however, it can also prove to be its undoing when it comes up against a hunter who develops the right strategy of combining attractant and cover scents. To do this, a hunter needs to know what to use, when to use it and then execute a plan that will put a buck at total ease and even pull him in for an easy shot. Here’s how to build your own easy-to-follow scent plan for big buck success.

Time Your Scents
First, you have to use the right scent for the right phase of the rut you’re hunting. I still see a lot of guys who use that generic bottle of doe pee pulled from a discount store shelf throughout the season and expect it to bring bucks running as the rut hits fever pitch. I’ve also seen hunters who dropped top dollar on doe in estrous scent and started dumping the stuff out as early as mid-October in the honest belief they were going to trick bucks into thinking they were the first doe ready to mate. Again, with the foolish notion that bucks would come running. Both types of hunter are missing the point and not getting the real benefits from attractant scents that can be had.

“It’s important that a hunter use a scent that is believable to the deer,” says Mike Mattly, public relations manager of Code Blue scents and an avid Iowa deer hunter. Here’s what you need to use and when to use it.

Doe Urine—Basic urine from a doe is good throughout the season, but mostly during the earliest weeks, before the rut when bucks are still in bachelor groups and not yet super competitive. More than anything, doe urine will reassure deer as they pass through an area that everything is all right. A relaxed deer is much easier to hunt than one on edge. This serves the same purpose throughout the season and can bring curious deer in on a trail dragged with the scent. As the rut recedes and deer begin to fall back into feeding patterns, doe urine is a solid go-to scent.

Buck Urine—A quality buck urine used in conjunction with scrapes (real or mock) or in other high-traffic areas is a good transition attractant leading up to the rut. Aggression in bucks is building and they are becoming more competitive. The smell of an intruder in their space, mixed with the sound of deep grunts and rattles, can draw them near in an effort to locate the interloper. Now is the time to challenge a buck.

Doe Estrous—Not until you are within two weeks of the peak of the rut do you want to use the higher-dollar doe estrous scents. As soon as you notice bucks beginning to chase tail-wagging does and your trail cams pick up increased activity, you want to drape the area around your best stand with estrous scent. Use it both on a drag into your stand and around your setup to act as a cover to scent and as an attractant. Use this throughout the key phase of the rut until you detect the rutting urge beginning to wane and then push it a few days more. Not all does will come in or go out of estrus at the same time, so by being one of the last ones, you may pull that one buck still seeking.

Tarsal Gland—Fuel both a big boy’s rage and sexual drive by busting out a little tarsal scent from a buck, along with that doe in estrous. Drip them both in mock scrapes along an existing scrape line or mud-worn deer trail and stay at the ready. Both work well on a drag. Use throughout the rut peak. Code Blue’s Gravedigger line of scent-impregnated soils are ideal for scrape use.

Scent Setup The Right Way
Don’t spend money on scents only to fail in using them in a way that will maximize possible results. There’s a trick to placing the scent around your stand.

Be Realistic—A lot of hunters expect to hang scents out and then watch as deer come running in to check them out. To anyone who has hunted with scents, however, that just isn’t the case. Scent locations serve more to get a deer just walking past to stop and check it out, giving a hunter a better chance at getting a stationary, broadside shot.

Be a Drag—Using a scent drag soaked in the proper scent serves two purposes: One, it helps cover your own scent you may leave behind when walking in and two, it can serve to catch a buck’s attention as he is cruising by and draw him in a little closer. Again, I don’t want to oversell the latter. A heavily placed scent trail doesn’t mean a buck is going to come running right into your stand along that path. More often than not, it will peak his attention so he will work around the area trying to catch more scent to confirm what he hopes is an actual doe.

Use Wicks—Sure, cotton balls in plastic canisters work, but they can also alter the smell of scents when combined with whatever material the canisters are made from. Wicks are made expressly for the job, and many today come with their own containers where you can store them free from contamination. The containers also help to avoid fewer sloppy spills.

Minimize Scent Locations—I used to put four or five scent bombs in a big circle around me to cover every direction. Not necessary, says Wildlife Research Center’s Ron Bice. “All you need are two wicks,” Bice says. Hang one to your left and one to your right in order to catch anything passing by. If it makes you feel better, hang one directly in front of you as well. Bice also warns to never hang scents behind you or in spots where you won’t be able to make a shot.

Keep in Range—You also don’t want to hang them farther than you can shoot. Place them adjacent to shooting lanes or likely travel routes within shooting distance of your stand, so when a deer stops to check it out, you can take the shot.

Higher is Better—Scent bombs placed on the ground may seem like they would be more realistic, but bottom-line is, they are also less effective. Instead, hang them at least five or six feet from the ground in order to be better caught by gentle breezes and thermals, thereby expanding the chance to draw a curious (or agitated) deer into your setup. When creating mock scrapes or enhancing a real one, use a scent dripper. This will both deposit scent on the ground where a deer will expect it and catch the higher breezes where the smell can be caught from farther out.

Share |



Enter your comments below, they will appear within 24 hours

Your Name

Your Email

Your Comment

7 Responses to When and What Deer Scent to Use

Russ r wrote:
January 03, 2015

Vanailla extract on a stump is working fine for me during winter bow.

Dan wrote:
November 14, 2014

During the rut I use doe in heat scents. I was wondering if there has been any studies on how non estrous does react to estrous scent. I hunt does as well as bucks and I am concerned the the non estrous does will not come in due to the estrous scent. Any idea here?

curty wrote:
November 11, 2014

Big B. IVE GOTTEN 2 wall hangers both in 20mph plus wind possible its luck but ive always seen them moving in wind

big b wrote:
November 07, 2014

ok i have a question to all my fellow hunters. i am fresh to the hunting game on the east. The wind is blowing 6-12 mph today. do you think this is too strong to discourage bucks from movement today.

Paula wrote:
November 02, 2013

Dan, hunt the late season. With as wacky as the deer population is in WI, there is usually a second rut in December which can be as good as the first one. I've sometimes seen MORE rutting activity in December for those does that got missed in Nov. Also, the food sources become very important to bucks in the late season as they have to replenish their energy stores for the winter that they used up during the pre-rut and rut. They HAVE to eat. I've often seen more deer in the last two weeks of December than I see all year. If you can get some good warm (i.e. NON cotton) clothing, you'd be surprised how easy it is to sit even all day when it's about 10-20 degrees out, either in a blind with a small heater or even in a tree stand with a bunch of hand warmers tucked in pockets, in your hat, and down your back (not directly on skin). I've done it frequently and seen deer come marching through in midday. Especially if there is deep snow, they are very food oriented and will have to move. Find the food and you'll find them.

Rod wrote:
November 09, 2012

Do bottles of buck scent and doe urine expire? Should you buy fresh bottles every year?

Dan wrote:
December 02, 2011

I live in WI. If Tou don't get your deer before gun season..your out if luck. What can you recommend a bow hunter to due after gun season?