Making sense of deer scents

Used correctly, deer lures can be deadly effective at bringing deer within bow range of your tree stand or ground blind. Used incorrectly, they’re like warning signs and sirens telling deer to get out of the area as fast as possible.

Look at a typical display of scent-based products in a typical hunting Pro Shop, however, and it can be tough to figure out what’s what. Estrus doe, non-estrus doe, dominant buck, pre-rut buck and on and on.

Here’s what you need to know to make sense of deer scents this season.

Most deer lures are based on urine collected from captive deer at specific times during the year. (Synthetic lures would be an exception, but we’ll talk about them later.) To deer, urine is as much a way of communicating as it is a way to excrete waste from the body. Their urine has different ingredients – and odors – during the fall hunting and rutting season.

Non-Estrus Doe Urine – Lures marked with these qualities are good for use anytime during the hunting season, and would be the only scent a hunter would use in September and early October, before does start coming into heat. Basic doe urine can make passing deer feel calm, since it’s a scent they’re used to, and it can make them curious, as they try to sniff out this new arrival in their area. It’s effective at attracting does and bucks.

Hunters like to spray this type of urine on their boots as they walk to their stands, or drag on the ground a rag soaked in this urine, and possibly spread it around their hunting location when they arrive.

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Rutting Buck – This is urine that’s collected when a buck is in peak rut. Usually, it consists of urine that passed over the buck’s tarsal gland, which gives it a heavy musky odor. You can put this on mock scrapes or real scrapes made by wild bucks, or you can put it on a cotton wick to hang near your stand. Air currents will carry the scent to bucks that are down wind, and hopefully lure them to within shooting range. You want the dominant buck in the area to seek out the “intruder” he smells.

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Estrus Doe – This is the prize of the rut. Bucks are out seeking does that are in estrus – ready to breed. This urine is collected from a doe in heat, so it’s got the odor bucks are out looking for. This is a great lure to use in November on a drag rag, to pour onto fresh scrapes and/or to place on a scent wick near your hunting site.

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Blends – Sometimes, lure manufacturers will mix urines and/or other glandular secretions together to create unique cocktails designed to imitate natural woodland scenarios. For example, a hot buck scrape would have both buck and doe urine in it. So there are lures out there that are a mixture of rutting buck and estrus doe urines to mimic what a live buck would encounter in a scrape.

Also popular is combining urines and other scents from multiple deer gathered in their bedding areas. The goal of these scents is to make deer feel comfortable when they encounter such odors. Hunters will put this scent on their boots to walk in, and/or place it at their hunting location.

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Synthetics –Anytime you see a deer scent labeled as a “synthetic,” then that means there is no actual urine used in the product.

This is critical for hunters in areas where urine-based products have been banned in the name of trying to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD is an always-fatal disease that is spread to healthy deer via urine, feces and saliva of infected animals. Alaska, Vermont and parts of Pennsylvania are among those places where such lures are banned.

Essentially, they are engineered to smell like the previously mentioned urines, but they are not urine based.

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Dated Lures – If it sits outside refrigeration, urine will break down over time. When it does, it gives off a heavy ammonia smell. In order to help their products last on store shelves for months at a time, lure companies typically add preservatives to urine-based lures.

Some hunters don’t like those non-natural additives, and so they prefer fresh urine.  There are lure makers who collect urine from captive deer, bottle it, stamp the date it was collected on the bottle and ship it out to retailers immediately. These lures typically are kept fresh immediately after collection and in the store for short periods via refrigeration, which slows down the decomposition.

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