The time of hot-and-heavy pre-rut scouting is upon us. Right now, the experts tell us, is when we should all be reading the deer signs, reviewing trail camera photos, spending time in the evenings observing field edges, and basically doing everything we can to locate the big ones so we’ll know where to set up our stands for the archery season.
It’s all true and sound advice—no doubt about it. But for many (and possibly most) hunters, there is a wrinkle in that plan and it’s something few of the experts ever talk about. Specifically, not every hunter is capable of “locating” the big one and then setting up a stand to intercept him. Why? Because the premise of the expert advice depends on the hunter having access to whatever land he or she can locate a mature buck on. That isn’t a realistic scenario for most hunters.
How many times have we located a great looking buck during the summer months that was on property we could not hunt? About every year since we began hunting sounds about right.
I have a cousin in northern Ohio, for example, who has only a small, five-acre parcel to hunt. It’s all he can find that is close enough for him to access between the end of the work day and nightfall. Tough going, for sure, and he’s not the only one in this position.
The reality for many hunters is that despite reading about what we should do, we are saddled with doing only what we can do—and that means doing our best with the property we have to hunt. Maybe an impressive whitetail buck resides on that property, maybe it doesn’t. Assuming the latter, our only recourse is to make the property we can hunt as attractive as possible to the resident and the neighboring whitetails.
How do we do that? It’s up to us to make our own “whitetail happening.”
This begins with the basics. No matter where you hunt, it is essential to determine where the deer are on the property and their travel routes into, through, and out of the area. Locate the bedding areas (if any), the safety areas (if any), the active trails, water sources, the mast trees (if any) that will come on during the early season, and the usual necessities of whitetail life. Whatever it is that brings deer to a spot on your hunting property or is likely to be appealing to deer, that’s what you need to identify.
The volume and quality of deer that occupy those locations, however, may be less than stellar when compared to that of neighboring properties. Your job now is to pull some of those deer in to your proverbial neck of the woods.
The quick fix for that is to put in attractors.
For subtly drawing in whitetails year-round, I’ve found that trace mineral blocks purchased from local farm supply stores work quite well. They are inexpensive, last a long time, are unobtrusive, and are a magnet for all manner of wildlife, including deer. (Note: Check local laws before using deer attractants.)
Creating a salt lick, though, is only step one in enhancing whitetail activity in your hunting domain. It will get the deer to come in when they otherwise might not and it will ramp up the traffic in areas that are infrequently traveled. Yet, to really juice up your property leading up to and during the archery season, combine those trace minerals with a scent strategy.
At this time of year, deer are beginning to feel the subtle changes as the days get shorter and summer browsing gradually gives way to soft mast foraging and eventually hard mast mania. The normal summer routines are starting to deviate, so this is the perfect time to employ curiosity scents—especially when applied near an attractant such as a trace mineral block.
Curiosity scents, like Wildlife Research Center’s Ultimate Buck Lure, are not the high-potency estrus scents typically used closer to the rut, but are instead more generalized attractants that piques a buck’s curiosity response. Setting up a drip or wick of Ultimate Buck Lure near a salt lick will quickly make your area become a must-visit location in short order. Now hang a camera or two so you can start to inventory and pattern the deer coming into your hunting realm, learn when they are coming in, and the routes they are taking into and out of the area.
Throughout this process, it is important to remember to keep your scent to a minimum. That’s important in any case, but if your intent is to bend the travel curve in your favor, you certainly don’t want deer to associate your scent with this new territory they are visiting. Apply rigorous scent-elimination strategies when you refresh your scent stations and perform camera checks.
When the deer have started to visit your setups with some regularity, the season will be open. This means that in addition to seeking out new food sources, the whitetail social scene will get more attention. Scrapes start to appear as bucks try to find out who’s who in the area. This is a great time to freshen up your hunting area with a fresh smell and to play to the deer’s growing interest in communicating with one another. For this, a scrape-oriented scent like Hot Scrape can do wonders. Used on natural scrapes or mock scrapes, Hot Scrape combines earth tones with Wildlife Research Center’s Territorial Musk to tingle all the right notes for bucks looking to identify potential rivals for the upcoming rut.
Aside from their specific scent formulations, another reason Ultimate Buck Lure and Hot Scrape are good choices for helping to establish deer activity in a new area is the inclusion of Scent Reflex technology in both products. This proprietary formulation helps to enhance the scent to improve its overall effectiveness and it keeps the scent viable for longer periods. This means you can refresh less frequently and thus limit human exposure in the area.
We all experience a bit of hunting land jealousy now and then, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put the odds in our favor even on hunting territory that may not be as favorable as it is on the other side of the fence. Give deer a reason to come and a scent strategy to keep them interested and you may be surprised the kind of game you can play with the cards you’re dealt.
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