Deer will soon be shifting their patterns as soft and hard mast continue to drop. Once that happens, all bets are off. Normal travel routines that you might have identified during the summer months may begin to fall apart as deer start to key in on whichever oak trees are pumping out acorns at any given time. Sure, predominant travel routes will continue to be active, as they always are, but the hot zones in the early bow season are ruled by mast—and those zones can change on an almost daily basis. The smart bowhunter must remain flexible. This means being prepared to set up stands at one location this weekend and another spot next weekend, depending on where the mast is falling and where the deer are concentrating their feeding efforts.
“But wait a minute,” you say. “What about all the talk of setting up stands well before season so the deer can get used to them?”
Quite true. Giving resident deer a chance to become accustomed to the sight of a ladder stand or a ground blind that wasn’t there before and giving the area time to settle down from the commotion involved in setting up a stand is good practice. Of course, if you’ve hunted an area for several seasons, you have a pretty good idea which travel routes between bedding and feeding areas are always active and reliable, and those spots are certainly top candidates for early setup. When bowhunting the transition between summer and fall, however, it is important to have options. That means using your second or third tree stand or ground blinds as mobile units capable of setting up on the hot food spot of the week.
The problem we all often encounter with that strategy is that these ad hoc stands aren’t always easy to work from and the “fresh stand” factor always plays a part.
Say, for example, that you just located a stand of white oaks that are pumping out the acorns like a popcorn machine. Fresh scat and a carpet of acorn hulls show the deer to be hitting them hard. The problem is, you might only have one or two suitable trees to hang a stand on, or no good trees at all, and the only place to set up a ground blind is upwind of all the action.
We’ve all encountered these scenarios before, and the solutions never get any easier. But, anyone that ever said bowhunting was easy probably never did much of it!
Establishing a good early season stand is hard work because deer patterns are constantly changing depending on mast availability, and the best places to find deer this week may not be the best places to hunt next week. In fact, they may be downright atrocious. Nevertheless, we must play the hand we’re dealt. This is why scent strategy is so important. It’s always important, of course, but it is especially so if you’re forced to place your stand in poor wind locations.
Minimize Your Scouting Scent Print
For the bulk of whitetail country, scouting for the hottest food sources is a nonstop endeavor between mid-September to the middle or end of October. Treat this job with as much scent caution as possible. If you plan to scout after work on a Wednesday evening, go home first and wash up. You don’t want to drag a day’s worth of accumulated human and environmental odor into your hunting woods. Clean yourself thoroughly with scent elimination products such as Scent Killer Gold body wash & shampoo, and finish with Scent Killer Gold deodorant.
Similarly, be sure to wear only those clothes that have been washed in scent-free detergent and stored to prevent unwanted scent from clinging to them. A good idea is to find a place to hang your hunting clothes outside, such as a porch, shed or beneath any overhang that will keep them dry. This way, they are always ready to go whenever you are.
Although most folks don’t do this, it’s not a bad idea to treat your boots the same way. Just make sure that if you do leave them outside, you hang them up or stow them in such a way that mice, spiders, snakes or other critters won’t get inside them.
Finally, before entering the woods, give your clothes and boots a thorough spray-down with scent elimination spray. We like to use Scent Killer Gold with Hunt Dry technology in the Autumn Formula during these food scouting expeditions. Not only does this product eliminate human odor, it is infused with an autumn woods smell that gives the additional advantage of a mild masking scent.
Few things are more enjoyable than time spent setting up a stand on a clear afternoon. The downside is that, even if the temperature is moderate, you’re probably going to do some sweating by the time you’ve found a good feeding area and set up your stand. Recall the fresh stand factor mentioned earlier? What I meant by that was setting up a stand inevitably impacts your hunting spot in a negative way. Not only will deer notice the visual disturbance (a new ladder stand, steps or ground blind) but also the olfactory disturbance. You are introducing foreign items into the feeding area that carry some foreign smells. That’s bad enough, but if you add human scent to that mix, any mature bucks in the area will be highly alert at best, or no-shows within bow range at worst.
Any time you set up blinds and tree stands, be sure to wear gloves or at least dress your hands down with something like Scent Killer Gold Field Wipes. You can also wear light cotton gloves if they are treated with Scent Killer spray or some form of scent elimination.
The point is, utilize maximum scent control when you’re chasing the ever-moving deer feeding spots and setting up your stand on these short-duration hunting locations.
Playing the Tough Hand
So, you’ve found a stand of oaks that are dropping acorns like greasy fingers in a ball bearing factory. The leaves are pawed up and fresh scat is everywhere. The problem is that the only place for a stand is upwind of the dinner plate. Here’s what you can do:
1) Never ever let up on your scent-management regimen. You’re going to be hunting dead upwind, so your scent control efforts must be at full throttle. Wash in scent elimination products before you put on your de-scented hunting clothes and spray those clothes and boots with scent eliminator before you enter the woods.
2) You say you’re not a user of cover scents? Now is the time to add them to your “friends list” because this is exactly the scenario for which cover scents are intended to be used.
The simple fact is that you will always produce some level of human scent regardless of the austere measures you take to eliminate it. Fortunately, there are many cover scents to choose from that can add to the slurry of swirling odors and help mask or overwhelm any human scent that may be present. Wildlife Research Center, for example, offers several scents in the Scent Storm line that match the predominant odors found in most mixed hardwood ecosystems, such as pine, fresh earth, acorn, apple, and cedar. For hunting over a hot oak stand, Acorn or Fresh Earth are good. Try spraying your choice of scent in a 30- to 40-yard semi-circle, spreading out from your stand, before you settle in for the hunt. This will ensure that any human odor you may give off will be diluted with a scent that is not threatening.
For those extra-tough conditions, such as when you’re hunting upwind in a ground blind, you can further confuse a deer’s nose by adding an animal-type masking scent. Raccoons always seem to make a strong showing in feeding areas with high deer concentration, so a touch of raccoon cover scent can be a plus if you’re positioned atop a wind funnel.
3) Finally, adding a distractor scent can turn a joker into an ace when dealing with a challenging stand setup. Using a more generalized deer scent, like WRC’s Select Doe Urine or Golden Doe, not only has a calming effect on any deer that may catch a stray molecule or two of human odor, it can also give a buck something specific to key in on. A few drops on the ground or a saturated wick of deer scent placed strategically in your shooting zone can distract a buck long enough to forget about any small amount of human scent that might have wafted up his snoot, and hold him in place long enough for you to take a shot.
We don’t always have the luxury of setting our stands in ideal spots. This is especially true when deer patterns are in flux and food sources are here today, gone tomorrow. The successful bowhunter must stay agile at this time of year and be willing to go where the food is, even if it means breaking a few rules. In those instances when the wind is not your friend, these simple scent strategies can put the odds back in your favor.
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