|Understanding Whitetail Socialization is Key to Early Season Scent Strategies|
Knowing the social structure of the herd during the time you intend to hunt is a key to getting scent to work for you. In the "whitetail world," the time during early season (typically late-August through September) is all about being social with other deer. However, they may not be social with the specific deer you might think. Many feel they shouldn’t use scent until just before the rut. Actually, early season can be the easiest time to draw a response, you just need to know which smells they favor and how to dispense them so the encounter is in your favor.
During late-summer and early-fall, whitetails can be very social animals; however they are primarily social only within their own sex groups. You may see them feeding side by side in an agricultural field, but, for the most part, the bucks are sociable to other bucks in their bachelor groups and the doe/fawn family groups are social with other doe/fawn family groups. Testosterone will change things very fast, but for a short while during early season this is the case.
Knowing this to be true, it makes the best sense to use "buck smells" to attract bucks and "doe smells" to attract does or fawns. This obviously is applicable only to "deer smells" (ones actually coming from deer like urine, glandular lures or musk-type smells). This is not the case for curiosity smells or food lures.
When it comes to more mature bucks, they may, or may not, be social with the other bucks. Sometimes older bucks can become very isolated animals. They really don’t need this communal contact like younger bucks do.
During September, dramatically increased amounts of testosterone start flowing through the buck’s body and from this point on he is ready to breed. The further south you go, the later this seems to happen and it will be spread out over a longer period. So, here in the South, there is more of a margin for error.
Contrary to what some may say, it’s the does that dictate when breeding will actually take place. Bucks will typically remain social with the other bucks until the does exhibit the first signs of coming into estrus.
Although, I’ve had a positive reaction to an estrus lure during early season, it’s probably not a good idea to go out opening day and "smack them in the nose" with Special Golden Estrus. Typically, when it comes to "deer smells," you want to use the smells when they would naturally occur anyhow. As I said, I’ve had estrus lures work well on mature bucks early in the season. And, if you are specifically after a mature buck, it may be a tactic you wish to try, but for most "early season" instances you are probably better off with plain urine or a curiosity scent like Trail’s End #307.
There are many ways that you can dispense scent during this period, but two of my favorite tools are: a Pro-Drag and an Ultimate Scrape Dripper. The Pro-Drag is the best tool I have found to create a scent trail with because it holds a lot of scent and it’s easy to control. You can use any type of liquid scent when making a trail, it doesn’t have to be a "deer smell," you are alright to use food lures or curiosity scents too.
During early season, I’ve had very good luck with scents like: Trail’s End #307, Select Doe Urine, Moon Fire and Buck-Nip. There’s no doubt if I had to only pick one it would be Trail’s End #307, however I’ve had many positive early season encounters with the others I mentioned.
When testosterone enters the picture, mock scrapes can be a very effective tactic. Where sometimes using mock scrapes too early in the year can be intimidating to young bucks, it may be "just the ticket" for those "breeding class" bucks. Typically mature bucks will feel an urge to claim, mark and defend breeding territory earlier in the season than the younger bucks.
The Ultimate Scrape Drippers associated with making mock scrapes are great tools for dispensing any type of liquid scent, not just those associated with mock scrapes. This device is heat activated and will drip only during daytime hours, conditioning deer to show up during legal hunting hours. It doesn’t have to be used just at mock scrapes; it works great at dispensing all kinds of scent like food lures or curiosity scent too.
We now also have the Magnum Scrape-Dripper. You can operate for two to three weeks on one fill-up. Actually you don’t want to fill it up. It works because of the air pocket you leave inside. But with the Magnum Dripper you can use a full four ounces of scent! This unit freshens your scent set-up during legal shooting hours so you don’t have to. When you’re ready to hunt, the site is pristine and void of human scent.
Around opener and for the following couple weeks, a scent trail of Trail’s End #307 can be "killer." One reason why this lure is so effective is because it appeals not only to a whitetail’s curiosity but also to their sense of hunger and desire to repopulate - you really can’t go wrong. If you do catch them in their dependable summer patterns, move fast because, with testosterone entering the picture and the does soon to show signs of coming into estrus, things will change very fast.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.