Tricking Trophy Bucks: Use Scents, Calls and Decoys
Every hunter knows that bagging trophy bucks is a mixture of a lot of skill and a lot of luck. You must have the shooting skill to put the big boy down, however, the skill in trickery and deceit plays a major role into getting a nice buck in range. When it comes to deceit, tricking a mature and experienced buck doesn’t have a single weapon that you can solely count on. However, there are 3 that can help significantly. Scents, calls & decoys can be a game changer when used in conjunction. These three tools can change sightings and near misses into trophies on the wall, if used properly. Different scents, calls and decoys represent different conditions to approaching bucks and, if you are going to trick a buck that has been around the block, you need to insure you not only set the stage but also set the right stage.
The early season is a perfect time to trick even mature bucks. Pressure is light, the woods are uncrowded and it has been months since they were last pursued. Therefore, use this sense of “calmness” to your advantage and duplicate it with your setup so bucks feel most comfortable, and safest, within your kill zone.
Scent – Many hunters want to immediately use doe estrus, thinking bucks are always looking for a companion. However, it is actually the opposite. Whitetails know when the mating season is and although they may be interested in a doe that comes into heat early they will also sense it is unnatural. Natural instincts will overcome their curiosity and likely drive them away rather than draw them in. Instead, use a good quality doe urine to simply let bucks know a doe is in the area. Big boys will often lurk in the shadows before entering an open area, letting others do the scouting for them. Sensing a doe is already exposed will let them feel comfortable doing so as well.
Calls – There is really only one call needed during the early season and that is a light grunt set to imitate a young buck. Bucks are not yet looking for a fight, but are accustomed to young bucks hanging together and are likely to be curious who the new kid in the woods is. Keep your call light and do not overuse it.
Decoy - Your decoys should match your call selection – a young boy designed to both reassure other bucks and draw on their curiosity. Considering the bucks are still cruising wide areas and staking out territories it will be more about curiosity than domination.
As the rut draws near a bucks attitude will often change. Usually, once they are content with their area, they will claim an area as their own so a doe is more likely to know that it is a big buck. Therefore, they are marking their territory and attempting to prove they are the best buck in the area.
Scent – During this stage, it is time to switch to strong buck urine. Spread it liberally around your stand, at high traffic points and even at mock scrapes. The idea is to make real bucks believe a competitor is in the area waiting to mate with his does.
Calls – Break out the antlers and rattling bags, it is time to make some noise. Start slow, with light hits working up to loud crashes in a series lasting 3-4 minutes. Take a break for 20-30 minutes and hit them with another series. In between keep your eyes peeled for any sign of your target approaching. Mixing a couple soft grunts or ground scraping noises into the down period can make all the difference so don’t leave the tube at home.
Decoy- Do not put the young buck away yet, the pre-rut is still time for the boys to draw in the men. Make sure it is visible from several directions and placed about 25 yds from your stand. Remember that approaching bucks are likely to challenge the decoy so make sure it is angled to give you a shot when this happens, preferably broadside or quartered away. Never place the decoy facing directly at you, doing so is likely to cause approaching deer to circle behind you and will not provide the best shot placement possible.
Finally. It is trophy chasing time! Does will be looking for love and bucks will be looking to accommodate them. This is good for you because it means that even the big boys who should know better are likely to let their guard down and venture out into the open during daylight hours. The trick now is to cause them to come to you.
Scent- Put away the plain urine and turn to a quality does estrus. Wet 4-5 wicks and place them around your stand, making sure each allows for a clear shot on approaching bucks. Adding a wick or 2 of tarsal gland scent will up the ante and make cruising bucks think they have competition, meaning they have to act fast or lose a doe. The icing on the cake is to drag both scents as you approach your stand, setting up a scenario that depicts a buck trailing a hot doe.
Calls– Rattling and grunting is still effective in drawing unseen bucks out of the woods, but the key now is stopping bucks that are on the cruise. When you see a buck in the distance just milling around throw a couple doe bleats their way and watch for their reaction, if they start moving your way let them come and bleat occasionally to keep their attention. If you see a buck moving with a purpose, like they are hot on the trail of another deer, use the snort wheeze. Often this will not only stop them in their tracks but cause them to aggressively come in search of the intruder.
Decoy – At this point in the game nothing beats a buck decoy covered in tarsal scent, except a buck & doe couple covered in tarsal & estrus scents. You either want to make other bucks think there is a stranger in their territory looking for their doe or that the stranger has already found a doe – both situations will drive mature bucks crazy, especially if they are the dominant buck in that area.
The post rut season is often looked at the period which involves more luck than skill. The bucks have been pressured all season and are starting to think more about survival and feeding than fighting or mating. However, some well placed tricks can change that.
Scent – This is when the basic, calming doe urine is useful once again. Most does are out of heat and bucks are again looking for reassurance that the area is safe prior to entering the open. However, approximately 1 month after the main rut ends many areas will experience a second, lighter rut. Therefore, if you are in the woods during this time estrus can again be used.
Calls – As with your choice of scents, it is again time to create a calm and safe environment. An occasional doe bleat can help draw out weary males but the grunt call is best left hanging until you see a buck in the distance. Once this happens softer, less aggressive grunts can help peak a visible buck’s interest.
Decoy – The rule during the post rut is NO BUCK DECOYS. Seeing another buck is likely to scare, not reassure, a late season survivor. Instead, use a feeding doe decoy to set up a safe and inviting scene.
Good luck hunters, and shoot straight.