The Scent Thing: Do Deer Lures Really Work?
By V. Paul Reynolds

It is a rare sportsman whose passions for the hunt are not stirred by the feel of these clear frosty mornings and the sight of distant hills of flaming fall colors. Most deer hunters are making plans, getting organized, scouting for deer sign, putting up some wood at deer camp, or zeroing in the rifle. A little time for reflection is good, too. Think back about last fall's hunt. What did you do right? Or what could you do to improve your odds against the wiliest of all woods critters? I have a suggestion.

Mind your scent control.

That's right. What a deer hears and sees counts for a lot when it comes to detecting danger. However, its olfactory system is the deer's early warning system and is incredibly acute. If you the hunter can somehow prevent that deer from smelling your presence you have an advantage. Experienced bear hunters will tell you that a bear at a bait site upwind of you may have you spotted, but unless the wind changes in his favor, he will continue to feed. One whiff of you, however, brought to him by an unpredictable wind and he's gone! Deer hunters will tell similar stories. To a deer, your smell is your ID card. It is the final sensory cue by which the animal confirms what he sees and hears.

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Ralph Norris, a career trophy deer hunter from Leeds, harbors some strong opinions about scent control and the use of deer lures. In his new book, Hunting Top End Bucks, which will be hot off the press this month, Norris devotes one entire chapter to controlling body odor and an additional chapter to the futility of most deer lures.

Ralph's words:

"When I see hunters on TV spraying so-called cover scent or scent eliminator on themselves or their clothing, I gasp. Our bodies emit odors continuously. If these eliminators were half as good as they claim, the deer herd would be in trouble. You mix human odor with any scent and it will create a hybrid smell from your body that will be worse. All garments are highly porous and trap odors like a sponge. You seal the fibers with a spray and your body odors will build up and be stronger and will escape. Compounded with your sweat you now have that hybrid odor, thanks to the cover up stuff. You are now a walking stink bomb. If you are going to be tracking or still hunting, it's not so important that you be so clean but it won't hurt. When still hunting, move through the woods slowly and if you are sweating you are moving too fast. Slow down and you will see more game and smell better. Keep in mind that a deer's number one defense is his nose and there is no such thing, yet, as a human odor remover."

So what's the answer? It is not easy for most deer hunters to minimize their scent levels, especially those of us who stay at deer camps where the atmosphere is heavy with the essence of gun oil, fried bacon, cheap cigars and ripe bodies. One defensive measure is to keep your hunting clothes in a plastic garbage bag laced with cedar tips. And for the stout of heart, a midweek bath in the lake can help, too. Ralph suggests avoiding spicy foods that can make you smell like a Del Rio taco stand.

What about scent lock clothing, which is the rage, especially among bow hunters? Worth noting is that Ralph Norris operates a large deer ranch in South Texas and devotes many hours to observing the behavior of whitetail deer. He writes: "Where I hunt, the deer had no problem smelling me in scent lock clothing. I have found no value from using it. If you pay a lot of money for something, you sometimes believe it is better."

Norris is no less critical of deer lures that so many of us have tried over the years." As a full time hunter I have spent hundreds of hours and years of testing every kind of deer lure that has come down the pike or I could make up myself and I have came up with close to a zero.

On deer lures., there is plenty of room for disagreement. I can recall one specific instance when I know that buck lure confused a downwind buck long enough for me to get in a killing shot!

A final tip on managing your scent as a deer hunter. Although you can't eliminate your human odor not matter how hard you try, you can play the weather. On damp, rainy days your scent is pretty much contained and scent detection can be difficult even for a deer. And most deer hunters will tell you that they had some of their best hunts when the light drizzle ran down the back of their necks, the scope fogged up, and the mist drifted above the moss and wafted through the cedar trees like ghostly shrouds.

For Maine residents, the firearms season for deer opens this year on October 27.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is

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