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The Path to Success5 Early Season Tips for Bow Hunters
The Path to Success
If you leave a traditional scent trail from point A to point B, a buck will follow your scent trail in the wrong direction half of the time. By creating a figure 8 regardless of where the buck cuts the trail and regardless of which way he travels eventually he passes by you.
By Todd Amenrud
With his nose to the ground the buck followed my scent trail heading away from my stand. My binoculars told me that this was one of the bucks on my “hit list,” a very respectable 4x4 with massive antler bases. I didn’t like to see him head off the wrong way, but I wasn’t too worried because I had planned accordingly. About a half hour later the buck reappeared following the same scent trail but now in my direction. When he reached 22 yards out I drove a projectile through both lungs and the buck toppled over after a short dash.
Some bowhunters complain of not having a lot of shot opportunities at bucks. Many see plenty of deer but just can’t get them close for the shot. One of my favorite tactics to lure in bucks close is by leading them with a scent trail. If you can fool their unbelievable sense of smell, you’ve got it made.
To begin, when using lures and scent in any way for whitetails you must keep foreign odors out of the picture. Scent Killer, rubber boots and rubber gloves will help you to reduce scent transfer. You want to leave the “good smell” not a “danger smell.” To a nose as powerful as a whitetail’s I don’t think there is such a thing as “totally scent free,” but I am positive that by using the Scent Killer system and paying attention to some details that I can reduce odors to only trace levels that even a mature buck will tolerate in close proximity.
We have many different tools we can use to create scent trails; hunters might use boot-pads, drag-rags or atomizers. However, my preferred way of leaving a trail is with a device called a Pro-Drag. It is a super absorbent piece of felt tied to a string. The string you can then tie to a stick found in the area. This way you’re able to drag the scent trail off of the exact path your feet are leaving. Obviously, in thick brush or heavy timber you can’t drag the trail off to one side, but where ever possible this method will leave the cleanest, most pristine scent trail possible.
This type of drag also leaves the scent in contact with the ground almost continuously. It leaves a much easier trail for the buck to follow than boot pads. Boot pads are still a good way to leave a trail, but with each step you take the scent away from ground contact. With the Pro-Drag the scent is in contact with the ground most of the time so the buck can put his nose to the ground and “go to town.” It’s also easy to control over fences or through wet areas.
The type of scent you leave should have an influence over the type of trail, the distance you leave it and the tools you use. When using “deer smells” like an estrus lure or buck urine, I will often leave long trails. In fact, I’ve been known to drag trails right off of my ATV down a logging road. Whitetails travel these roads all the time so it would be a natural route and bucks will often put on ten miles or more during a day in search for a hot doe. I’ve had long estrus trails work well during the rut. It can also work well for curiosity type lures and even food smells, but those scent trails I tend to make shorter. When making long trails, stop to reapply the scent from time to time to create an easy to follow trail for your buck.
When leaving a scent trail in a single line, you’ve only got a fifty-fifty chance the buck will follow your trail in your direction. Half of the time they follow it in the wrong direction. Since they’re looking for the “goodies” at the end of the trail, even if they do follow it in the wrong direction when they get to where you started the trail and they don’t find what they’re looking for, sometimes they’ll follow it back in your direction. It might not be that they immediately turn around and go back in the other direction. I’ve seen a buck come back several hours later and follow the trail the opposite way. In fact, I’ve watched bucks go back and forth several times on a scent trail. If a buck crosses your trail and heads the wrong way, don’t give up hope.
A cure-all for this problem can be a “figure 8” scent trail. Create your scent trail in a figure 8 and place yourself downwind of the intersection of the 8. This way regardless of where the buck cuts the trail or which way he follows it, eventually he’ll wind up in front of you.
This may or may not be the best way for you to leave a trail; you have to use your judgment. Maybe you would be making too much commotion or contaminating the area too much with human scent to make this tactic work like it should, but I’ve seen this method fool even mature Pope & Young candidates time and time again.
During early season my favorite scent to use is Trail’s End #307 or Hot Musk. Closer to the rut I like to use Special Golden Estrus. Just think about what that specific buck wants at that specific time of the season. You need to give them a reason to follow your trail. If you smell hot apple pie you’re apt to find the origin of that smell, but if you smell rotten garbage you’re likely going to avoid the source.
Regardless of how you make the trail, when you get to your ambush site take the boot pad, rag or Pro-Drag off and place it crosswind or upwind of your position. I prefer crosswind at about my maximum shooting range for a single line trail and I prefer upwind at my maximum range if I’m making a figure 8 trail. The main reason, you want to draw the buck in, but you don’t want him to smell you. If you keep the smell with you, in essence you’re calling out to the buck, “here I am, smell me over here!” You do not want the attention focused on you.
Sometimes a scent trail can be the perfect opportunity for a decoy. Again, it’s about focusing the attention on something other than your position. If a buck is searching for the source of the smell, he’s looking for any sign of movement and anything out of the ordinary. So you want to do whatever you can to keep the attention off of you. Once he follows the smell into the area, often the decoy will keep them mesmerized so you can draw and make the shot.
Obviously, every situation is different. As I said, sometimes this tactic may require more commotion or scent transfer than is wise to perform. However, scent trails can also be a great way to bring bucks in close enough for an easy archery shot.
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The Path to SuccessBy Kurt Amundson
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