Chances of getting deer decreasing, but are not yet extinguished.
The little-understood second rut of December, however, is on right now. The very few mature does that didn't mate in November are now ovulating again 28 days after their first November cycle. But this second mating period is a trickle compared to last month's frenzy. It's mostly dependent on female fawns that have just entered puberty, a small number of menopausal-type adult females with irregular cycles and a few normal females that just weren't found by cruising bucks whose numbers may be far less than the doe population.
Many bucks have lost 20 percent of their pre-rut body weight from fighting and mating last month. Eating and regaining weight are their primary concern now, but the irresistible hormonal scent of these newly hot females will once again stimulate bucks to seek and chase them now. Some lucky hunters will be the beneficiaries of this phenomenon.
An additional small number of fawns will enter puberty even a bit later and cause an even smaller third rut in early to mid-January. With each later pregnancy period, though, the likelihood of newborn survival diminishes. Over thousands of years, natural selection has minimized genetic tendencies of females that ovulate too late.
Though less than nine months old now, an exceptional few female fawns with superior nutrition and sufficient body fat are ready to mate. For whatever reason, orphaned female fawns tend to come into estrus earlier than non-orphaned fawns, so areas where does have been heavily hunted can provide better than average chances for experiencing a second rut.
When does release their hormonal pheromones in vaginal and urethral discharges, they'll get bucks -- even those tired, wounded and weakened from battles in the first rut -- chasing wildly all over again. With so few females in estrus, there's increased competition for them. Studies show that most second-rut breeding is performed by larger, more dominant bucks that are at least 21/2 years old. By now, many of the younger, not-so-smart spikes and fork-horns have already been harvested.
This highly erratic and undependable second-rut phenomenon is possible all the way through our late December muzzle-loader season. November rut-hunting strategies that use scent can consequently prove effective now.
Scent of a female
Last December, I successfully used an attractant of pure, pheromone-loaded estrus urine from a deer farm in Iowa. Not everyone uses scent properly, so for many, the product is largely a waste of money.
As I walked to my stand, I dragged a scented cloth behind me. I didn't need to use a lot of scent, but I was careful to add several drops every 50 yards or so. That procedure is important.
Bucks tend to follow a scent in the direction of increasing intensity. That can mean a buck going away from you back towards your truck -- instead of towards your stand -- if you don't continue applying the scent.
Though you might be tempted, never put the lure on your own boots. Crazed bucks on rare occasion have attacked hunters who did.
To avoid spooking a wary buck, wear rubber gloves when touching the cloth and string drag. Once at your stand, hang the string and saturated cloth a few feet above the ground, or conceal it under leaves. It's very important to make the final approach to your stand, though, using the wind to your advantage.
You'll probably need to make a slight circle in this final move so the wind is to your back as the buck follows the scent towards your stand; you don't want him approaching downwind of you and picking up your scent.
You should finally make a J-track away from you, so as the deer slightly turns following it, giving you a perfect quartering away shot. The buck ideally will be smelling the scent, looking a bit away from you, so you have less chance of being detected.
The buck I shot followed the scented drag step for step until it got into shooting range of my stand. At the spot, I had made a mock scrape with my boot, baring the ground, and placing doe estrus in it along with a tarsal gland I had taken from another buck. That set up gave me the perfect shot opportunity.
While there are numerous sometimes-effective attractants, Mrs. Doe Pee definitely contains the real stuff and that's why it's not cheap. The FDA doesn't mandate truth in listing doe urine ingredients on the labels. If it did, we might see some unexpected ingredients from some companies, including bull urine and some artificial additives and preservatives that can destroy the all-important estrus pheromones that drive bucks crazy.
With many thousands of gallons of deer attractant on shelves all over the country, there just aren't enough deer farms to produce the volume of natural product that hunters need. Many buyers are justifiably skeptical about what they're getting.
Don't expect to find Mrs. Doe Pee estrus urine on local store shelves. I had to contact the deer farm at firstname.lastname@example.org to have them send it to me, two-day FedEx, in a chilled container. Normal ambient heat -- like what we find on store shelves -- rapidly deteriorates the tantalizing pheromones that make fresh urine so effective, so keeping the product refrigerated or on ice in your backpack is important.
A 1-ounce bottle is $10.99, and limited quantities of unblended estrus are $44.99 for an ounce.
For the last three Decembers, using the attractant, I've been lucky enough to score. But the strategy definitely doesn't work 100 percent of the time. I bet I have had about 20 unproductive sessions for every successful one. And I think the product may actually deter some cautious does from following your trail. They may want to avoid confrontation with a mature, mating-obsessed, possibly aggressive doe. If you want to shoot does, don't use doe urine.
While I use doe urine, it's not a cover-up for poor hunting skills. Some very successful hunters, like my son, won't use any attractants at all. He wants hot does -- the best attractant there is -- to unknowingly pass by his stand by virtue of his properly placing himself between their feeding and bedding areas. He seeks invisibility and surprise, trying to totally avoid anything that could give away his positioning -- and he takes more big deer than I do.
There's something to say about his hunting the old-fashioned way, setting up over 20 feet up and downwind, out of both visual and olfactory range, at a hot spot that was scouted by hard detective work well before the hunting season started.
Location, location, location -- and a touch of luck -- can prove the deadliest recipe when combined with skill. Nevertheless, I'll be using the estrus urine on some of my hunts -- because it has worked just often enough for me to have faith in it.
Contact Mark Blazis