ABOUT 20 MINUTES BEFORE dark I slowly stood for one last careful survey of the thick cedar grove around me and the waist-high brome grass field south of my treestand. Seeing slight movement to the southwest, I watched closely and eventually made out a big-bodied, basket-racked 4x4. He was scanning the area north of him, which would take him on a direct route to a harvested cornfield--and the dozen or so does that had journeyed to the cornfield just before sunset. However, instead of going that way, he turned right and angled toward my stand at a nice steady pace.
Adrenaline began coursing through my body as predatory instincts took over and a pre-shot checklist zipped through my mind. The buck had traveled perhaps 100 yards and was quickly closing on my ambush. If he stayed on his due-east course he would pass 20 yards to the south of my stand, where I would have a hard time getting a shot. This didn't look good.
Then it happened! He crossed the doe urine scent trail through the brome grass --a trail I had laid out some 90 minutes earlier. Turning left, he followed the trail to a fence, lumped the fence, and continued down the scent trail to a spot 15 paces west of my treestand. There he encountered a basketball-sized area of raccoon urine sprayed on the short pasture grass. As he stood there, seemingly confused as to how the "doe" he was trailing had turned into a "raccoon," I sent an Easton 2216 through his rib cage and watched him go down less than 100 yards away.
For me the most exciting aspect of this entire hunt was watching that buck follow the doe-urine scent trail I'd carefully laid out just moments before climbing into my stand. My secret weapon had worked!
Before we get to my secret weapon, let me backtrack a little and explain my use of scents to create trails and pull bucks to me. In my 27 years of bowhunting for whitetails, I have harvested several deer -- bucks and does -- by "pulling" them to my treestands with a drag rag scent system.
My general approach will work under virtually any circumstances. During the early season, prior to the prerut period, when I'm hunting deer trails to and from feeding and bedding areas, I apply raccoon urine to my rubber hoots as I walk to my stands. Wildlife Research Center's raccoon urine has worked well for me. At this time of year, deer seem curious about the raccoon scent and will readily follow it for some distance. I do not use doe urines during early season, because I don't want the deer to get used to them and develop a nonchalant attitude toward them. Scent trails, unlike scent dispensers, can't be removed when you leave!
Come late October and early November, during the prerut, I begin using drag rags scented with doe urine to lay down trails to my stands. I've had good results with Hunter's Specialties Natural Doe Urine and Wildlife Research's Select Doe Urine. I avoid using estrus urines before November 1 (before does start coming into heat) because I think estrus urines may cause does to abandon an area to avoid being pestered by amorous bucks before they (the does) are ready to breed.
From early November through the peak of the rut, I switch to estrous doe urines. Two scents that have produced for me are Hunter's Specialties Premium Doe Estrous and Tink's #69, both of which are readily available at sporting goods stores in my area. Other manufacturers produce similarly effective urine scents.
Once I start laying down drag rag trails with doe urines, I quit applying raccoon scent to my rubber boots and simply keep the boots as clean and scent free as possible to give me more "control" over the bucks. The idea is to get them to follow the doe urine trail to a predetermined spot -- where the drag rag is hanging -- and not confuse them with secondary trails of scent off my boots, especially when those trails would lead right to the tree I'm waiting in!
Now, that procedure has always worked well -- but only in relatively brush-free areas where clean, knee-high rubber boots and rubber gloves are adequate to control human odor. I've had much less success in areas where I have to wade or push through tall grass, brush, or taller undergrowth to lay out the trail. In such places, it's impossible not to leave some human odor where the grass and shrubs brush against your clothes. No matter how careful I've been to keep my body, clothes, boots, and gloves clean and odor free, my efforts have generally gone for naught. I've seen deer pick up the drag rag scent trail, start following it, and then tense up and reroute when the trail led through taller vegetation -- where I'd left some human scent.
The Secret Weapon
Enter my secret weapon -- a fishing rod. That's right, a fishing rod. Before you laugh, let me tell you the details behind the hunt at the beginning of this article. Earlier in the week, hunting from a treestand farther to the west, I had observed several does emerging from some cedars, crossing the waist-high brome grass field, jumping the fence, and traveling on north to the cornfield.
As they traveled from their bedding area to the cornfield, the does followed several north-south trails through the brome grass before jumping the fence and proceeding on across a pasture to the cornfield.
Now here's the key: To scent-check the trails of the does, bucks were following an east-west trail parallel to the fence through the brome grass for several hundred yards. I had to figure out how to pull a buck off the east-west trail, over the fence, and within range of my stand.
At 11 a.m. on November 6, I put a plan into motion by placing a treestand in a cluster of cedars, close to where the does had jumped the fence earlier in the week. That seemed the most likely place for them to cross again -- and for a trailing buck to cross. However, I could not predict for sure which trail the does would use -- and thus where the bucks would go. To further complicate the situation, my stand setup allowed no shot to the east. The deer would have to pass to the west of me to present a good shot.
A scent trail seemed the only solution. Trouble was, I couldn't just walk through that tall brome grass and drag a scented rag through there. I'd leave all kinds of my own scent on the tall grass, and that would only detour the deer away from me.
Enter the secret weapon. Minutes before climbing into my stand, I walked close to the fence and cast a urine-scented drag rag far into the brome grass field and reeled it back across the east-west buck trail. I continued retrieving it to the fence and dragged it to a spot 15 yards west of my stand. (The grass on my side of the fence was short, so I felt safe walking here in my rubber boots.) Right there I sprayed some raccoon urine at the end of the drag trail to hold a curious deer long enough for me to shoot.
That evening the does crossed the fence nearly 100 yards west of me. I have no doubt that any buck trolling on the east-west trail would have gone right on down the field past my stand until he hit that doe trail, and I would have had no shot. But...
As soon as that 4x4 hit the trail I'd "cast" across the brome grass, he turned 90 degrees, right toward my stand, and rewarded me with a 15-yard shot -- and some mighty fine eating. It's called fishing for whitetails. But there's nothing fishy about it.
Greg Hansen is a teacher and insurance adjuster from Silver Creek, Nebraska.
For casting trails, I use an ice fishing rod (short and convenient) equipped with a closed-face spin-cast reel. Before using it on whitetails, I spooled the reel with new line. I wore rubber gloves during the spooling process to keep off all human scent. When I'm on stand, I pull the camo-painted fishing rig into my treestand and hang it on a hook.
My drag rags are made of clean, absorbent cloth weighted with fishing sinkers, and each is rigged with a large spring snap that can be hooked quickly onto a key ring tied to the fishing line. Alter construction I hang the drag rags outside for at least a week to air them out, and I never touch them without wearing rubber gloves. Then I saturate them with scent and store them in quality Ziploc bags in a refrigerator. I also keep my bottles of urine in the refrigerator to maintain freshness. I re-scent the drag rugs after each use. Commercial drag rags will work, but you'll have to add some weight for casting.
For products mentioned in this article, contact: Hunter's Specialties, 6000 Huntington Ct. NE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52402; (319) 395-0321; www.hunterspec.com; Wildlife Research Center, Inc., 1050 McKinley Street, Anoka, MN 55303; (763) 427-3350; www.wildlife.com. Wellington/Tink's, 1140 Monticello Road, Madison, GA 30650; (706) 342-1916; www.tink69.com.