12/28/2017 1:48:47 PM
By Jim Beaugez
Photos by Rick Small
Bucks in rut are single-mindedly focused on impressing does.
Competing bucks always rub, scrape, and lock antlers in a show of territory and dominance, all aimed at winning over a doe. If you have ever caught sight of bucks giving chase to a female deer, you know it is fascinating to watch.
At the same time, hunters can become victim to a similar form of tunnel-vision. A curious condition befalls them around the time we shed daylight savings when dawn and dusk get chilly and deer begin to act jumpy.
This affliction can cause memory loss and lapses in judgment. Obligations not involving deer hunting are usually the first to go. Reason and honor may slip, replaced by cunning and trickery as we exchange button-downs for camouflage pullovers, climb trees, and wait behind blinds.
After years of deer hunting with marginal degrees of success, I finally found the logical conclusion of this seasonal madness.
Like many families in Mississippi, deer hunting is a seasonal tradition between my father and me. He has put down far more antlers than me during his years in the woods with no more than a rifle, some light camo, and a greater commitment to patience than I have ever mustered.
This is why I was so surprised at what caught my eye on a recent hunting trip when we arrived at our cabin and began unloading gear. Boots stood at attention on the floor next to an electric boot dryer and several ice chests. Maps, ammo, calls, and antlers piled on one end of the table, next to grocery bags of food for the weekend. Then, placed among the bounty, a collection of sprays and bottles of buck pheromones and doe estrus.
Surely I was mistaken, I thought. What on earth was I going to do with this stuff? Is this not cheating? Something about the whole thing stunk.
Somehow, an entire industry based on fooling deer had escaped me. I took normal precautions in the woods, knowing deer have an elevated olfactory. Little did I know, a multi-million-dollar market barks at hunters these days with scent-blocking clothing and chemical sprays to mask scents embedded in lesser fabrics. It goes much farther than that.
Special showering kits and scentless antiperspirant, and sprays that kill mold, bacteria, and viruses, allegedly zap the human scent before it ever gets going. If those fail, there are coated hats and gloves to act as final defenses against smells on our extremities. And who could deny a battery-powered fan unit that blows “odor-destroying ozone molecules” toward down-wind deer (whatever that means)?
Once you are separated from any smells that could repel deer—along with your money, which I suspect is the general idea—there is an astounding array of scent options aimed at attracting deer. Buck pheromones captured from musk gland secretions, doe estrus, and urine, mixed in various concoctions, are available to give hunters the upper hand over deer’s greatest natural defense, their sense of smell.
I let my father off the hook on this one, casually accepting the snake oil and stuffing a couple of bottles into my pack with a scant intention of using it.
Time plowed forward in four-wheel drive over the next two days. The weather was nearly perfect, with cold mornings and hardly a breeze. The area’s rising waters were driving deer up-land. I found a spot atop a ridgeline with a clear view down a ravine, then sat and waited.
After a few hours (or half an eternity in deer-hunting time), a healthy doe emerged from the still life of the woods and made her way gingerly down the opposite slope. I tried to wait for her to clear the clutter and angle toward me, but I grew impatient and fired at the first opportunity. It was a clean miss.
On the second day, I chanced upon a doe crashing through the undergrowth toward a food plot but was not able to get set in time. I was beginning to think I would have to leave with an empty ice chest. By the trip’s final day, I was ready to try anything. Perhaps even spraying myself with one those scents.
I spent the last morning poking around a lower ridgeline. Nothing was moving. Two does in two days and still nothing in the cooler. My dad and I regrouped over sandwiches and coffee and plotted our final moves as the sun peaked and began to push toward late afternoon. We chose adjacent food plots and set off for one last try.
I approached the clearing slowly. Once I knew it was empty, I set down my pack and pulled out the bottles. I sprinkled doe urine along the perimeter and found a spot to sit just inside a loose canebrake, which provided a natural blind. The wind had picked up ahead of a cold front. It was difficult to find a constant direction, but I did my best to stay downwind of where I envisioned a buck stepping from the brush.
With dusk approaching and light fading fast, I upturned a call designed to mimic an estrous doe, letting it bleat and then trail off, repeating the figure at intervals. I was growing desperate. I pulled the last bottle and set it on the grass while I checked for wind direction again with a few puffs from a homemade tester, a small squirt bottle filled with talc. The white powder lingered a moment, then raced away toward the north.
OK, one last try, I thought, before spraying the entire bottle of urine into the air. It, too, hovered, a ghostly mist changing shape in the fading sunlight. It began floating off to the west, then wrapped around itself in a gust of wind. The vortex washed over me before I could so much as hide my face.
There was little left to do now except sit and wait, me in my costume covered in the scent of deer urine. Maybe a buck would charge me and return some of my dignity? Another bleat from the doe call broadcasted a defeated whomp-whomp, like my own loser’s refrain.
As I waited for a monster buck to come raging through the underbrush in pursuit, I could not help but laugh at myself. In the end, it was just me, alone but armed, soaked, and freezing in the twilight, lording over my own silliness.
Some hunters swear by it. I just swore at it. All the scents in the world could not buy me a buck in those woods.
Jim Beaugez is a freelance writer for Mississippi Outdoors Magazine. To subscribe, call toll-free 1-888-874-5785.