Introduction to
Deer Scents and Lures

Photo of Deer ScentUsing deer scents and lures (a.k.a. attractant scents) can be an effective tactic for bringing deer to you. After all, a deer's sense of smell is estimated to be between 1,000 and 3,000 times more powerful than a human's. Deer experience the world through their noses more than through any other sense. So, if you want to attract them to your position, try stepping into their world and capturing the attention of their noses.

In this article, we'll give you an introduction to using deer scents and lures, including the different types of attractant scents, where and when to use them, and the most common techniques for applying them.

Deer scents and lures have two purposes:

  1. They can bring a deer in close to your position.

  2. They can stop the deer long enough for you to get a good shot.

They are most commonly used in conjunction with an ambush tactic, such as a treestand or ground blind, where the hunter is stationary. You apply scent and then sit in your ambush position waiting for the deer to arrive and show themselves.

Types of Deer Scents and Lures

There are three basic types of attractant scents commonly used for deer hunting today:

  • Sex
  • Food
  • Curiosity

Sex Scents

The most commonly used deer attractant scents are those that smell like deer urine. Doe-in-heat urine is used during the rut to bring in bucks looking for an estrus doe to mate with. Be careful using this scent before the real does in your area come into estrus because it may scare off the does. Buck-in-rut urine is also used during the rut to bring in bucks by making them think there is another buck intruding on their territory. Exercise caution with this scent as well because it may cause subordinate bucks to leave the area.

When purchasing deer urine products, look for expiration dates so you know they're fresh. Also, don't buy a blend that includes urine from multiple animals. Spend a little extra and get pure urine that was taken from one animal.

Food Scents

Food attractant scents are not actual food (which can be used where baiting is legal), but various commercial products that come in concentrated liquid or solid form and are designed to smell like common deer food sources such as apples or acorns. Though some experts caution against using food scents that don't occur naturally in your area, others advise that it's no problem at all and they may even work better. Experimentation is the key. Try using both local and non-local food scents and see which the deer find more enticing.

Curiosity Scents

Curiosity scents are designed to attract deer not with the promise of food or sex, but by playing on their sometimes irresistable urge to check out unknown aromas in their environment. Some of these scents are made from animal urine, including predators. Others may contain a blend of "secret ingredients". It may seem strange, but studies have shown that deer will investigate foreign scents as bizarre as car polish and WD40.


Timing is everything when it comes to using deer scents and lures. Determining the exact timing of the different phases of the rut is something of an art and a science. In general, the pre-rut period is when bucks shift their focus from looking for food to proclaiming dominance and establishing their hierarchies. The peak of the rut is when breeding commences and bucks start searching for, gathering up, and protecting does. The post-rut period is when bucks rest, gather into groups, and start looking for food again to replenish their depleted stores of fat.

Many experts further divide the season into many sub-phases. But, for simplicity's sake, here are the three general phases of the rut and the corresponding types of scents that will generally work best during those times:

Phase of Season Best Attractant Scents
Pre-Rut Food, Curiosity
Rut Sex
Post-Rut Food, Curiosity

Where to Use Deer Scents and Lures

It's important to realize that using attractant scents is a relatively short range attraction tactic. When you use calling and rattling, you may be able to attract deer from a 1/2 mile away or more, depending on the terrain. But attractant scents are much shorter range, bringing deer in from a few hundred yards at most.

Because of the short range nature of this tactic, your goal should be to apply scent and set up your ambush in one of following two types of areas:

  • A high-use zone where the deer already spends a good amount of time on a regular basis

  • A travel corridor that is used frequently by the deer

It's usually best if you set up in an area where there's good security and escape cover. This will make the deer feel relatively comfortable and will increase the likelihood that the deer will reveal itself. The only way to locate these prime spots is by putting in your time thoroughly scouting your hunting area.

Once you've chosen an area to use attractant scents, the next question is where to specifically position you ambush in relation to the scent. The key to answering this question is wind direction. You want to place the scent so the wind will cary it to where you think the deer might approach from. But you don't want the wind to carry your human scent in the same direction. Setting up so the attractant scent is crosswind from your position is a good place to start.

Applying Deer Scents and Lures

So, you've decided which type of scent you're going to use, you're confident that the timing is right, and you've selected the area where you'll use the scent. Now it's time to decide on the technique you'll use to apply the scent. There are a number of different ways to do this. Here are three of the most common:

  • Wicks - Saturate a wick (or felt pads or anything else that will soak up the scent). Hang the wick from tree branches. You can also hang a bunch of wicks in a row or an arc leading to your ambush area.

  • Drag Rag - Soak a rag with scent. Attach the rag to your boot or to a stick. Drag the rag along a trail (or just to the side of a trail) leading to your ambush area.

  • Mock Scrapes - Locate a spot on a heavily used trail that has an overhanging branch low enough for a buck to reach it with his forehead glands. Scrape away the leaves or debris on the ground and add scent to the ground and the branch. (You can also find real scrapes and "freshen them up" by adding new scent.)

When applying attractant scents as described above, it is vital that you always strive to eliminate as much of your human odor as possible so that it doesn't contaminate the scent (or the area) and alarm the deer. The best way to do this is to wear rubber gloves and rubber boots.

However, there is one great scent technique you can use where you don't want to minimize human odor, but instead you want to put it front and center. The technique is called "blocking", and, while it's not technically an attraction tactic, it can be used successfully in combination with scents and lures. To use blocking scent, place items saturated with human odor, such as an old pair of socks or a smelly T-shirt, in places you don't want deer to go. You can block them from using certain trails and increase the chance that they'll use the trail where you've set up your ambush.

The tactic of using deer scents and lures does indeed work. But, it's important to realize that it won't always work (of course, nothing works all the time in hunting). Deer can be fickle and unpredictable when it comes to following their noses, so don't expect them to come rushing in right away just because you put out some scent or lures. Also, remember that using attractant scents is no substitue for scouting or any other crucial hunting skill. It's no shortcut to success. But, when used correctly, it can significantly increase your odds of filling your deer tag.

To take using deer scents and lures to the next level, try combining it with one or more of the other attraction tactics: calling, rattling, and decoying.

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