Deer stay alive by avoiding predators. They do this by using their senses to detect danger. A deer’s most acute senses are smell, hearing, and to a lesser extent, it’s sense of sight.
Sounds in the deer woods come in two forms – natural and unnatural. Natural sounds are those a deer is accustomed to such as bird calls, squirrels chattering, the wind in the trees or a buck grunt. Unnatural sounds are your coughs, your walking pace through the leaves, or the clank of your Thermos off a metal tree stand.
Obviously, being quiet while hunting is imperative to success. Stifle your coughs and try not to bang or clang anything. When walking to your stand or blind, take a route that won’t disturb deer. If there’s no way to approach quietly, some hunters take on the pace of a deer to fool any deer within earshot. Take five or six quick steps or jumps, then pause for at least a minute, then continue at this pace until you reach your stand.
Natural sounds include those sounds that attract deer, such as a fawn bleat, doe grunt, buck grunt, etc. Hunters mimic these sounds with calls. A fawn bleat or fawn-in-distress call will draw in does and sometimes bucks. Doe grunts and bleats can attract other does and bucks, especially during the mating season, or what hunters call the 'rut.' Buck grunts attract other bucks that often come in looking for a fight. This is called 'territorial infringement,' when one buck has staked out a territory and is willing to defend it against other bucks.
Another type of sound that attracts deer is rattling. Rattling is mimicking the sounds of two bucks fighting — smashing heads and antlers together. This is done with a set of manufactured antlers, a rattle bag or simply a couple of shed antlers. Rattle with enthusiasm and combine with a few buck grunts to add realism.
A white tail deer’s sense of smell is far better than ours, and far better than can be related to the human experience of the sense of smell. Not only can a deer clearly smell you, usually it can smell where you’ve recently walked and how long ago you were there. This makes controlling your own odor very important when hunting deer.
Because of a deer’s strong sense of smell, hunters must 'play the wind.' The human body is continually producing odor, so your hunting location should be positioned so the wind blows your scent to unproductive areas — either barriers like a lake or road or simply areas where you don’t expect deer to be.
In addition to setting up your hunting location to take advantage of the wind blowing your scent away from the deer, precautions should be taken to ensure you’re producing as little odor as possible. These precautions include washing your hunting clothes in a non-scented laundry detergent and letting them hang dry outside. Never use the dryer and a dryer sheet. Your body and hair (hair holds the most scent) should be washed in either a non-scented or earth-scented hair or body wash.
Remember that anything you come in contact with will leave scent on you. Gasoline, food odors and perfumes all give off scents that will raise a red flag with deer. Many hunters wait until they arrive at their hunting locations to change into their hunting clothes.
Because deer rely so heavily on scent to tell them about their surroundings, hunters have learned to use certain smells to their advantage. Just like human odor will repel deer, the smells of food or other deer can bring them in for a closer look.
Hunters use two different types of scent to attract deer. Food related cover scents include acorn and persimmon odors, plus others appropriately called 'curiosity' scents. The most common type of hunting scent is urine. Urines come in three common styles, doe urine, buck urine, and the most popular, doe estrous urine. Estrous urine is collected when the doe is in her estrous, or breeding cycle, which makes this type particularly attractive to bucks.
Urine scents are placed around a hunter’s stand or trailed into the hunting area on a drag rag. A urine-soaked drag rag trailed into the stand lays down a scent trail bucks can follow right to you.
Although vision is commonly thought of as a deer’s third most acute, many hunters have blown great chances at deer because of a poorly timed movement caught out of the corner of a buck’s eye. Though deer do not have an acute sense of depth or color differentiation their eyes are specially adapted to detect peripheral movement at a much wider angle than human vision would allow. Many more deer are spooked as a hunter casually walks to his stand.
Remaining unseen by deer is relatively easy. When on stand, remain still, and when you must move, do so very slowly. Think slow-motion and you might get away with a mistimed movement. Keep everything you need within easy reach to minimize movement.
Getting to your stand without exposing yourself to deer is important. Instead of walking through the middle of an open field, walk along the edge or in a ditch — anything that will hide you from a deer’s prying eyes.
Can you use vision to your advantage? Sure, with a deer decoy. Deer decoying is a new technique that many hunters are using to draw in dominant bucks. Place the decoy in an open area where it can be seen from a good distance. Only use deer decoys during archery season.
Making Sense of all the Senses
As any scout can see, a deer’s front line of defense is its senses of smell, hearing and sight. Fool these three senses and you’re on your way to a successful hunt. Use these senses to your advantage and you could take a trophy.
Fooling these senses means that you reached your stand or hunting location undetected and relatively free of human odor, you’ve positioned your stand to take advantage of the wind so the odor you produce will flow away from where you think the deer will come, and that you’re remaining quiet and sitting still.
Using these senses to your advantage means that you’ve laid down a scent trail around your stand and/or placed out some scent and have a realistic-sounding grunt or bleat call and a rattle bag at your side, and maybe even a deer decoy strategically placed in an open area near your stand (again, only during archery season).