Ask The Biologist

It’s a Game of Percentages

It’s a Game of Percentages

By Bob Humphrey

Deer might be curious, but caution trumps curiosity in most cases.

QUESTION: I read in a Buckmasters article recently that deer were drawn to scrapes doctored with new car scent just as much as they were to scrapes freshened with doe pee. If that’s the case, does it matter what kind of scent I use? –Brad F.

ANSWER: I’m aware of several “unscientific” experiments testing to see if deer are attracted to foreign or unnatural scents. It seems in some cases they are, although it’s difficult to say exactly why. One of the more well-known examples involves human urine, and it’s likely there is some common ingredient to urine, like ammonia or salts, that may attract deer in some instances. There are even commercial deer scents containing extracts of vanilla and anise intended to be used as curiosity scents, and in some cases they work, I’m told. Perhaps there is some recognition of food there for deer.

Or maybe it is little more than simple curiosity. While they are among the wariest wildlife in the woods, deer do on occasion display a disarming level of curiosity. Perhaps just like people, some learn by observing and others by experiencing; like those folks you see in National Parks who, despite all the warning signs, have to see how close they can get to the buffalo and the elk. It usually doesn’t end well.

But for every Curious George, there’s probably a dozen Cautious Carls whose hard-wired DNA tells them to avoid foreign odors. Those that survive also learn to recognize and avoid almost anything related to humans. Deer hunting is a game of percentages. You do all you can to mask your own odor, conceal your human form and use the wind, calls and natural scents to your advantage. More often than not it still isn’t enough, but it works often enough that we experience a certain level of success. Why, then, would you jeopardize a potential opportunity by introducing a foreign odor?

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