At archery stores and big-box outfitters across Pennsylvania, it's prime time for deer scent sales.
Weeks into the archery deer season, and six weeks before the opening of rifle deer, hunters can choose among dozens of brands of doe-in-estrus attractants intended to lure that big buck closer to the tree stand.
Masking scents designed to overwhelm human smells are tinctured with the odors of raccoon, fox and other animals. But the big sellers are attractants, mostly the bottled urine of does while they're in estrus. But ample research raises legitimate concerns. Well-publicized Texas experiments show that hormone-addled bucks will sniff anything, including new-car smell, about as often as commercial doe urine scents.
Questions linger about what bucks think of conglomerates made from mixing the urine of many does, and many wildlife management organizations including the state Game Commission ban the use of urine-based scents in chronic wasting disease management zones.
Less research has been conducted on attractant scents developed from the excretions of deer glands. During the rut, does provide information about their reproductive cycle by urinating over tarsal glands on the inside of their back knees. The combination communicates the doe's age and whether she's in estrus, as well as leaving hormonal breadcrumbs for rutting bucks to follow.
But urine begins dissolving into ammonia hours after release, and a light rain can dilute it. Bucks and does reveal abundantly more self-identifying information from glandular secretions, and the viscous, oily liquids don't wash away with the rain.
"Very little has been written about (deer) glands except the tarsal gland, probably because of its connection with doe-in-estrus urine, which is big money for the bottling companies," said Brian R. Kightlinger, an archer and author of hunting books. "Urine is easy to gather in volume at deer farms, but fluid from glands has to be taken individually from each deer."
In his newly published "Non-Verbal Whitetail Deer Communication: The Power of Glands" (LITF Outdoors, $15), the school teacher from Crawford County explains the primary scent-producing glands of bucks and does and its potential use in hunting situations.
"Hunters think of bucks following doe scents, and they do," he said. "But during the rut bucks are extremely territorial and will rush in to chase another buck out of its area. Glands that produce fluids from bucks can be very good at attracting bucks ... . I haven't used urine scents since 2011."
Deer scent glands