My outdoors column this week:
The opening day of muzzleloader season was a picture of pristine solitude. Shortly before 6 a.m., I was standing on the end of a ridgetop, a full moon casting a silvery glow through the forest canopy and streetlights twinkling in the valleys far below, and no sound in the frost-blanketed woods except for a lone hoot owl somewhere further up the ridge.
And I stank. Boy, did I ever.
Turns out, attempting to hold a scent wick in one gloved hand and a bottle of deer urine in the other, with a backpack slung over one shoulder, a gun over the other and a flashlight held between your teeth, is not a good combination. Long story short: I managed to pour deer pee all down my arm.
Later, as I sat on the stand reeking of doe-in-estrus, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I thought of how many times I’ve been duped by deer gear manufacturers over the years.
Let’s face it: Hunting is a multimillion-dollar industry in no small part because of us over-anxious hunters who snatch up every new thing that comes along in our quest to bag our quarry.
Not that it’s all bad. Research and technology are often good things. Game cameras, for example, have revolutionized the way we scout and inventory the deer populations in our forests, and we’re doing both better than ever before.
But we also can’t deny that our grandfathers and their grandfathers got along just fine back when their muzzleloaders weren’t inline, their bows weren’t compound, their rifles weren’t equipped with five-hundred-dollar optics, and red flannel and brown coveralls were just as much a fashion statement as camouflage is today.
As I sat there flinching every time the wind changed directions and carried a fresh waft of Golden Estrus past my nose, I inventoried the number of times I’ve been duped by unsavory manufacturers who have made their fortunes on the backs of unsuspecting hunters.
And, you know what? I have to start with deer urine. I’ve used it for years and will continue to use it. But how many times do I know for a fact that it lured a whitetail buck to my location? Once. Just once. Some hunters swear by $20-a-bottle deer urine and that’s fine. I’ll continue to use it myself. But at the end of the day, it’s probably little more than a confidence booster for most of us.
On the other hand, everyone from Hunter Specialties to Will Primos has managed to convince hunters that they can mask their odor by applying some sort of cover scent — from bottled critter urine such as raccoon to acorn-scentered wafers that hunters pin to their hats — and they’re making profits on products that aren’t doing anyone a lick of good.
The truth is that a whitetail deer has more olfactory receptors than a bloodhound. While humans can only smell the most overpowering odor that reaches our noses, wildlife biologists have learned that deer have the ability to smell multiple scents at once. In other words — unless you’re eliminating your odor entirely, using cover scents to mask your odor is a waste of effort and money.
It isn’t just scents, either. Before game cameras became mainstream, I visited an outfitters shop and paid $25 for a device that attached to a tree with a string stretched across a game trail. The idea was that when the deer walked by, he would trip the string and the device would record the date and the time he passed by. I grew up listening to stories of my great-grandfather stretching sewing thread across a game trail so he could tell which direction the deer were passing. But my great-grandfather didn’t pay $25 for his sewing thread, and that $25 piece of equipment soon went from my hunting pack to the trash can.
Another time I purchased a call that was supposed to mimic fighting bucks. The way it worked: a clicking wheel was turned, and the plastic-striking-plastic clicking was supposed to sound like two bucks doing battle. It was so worthless that I think I tossed it before I used it even once.
Back to the subject of scent control, try this trick the next time you’re in Walmart: Check the price on a stick of Scent Killer deodorant in the sporting goods section, then walk back to the health and beauty aids section and check the price on a stick of good, old-fashioned Arm & Hammer deodorant. Both are unscented. The only difference is where they’re located in the store. But the price is certainly different.
Corporate marketing is often used to sell us these worthless products. Remember when Tink’s deer lures were all the rage? The Georgia company poured millions of dollars into an advertising campaign featuring a couple of taxidermied deer heads talking on the wall. Hunters rushed out to purchase Tink’s #69.
Last year, after the market became saturated with whitetail rut lures, Tink’s took the game a step further, introducing its first “post-rut” lure. For $10, you can now purchase a bottle of spray that the company calls “Tink’s Salad Dressin’.” As bucks turn their attention from mating to food, the idea is that hunters spray the Salad Dressin’ formula on the vegetation around your stand and deer will rush in to eat it up. “The sweet-tasting Salad Dressin’ vegetation spray makes any vegetation palatable to deer,” Tink’s bragged in a press release.
As outrageous as it sounds, Salad Dressin’ is actually just the latest in a line of food lures from various companies. The best-known example may be C’Mere Deer, which was supposed to be so good that — as one farmer claimed — placing it near a cow pasture caused his cows to break through the fence and eat the leaves on which the product had been placed. A few hunters still swear by C’Mere Deer, but many have dismissed it as just another faulty product.
And every time you think the products taking aim at hunters’ wallets can’t become any more extreme, some company manages to out-do themselves. Code Blue, a maker of deer lures, recently introduced a product called Grave Digger. It is scented soil — direct that has supposedly been urinated on by deer. For $16, you can buy your own dirt to create a mock scrape in front of your hunting stand.
And while I’ve already admitted that I use deer urine on a regular basis and there may be a fine line between deer urine and deer feces, let’s not forget that it has only been a couple of years since you could walk into your favorite sporting goods store and pick up a bag of real deer poop.
Which just goes to prove: as hunters, we’ll buy almost anything.