Our Outdoors: Scent Checked

By Nick Simonson

In the headlights, the yellowing leaves of fall in the ash tree alongside the approach on the gravel country road were pre-dawn reminders of the ongoing seasonal shift.  The cool air that curled into the truck as I opened the door was the second, and the third was the ritualistic walk around the pickup to the back and the uncasing of my bow for my first morning sit of the season, having previously taken on some warmer patrols in the evenings. The quiet calm of the cool darkness before sunrise was only occasionally disrupted by a cricket cadence as I slipped into my safety harness and made my way down the two-wheel path and across the cattle guard which provided slow-step passage over the low creek.

Not long after taking my stand on the north end of the open field, gray shadows slipped into the hay lot, one after another, moving from east to west under the first light of a weak sunrise hidden by the haze which made the deer seem to float and slide across the stretch of cut grass.  In the windows created by the branches in the sprawling boxelder trees around me, I’d frame the dark form of a doe or fawn, and watch it until it would move to the far side of the field and disappear into the brush along the small river’s edge at the far end of the field.

The sun struggled to rise through the trees on the eastern edge of the parcel and its weak red light provided only slight illumination to the first half hour of the day through the high haze and the last of the morning fog rising from the creek bottom.  In the stillness, the crashing bound of a whitetail doe was easy to detect as it dashed out of the woods and into the field and checked its surroundings before settling down to graze its way in a straight line toward the opening in the fence line.  As it reached the point where it was about to disappear into the tangled trees on the edge of my vision, it was met by another doe and two fawns, the latter still light brown with the slightest spotting from their first summer still visible on their hind quarters in the growing daylight.  As the trio began moving toward my position, the swish of grass close by caught my attention and a spike buck appeared off a side trail thirty yards from my stand.  He hopped over the two remaining strings of barbed wire and took the edge of the field in front of me.  At 15 yards, he paused and lifted his nose high in the air and craned his neck over and over again, throwing his head back in an attempt to pick out the strange scent he obviously detected.  With no wind, it was likely that even despite my best efforts to wash and dry my clothes in scent-free fashion and to spray down with cover scent, he was able to pick out that something unnatural was nearby. 

While he didn’t snort, stomp or even raise his tail in alarm, his five minute scent check provided me with a great opportunity to watch the behavior up close as he moved in to ten yards, the grassy edge of the hayed field acting as a physical boundary to his investigation.  Unable to make me out, my physical presence was shielded by overhanging branches and holding still with my bow breaking up the rest of my form, he continued on after he was unable to confirm the source of the something strange he smelled, but could not ascertain.

The doe and her fawns followed suit, less concerned and they all wandered off to the north and their likely bedding spots for the day.  The close encounter provided yet another lesson on the powerful senses possessed by those who survive the challenges of nature and allowed an observance of deer biology and keen ability, helping to add to the experience and take note of yet another important aspect of what is always a challenging and enjoyable hunt…in our outdoors.

Featured Photo: In addition to a spike buck searching for the source of a strange scent, the eyes and ears of a doe and her fawns put a lot of senses on high alert during a recent bow hunt. Simonson Photo.

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