Contemplating Black Mambas and the Finer Points of Deer Urine
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
I started to think of black mamba snakes. The mind tends to wander after a couple of hours of tedium while sitting in a tree stand during shotgun week waiting for a deer to come within range.
I had not seen a deer in two days of occupying my perch approximately twelve feet up a tree near a break in a stone wall in Chilmark for several hours, morning and afternoon. My friend and hunting companion, Alley Moore, was sitting in a tree stand nearby and he was having no better luck.
Shots echoed near and far, letting me know that other hunters were having more success. The shots were revealing — more often than not a succession of shots indicates a hunter or hunters on the ground shooting at a running deer trying to make its escape. A single report is usually a well-aimed shot fired by a hunter from a tree stand. It carries a sense of finality.
Having killed a deer from the very same tree on the first morning of the season last year, my first ever deer, I thought I was in a good spot. Alley had also shot his first deer the previous year. Now I was beginning to think that maybe we had just been lucky.
Fishing and deer hunting have much in common. Sure, on occasion a novice walks down to the beach and catches a big striped bass, but it is the fishermen who take the time to learn their spots that catch most of the big fish. Hunting is no different.
The whitetail deer relies on an extraordinary sense of smell, pinpoint hearing, and keen eyesight for its survival. Deer bed down during the daytime hours in thick brush and travel to feeding areas as the sun begins to set. The most successful hunters understand how and why deer move and scout locations extensively to place themselves in a position to get a good shot. I had done none of that.
I began the six-day shotgun week [since expanded to two weeks] enthusiastically and maybe just a bit overconfident based on my previous success and the fact that deer biologists said the Island deer herd is large and growing. Island bowhunters, the first to take part in the annual deer harvest, agreed with that assessment.
Gary BenDavid, an Oak Bluffs contractor and experienced bowhunter, had lent me a tree stand to use for the week. As I prepared to leave his garage Gary fiddled in a box of hunting gear. He found a small, brown plastic spray bottle and handed me a half-full, four-ounce “pro-size” bottle of “Hunter’s Scent scrape juice.”
Gary said to spray it around my stand to attract deer but he cautioned me to avoid getting any of the liquid on me. “It stinks like hell but it really works,” Gary said.
I sat in my tree stand slowly turning my head as I scanned the surrounding thick brush for any sign of movement. Even when seated in a tree stand, a hunter must avoid making any sudden movement that would be detected by a deer. I shifted slightly in my uncomfortable seat and waited.
The previous evening on television I had watched a crazy Australian snake expert as he went in search of a black mamba. Why the hell anyone, even a crazy Aussie, would want to find one of these snakes, was beyond me, but before the show had fulfilled its intended purpose and I fell off to sleep I learned something about the black mamba.
These snakes grow to a length of fifteen feet, travel up to speeds of thirteen miles per hour and unlike many venomous snakes that try to get away from people, will aggressively attack and have been known to give chase. Sitting in my tree stand, even with no deer in sight, I was consoled by the thought that at least there were no black mambas in Chilmark. In fact, holding a Remington 870 shotgun loaded with five deer slugs I felt pretty damn safe.
As Alley and I neared the end of shotgun week we began to despair of taking a deer. One morning, after sitting in my tree since before sunrise for hours, I stood up to stretch my limbs. Unfortunately, I did not see two deer that were either bedded down close to me or were traveling through thick brush not more than thirty yards from me.
On Saturday, the last day of the season, Alley and I met before we went into our respective tree stands. I handed Alley the bottle of scrape juice and told him to spray it around his stand. We exited the woods after the sun had set without having had any success and met where we had parked.
“What is that stuff,” Alley asked, referring to the scrape juice. “I smell like the restroom at Grand Central station.”
The entire contents of the spray bottle had leaked out in the pocket of his blaze orange hunting vest. I assured him I had not played a joke and that the bottle cap had either loosened or the container had cracked. I tried not to laugh and indict myself but the odor was strong and unmistakable.
That evening Alley called me on his cell phone as he drove around trying to air out his car. He said that when he had arrived home he didn’t dare bring his vest in the house so he left it outside on his back porch. Then he let his dog, Emmett, a black Lab out.
When he went to fetch the vest to wash it he discovered that Emmett, upon smelling the vest, had taken upon himself to “mark it,” and peed on it. “It was a real hosing,” Alley told me. The temperature had dropped and the entire vest was a frozen dog and deer pee sculpture.
This is interesting, I thought — after I stopped laughing.
So the next day I made a call to Scrape Juice Hunting products in Perry, Ga., manufactures of Bow Hunters Scent and a range of products used by successful bowhunters around the country. Dennis Lewis, the owner of the company for the past four years an accomplished bowhunter, answered the phone. He told me he does a lot of business in Massachusetts.
I explained that I had spent a week sitting in a tree stand with just a cold to show for it. In a thick Georgia accent, he put it all in perspective for me: “At least ya gettin’ ta hunt.”
When he is not selling his hunting scent products Dennis runs a drugstore in Perry, a town with a population of about 20,000. He also writes a hunting column for the local newspaper.
Dennis said he learned about the “scrape juice bow hunter setup” from a man in his hunting club who had killed several nice trophy bucks. The hunter gave a bottle to Dennis that he used to make a scent trail down to his stand. It soon proved its effectiveness. Ignoring Dennis’s human scent a buck walked down the same trail. Dennis missed the shot but that did not deter the buck.
“Now I watched him stop in the trail that I had walked down — now this buck’s spooked — he knows somethin’ bad happened because the arrow broke, he broke it when he run off because it went in between his legs — well, he was blowin’, stompin’, carryin’ on and gettin’ out of there, but when he hit that scent trail I watched him put his nose to the ground and walk right back to the base of my tree and I said, ‘wow,’ this stuff is awesome to bring a spooked buck back.”
“So I killed that deer along with two others.”
Dennis was written up in a magazine article in which he mentioned the product. The owner of the scent company called him up to thank him and later, when the owner got ready to retire, he offered Dennis the chance to buy the company.
“We bottle the real stuff,” Dennis told me. That would be urine from 129 leased whitetail deer on a deer farm. In the tone of a fine vintner confident his wine is derived from the best grapes, Dennis explained that the owner of the farm is a personal friend.
“I actually buy 100 percent whitetail deer urine from him and we don’t cut it and we don’t add preservatives,” he said.
However, he added, he does several things to enhance the product. Unwilling to share the details of his trade secrets he did volunteer that the formula is spiced by using various deer gland extractions and includes a secret additive developed by a Georgia trapper that was handed down to the originators of the scrape juice company when it began production in 1984.
Dennis said there are a lot of scents on the market but his company does not add any preservatives. Organic, I guess.
He said he may never be able to sell to a large chain store such as WalMart, “because you’ve got to have enough of the real stuff to actually bottle the real thing.”
Freshness counts as well. According to a description on the company website, scrapejuice.com, “all whitetail deer lures are shipped to you within three days of collection. You can’t get much fresher than that unless you want to collect it yourself!”
I asked Dennis if he wasn’t the least bit curious why some guy from Martha’s Vineyard had called him to talk about deer scent. Polite in that charming southern manner, he admitted he had wondered about it.
So I told him the story about the container that leaked and the dog-deer-pee sculpture. “Oh my God,” he said with a laugh. Almost apologetic, he explained, “It will attract any animal — that it will do.”
He quickly added, “I hate you didn’t get a deer.” I said that had more to do with my inexperience than his product.
He said that deer have an acute sense of smell, which is one of the reasons they are so difficult to hunt and the reason his product has found a ready market. He offered to send me a scent sampler.
Just to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, I called Filene’s department store and was connected to the fragrance department. A woman speaking with a European accent (which I assumed was a required skill) answered the telephone.
“What can I purchase for $15 a bottle?” I asked.
“Oh,” she said with just a hint of shock, “We have nothing like that.”
I asked her what I would have to spend to smell good. She told me that some French perfumes easily cost more than $100 but that a 1.7 ounce bottle of Calvin Klein eau de toilette (which is French for diluted perfume) would cost $42.
At that price, I concluded that a four-ounce undiluted bottle of “Eau de scrape juice” is a pretty good bargain. I guess it just depends on the quarry.
First published in The Martha's Vineyard Times, December 2000. From "Martha’s Vineyard Outdoors, Fishing, Hunting and Avoiding Divorce on a Small Island." Available at local bookstores, Amazon and marthasvineyardoutdoors.com.