Total scent control is one of today’s hottest topics among serious hunters. Whitetails live and die by their noses, and by the time a buck reaches maturity his nasal gland has filtered millions — if not trillions — of odors.
Is a whitetail’s sense of smell as good as it’s cracked up to be? I’d say definitely. Scent, or lack of it, probably plays a role in every successful hunt. Some hunters undoubtedly get lucky by guessing right or happen to catch a deer with its guard down, but consistent success completely hinges upon a hunter’s ability to reduce his scent while basing his hunting tactics around thermal currents and prevailing wind directions.
Thermals are fairly easy to understand. In a nutshell, air currents flow uphill during mornings and filter downhill during evenings. Topographical characteristics do provide for some wrinkles in those descriptions, but cross currents, etc., aren’t worth worrying about, because they’re simply too unpredictable.
A DEER WALKS INTO A RESTAURANT …
Some guys like to make up “newfound research” concerning the whitetail’s sense of smell. I recently read a piece in which the author used another tired anthropomorphic analogy where he compared humans to deer.
“A human might walk into a restaurant and smell onions and beer,” he wrote.“If a deer walked into the same place, it would smell onions, beer, pickles, mustard, cigar smoke and cheap perfume, and react based on past experiences.”
Buck pellets! Although the general point might be valid, the analogy is terribly flawed. Deer don’t walk through the woods with cognizant thought. They’re not ambling around saying to themselves, “Hmm, I smell dog urine in Old Man Johnson’s back forty. Guess I best be avoiding that place for a while.”
Deer are intelligent animals, but their intelligence is based purely on the instinctual reflexes of a prey species. In other words, they react — most often quickly and decisively — to out-of-place stimuli. It might be an odd odor, flash of white from a T-shirt, or subtle metallic sound from a treestand. They sense something and skedaddle. They don’t stand around analyzing it.
WATCH: How much food does a deer need in a day? Find out in this video:
Commercial scent makers have received much criticism over the years because a few shady characters viewed the industry as a way of getting rich by hawking inferior products. As is the case with most businesses, the wannabes have run themselves out of business. Today’s market includes some great products that definitely help hunters fool more deer.
GET SERIOUS ABOUT SCENT ELIMINATION
Although I’m a big fan of commercial deer scents, I limit my usage to the basics: scent-killing soaps and sprays, and — during rut-time hunts — doe-in-estrous urines and synthetic lures. Scents are not magi- cal. They simply provide the hunter with one more tool for outsmarting a deer. Reducing human odor is the No. 1 key to any successful hunt. That’s why a serious scent-elimination plan is often the difference between goodness and great- ness. It’s even more important when hunting bucks.
My program is simple but rigid. I shower before every hunt, using a commercial product such as Scent Killer liquid soap from Wildlife Research Center. I then dress in non-hunting clothes (usually a
long-sleeve T-shirt and sweatpants) and pull on a pair of spare rubber boots that I use just for driving. I sometimes even go so far as to place a clean bed sheet on the seat of my car, because
the leather seat is a sure trap for foreign odors. My hunting clothes and boots stay sealed in
a zippered Hunters Specialties scent-proof bag or my Scent Crusher ozone gear bag until I’m at my hunting area. I usually park by some evergreens or a thick fence line and use them as my “dressing room.”
This approach might sound over the top. I’ve had many people laugh at me for “being a weirdo.” No skin off my nose. Ever since adopting this program, I’ve seldom been winded by deer while hunting. In fact, I can count those instances on one hand, and in all of the cases, I attribute sloppy preparation on my part as the reason why they smelled me.
I should note that my total-control program coincided with my use of activated-carbon suits. I’ve used suits from Scent-Lok and Robinson Labs, and found both to be very effective in reducing human scent. Admittedly, a recent scientific study concluded that activated-carbon suits didn’t do much to hinder the tracking ability of trained dogs. In my opinion, that study was inconclusive, because free- ranging deer are complete opposites. They do not walk the woods seeking human scent; they react to it.
I believe activated-carbon suits greatly diminish the amount of scent that’s emitted into the air. I also attribute many of my successful hunts for mature deer to the luxury of wearing a Scent-Lok activated-carbon suit while hunting stands placed upwind of preferred travel corridors.
— Daniel E. Schmidt is Editor-in- Chief of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine and co-host of D&DH-TV. He lives in central Wisconsin.