The whitetail’s sense of smell is stronger than sight, sound or taste; and one whiff of you can spoil a well-planned hunt.
Any good hunter knows that human smells—whether from soap, cologne or just good ol’ B.O.—will spook a deer faster than you can say, “I smell what you’re stepping in.”
Food for thought: The human nose has about five million olfactory receptors, while a dog has about 220 million. We all know how good Fido can smell, and a deer’s nose has almost 300 million olfactory receptors!
Needless to say, scent elimination is key to bagging a buck, so why don’t more hunters take advantage of this knowledge? A few sprays of a scent eliminator or a few drops of doe-in-heat urine just aren’t enough to fool any deer older than a yearling. Fortunately, we’ve got some better ideas for you to try.
It may seem extreme, but to avoid getting unnatural smells on your clothing—everything from your coveralls to your underwear—rinse the washer thoroughly before putting your clothes in it to keep residual detergents from contaminating them. Wash your clothes with baking soda and hang dry them outdoors if possible, or dry them without using a fabric-softener sheet.
After removing your clothes from the dryer, hang them outdoors away from any smoke or other unnatural odors so they naturally air out. If it’s not yet time to hunt, store your clothes, including your boots, in a large plastic bin with a tight lid to keep odors out. Some hunters even take some dried leaves from their hunting areas and place them in the container as a cover scent.
Preparing for the Hunt
Shower with scent-free soap, body wash and shampoo, preferably with those manufactured specifically for hunters that include scent-eliminating ingredients that help to prevent odor-causing bacteria. Rinse off for five to 10 minutes. After your shower, only dry yourself with towels laundered the same as your hunting gear. After all, it won’t do any good to shower with unscented soap if you dry off with a towel that smells like Tide.
Make sure to apply scent-free antiperspirant since deer will not only be spooked by that mountain-fresh smell, but also by your body odor. Die-hard hunters will even cover themselves with baking soda (don’t forget your feet) to fight off bacteria in their sweat. You’ll also want to use a scent-free mouthwash to help control odor-creating bacteria. You can even use scent-free toothpaste, although many hunters brush with baking soda and peroxide on hunting days to not only kill bacteria, but also brighten their teeth while remaining scent-free.
If you’re unsure about your breath, take chlorophyll pills or chew some chlorophyll gum to further reduce breath odor. You can also fill a travel-sized mouthwash container with hydrogen peroxide and swish your mouth to keep your breath fresh throughout the day.
Avoid Unnatural Odors
While it’s impossible to achieve 100-percent scent elimination, the best hunters strive to get as close to zero scent as possible. The first step to that achievement is to avoid foreign odors, including gasoline, cologne, air fresheners, oils, chewing tobacco, cigarette smoke and even scented toothpaste. You might be surprised to know a deer can even smell the onions and garlic on your breath!
Make sure if you stop for breakfast, smoke a cigarette or gas up your truck before hunting that you aren’t wearing your hunting gear (better yet, fill your vehicle with gas the night before). The smell of spilled coffee, tobacco or gasoline will pretty much counteract any measures you already took to eliminate scents.
You may like to pass the time in the woods with a cigarette now and then, but one cigarette smoked before or during your hunt will run off a deer faster than anything. Even chewing tobacco has a strong odor that will spook a deer.
Possibly even more importantly, for several days before your hunt make sure to avoid foods that might give you gas… for obvious reasons.
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Take Your Time
You don’t want to rush the path to your stand and work up a sweat. Instead, leave early and allow extra time so you can go slow and arrive sweat-free.
You can also cut down on sweating by only wearing necessary clothing while traveling to your destination, carry your hunting gear in their sealed container and finish dressing once you’ve reached your stand.
Always check the wind before and during your hunt to keep any of your human smells from blowing toward the deer. Try tying a piece of thread to your stand, gun or bow, then watch it throughout the day to make sure it’s blowing away from the quarry.
If the wind changes direction, you’ll want to change your location, so keep this in mind while you’re plotting the position of your treestand.
Watch Your Step
Avoid walking on deer trails, and if you have to cross one take a wide step over it. If you’re hunting near a pasture, it can actually help to step into cow dung to hide your own scent. Needless to say then, stepping in deer droppings can only help, and it might even attract deer.
Just be sure you don’t step in feces of an animal that is unnatural in your hunting environment. For example, never step in a cow patty, then hunt in a forest that is far from cattle.
Speaking of boots, you don’t want to wear your work boots to hunt. It won’t do you a bit of good to spend time on preparation if you’re tracking unwanted scents to the stand… and boots can hold scents for months! In fact, don’t put them on until you get to the field to prevent them from picking up scents at gas stations, restaurants or even the floorboard of your truck.
Use Natural Scents
Instead of applying manufactured cover scents, cover your smell with scents from your hunting environment. For example, if you are hunting in an area heavily covered with pine trees, break a branch and rub it onto your clothes.
Doing Your Business
However convenient it might be, never take a potty break from or beneath your stand. Try to cut down on any urgent moments by avoiding caffeine, which acts as a diuretic.
Many hunters carry a sealable plastic container to use for urination. Even better, tape some padding around it to muffle the sound of urine hitting the plastic. If you absolutely have to go “number two,” choose an area away from your stand and upwind from where animals are most likely to approach. Dig a shallow hole, do your business, then cover it with dirt.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using any of the sprays, soaps, deodorants and even ozone generators that are commercially available. But even the perfect potion isn’t going to be as effective as practicing a consistent scent-control regimen.
Remember, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Happy hunting, and here’s to you bagging that buck!