While on a managed deer hunt in southern Missouri 25 years ago, I witnessed a unique way that a hunter attempted to mask his human scent against the Whitetail deer we were hunting.
After a warm early October morning of hunting activity, the hunters in our group all gathered back at camp to trade our cold-weather clothing for cooler clothes and for some time hanging around until our evening hunt.
With temperatures reaching nearly 90˚˚ by 11 a.m., many cut their hunts short in exchange for a relaxing spot in a cooler place. When one of the neighboring campers pulled into his site, I saw him take a large plastic bag from his truck. Because he was wearing only shorts and a T-shirt, I assumed his hunting clothes were in the bag, but I wondered why. Later that afternoon, I noticed the same hunter dragging a few cedar branches and placing them in the plastic bag, along with two scooped handfuls of dried leaves from the forest floor. Soon after, the man gathered his camouflage jacket and faded pants from a homemade campsite clothesline and added them to the mixture of leaves and cedar branches in the bag. The man then shook the bag and placed it back in the truck until it was time for his evening hunt.
I later learned that the mixture of clothes, leaves and branches was the hunter’s way of adding a natural cover scent to his clothes to help mask his human odor.
It was a vital tactic in the days when hunters didn’t have the luxury of scent-eliminating sprays, scent-control clothing or other modern technologies. Yet this was one of the most arguable tactics for hunters to use for the past 30 to 40 years. Do scent-eliminating products work? Or is all that a big gimmick to help build sales for the hunting industry?
In nearly 30y years of deer hunting experience, I have had countless deer catch my scent, blow and run away. I’ve hunted without taking any precautions and I’ve also spent more money than I want to admit on every kind of scent control product on the market.
As a teenager, my grandfather smoked countless cigarettes while hunting, yet he successfully harvested deer. I also remember traveling to a family friend’s farm when I was younger and arriving at his treestand to find several bright soda cans. They were hanging from the limbs he could reach while he was in the stand. There were also numerous cigarette butts stuck in the bark of trees where he had been smoking while hunting. I thought, if these guys could still harvest deer, why was I taking time to spray down with scent eliminators and wear scent-fighting clothing? Even after witnessing those who take no precautions still harvest deer, I believe that hunters who use scent control products and scent regimens are more successful when hunting mature bucks.
Fooling the Nose
There are many tips and tricks for fooling one of the most sensitive noses known to man. First, it is vital to understand why and how deer can smell humans. Scent compounds come from the human body when the body breaks down molecules to make energy. The odors are emitted through the skin and breath. These substances are called VOCs, and they evaporate into the air, which can spook deer. Consciously avoiding foreign odors, such as food, gas and smoke are excellent tactics. Yet, a hunter’s scent will also detour deer, causing them to avoid the location or leave the area with their white tails rocking back and forth, flashing the countryside to signal danger.
One of the original forms of scent elimination was cover-up scents. As with the fellow hunter on our managed hunt, using natural scents such as leaves, dirt or branches was great to help hide human odor. As time has progressed, many cover scent products hit the market. For several years, I would store my hunting clothes in a bag with a fresh earth scent wafer to help absorb the scent and to be used later as a cover-up when hunting.
Other cover scents include sweet food smells such as vanilla or corn. Then there was the classic raccoon or fox urine product that many hunters sprayed on themselves or their boots. The problem with many of those products was that they were too strong smelling or suspicious to deer. It made them more aware than if nothing had been done.
A Top Priority
In recent years, I have eliminated most of my cover scent efforts and made eliminating my human scent my top priority. The only cover scents I have used lately are deer urine on mock scrapes or a scent wick.
When in a treestand or blind, the hunter should aim to be downwind of where they expect deer to approach. By placing the scent on a wick or in a scrape in different locations surrounding a stand site, a deer might get a nose full of scent instead of a whiff of the hunter.
On many occasions, I have also used natural substances in my hunting area as cover scents. For example, I hunt areas that serve large herds of cattle. While walking to my stand, I often use my Lacrosse Alphaburly Pro rubber boots as an advantage and purposely step in a cow pile or nasty mud that the cattle have stomped and beat around into a muddy mess. By applying these smells on my boots, I know they will cover up my trail with smells common to the area that the deer already know.
Scent Control Products
Although I have steered away from using cover scents, I have become more obsessed with scent-elimination products each year. A hunter must still use wind direction as their number one defense. But I believe that scent-control clothing, such as those having carbon or silver technology, is a must.
A close runner-up to taking advantage of wind direction is a well-placed scent elimination system. A proper system should include scent control clothing such as the ScentLok BE:1 Phantom pullover and pants that feature carbon alloy. The alloy absorbs unwanted odors and helps control any human odors from escaping while hunting.
After selecting the proper clothing, be sure to wash all gear in a scent-eliminating detergent such as Wildlife Research Centers Scent Killer Gold Laundry Detergent. Then, properly store them in a scent-safe bag to prevent any unwanted odors from absorbing into the clothing.
A Critical Step
The most critical step for a hunter in eliminating as much human scent as possible is simple. Before every hunt, you should shower using a scent-eliminating soap or shampoo such as Scent Killer Gold Body Wash & Shampoo. Showering with a scent-eliminating soap stops human odor from its source: the skin and hair. When showering is the first step, effective scent control clothing and scent elimination sprays will add to that success.
If you are hunting remotely for multiple days or when showering is not an option, hunters should still try to use field wipes or other scent-control options that clean the body without water.
The last step in hiding from a deer’s nose is using a scent-eliminating spray such as Scent Killer Gold. Hunters should spray their entire bodies and clothing before and during the hunt. Plus, be sure to spray down the bow, gun, boots, backpack or anything else accompanying them while hunting. If you are hunting in warmer weather when sweating is likely, spray yourself down multiple times throughout the hunt to prevent odors from developing. Again, wearing clothing that has carbon helps dramatically reduce odors from forming as well.
As an avid predator hunter, I have learned how critical using proper wind directions can be to the hunt’s outcome. Hunting whitetail deer is no different when using wind as an advantage.
In the mid-1990s, I would often play a VHS tape from Hunters Specialties that featured veteran hunter Tom Miranda. One line that stuck with me was Miranda saying, “80% of deer will approach from the downwind side.”
In the past 30 years of hunting deer, my observations make me believe that Miranda’s prediction almost hit that estimate on the head. I always keep my stand locations upwind from where I think the deer are likely to approach.
Throughout the hunt, I periodically use a windicator to check which direction the wind is blowing. If it is not in my favor, I hunt a different area. Having a mature buck bust me and having him avoid that area for the rest of the season is not worth it.
Although many hunters have the same mentality about wind direction when hunting, some mess up before the hunt begins. I know how critical walking into an area with the wind in your favor can be for a successful outcome. It is vital to avoid walking to the stand or blind with the wind blowing downwind or towards the area to be hunted. In this case, the human scent often beats the hunter to the stand and alerts every buck in the area that they are near. Instead, the hunter should use the wind in their favor, even if it means going out of their way to get to the stand.
Controlling scent and playing with the wind is crucial to success during the Whitetail deer season. This season, a prize buck could be harvested by ensuring you and your gear are fragrance-free, minding the wind direction, and using every tool at your disposal.