Everyone knows that a deer’s best defense is its nose. Yet it still amazes me when hunters tell me they do not engage in any scent control practices. Sure, its possible to hunt without being concerned over your scent. You may even kill a deer. But consistent success will only come when the deer’s number one defense is neutralized.
Let’s start with the basics and what is often referred to as “hunting the wind.” This technique is essential from the beginning and will dictate where you hang a stand and when you hunt it. While scouting an area for deer sign, do not only take note of what you see on the ground, tracks, rubs, etc. but observe the wind direction. Determine where the deer are traveling to and from such as bedding areas and food sources and find a way to stay downwind of these areas. Some folks feel they need to hang their stand where the ducks are flying under them to get away from a deer’s nose and eyes. I can’t argue, but then again, I don’t like heights. So for me 15 feet is usually my maximum height maybe 20 on occasion. But I have killed deer from far less and many from the ground. Just remember that when hunting from lower elevations and especially from the ground, you are well within the deer’s ranges of smell, sight, and sound. Keep your movement to a minimum. When you have to move make it slow and deliberate. Use the wind to your advantage by thinking about what wind directions will work best for morning and evening hunts. Place your stand where your position will be downwind and only hunt that stand when the wind is right.
Now that sounds all well and good, but what about those of us out there with limited hunting land who may not have the flexibility of multiple stand locations for each wind direction. Half your season could be gone before you get that perfect wind and even then, what if it switches direction 30 minutes into the hunt. Well, the retail stores are filled with gadgets and gizmos, sprays, and powders that all claim to eliminate human scent. I do not believe that any of these products will 100% ”eliminate” your scent. But I am a huge believer in that they will reduce your scent significantly enough to reduce your chances of alerting a deer.
The DEER30 team and I personally use a variety of scent control products and with great success, just go to our Deer Hunting Videos or Trophy Room pages. In any one our closets you may find sprays, shampoos, body wash, and bars of soap by Hunter Specialties® Scent-A-Way, Dead Down Wind®, Wildlife Research Center Scent Killer®, etc. Some of us use non-scented products, while others use cover scent wafers or sprays with ‘fresh earth” scent. Why is there no brand loyalty amongst us? Because first, we aren’t being paid to endorse anything, and second we each believe that the product we choose does its job to minimize our scent and help to fool a deer’s nose. We also use scent eliminating clothing such as garments made by Scent Lok, carbon-lined bags, plastic storage containers, scent reducing laundry detergent and dryer sheets. Yes, they make just about everything, and no it is not necessary to use all of these things to kill a deer. But when I’m bow hunting I prefer to have a deer as close as I can get it, hopefully less than 30 yards. That is a small space when you think about all the other areas in which that deer can travel. So when the opportunity comes, I don’t want to blow it by letting his nose pick me out before get a shot or even know he is there.
Now the guys and I will be preparing for an early season, September bow hunt in Maryland again this year. It’s still very warm that time of year in the Mid-Atlantic region and so you are going to perspire, making scent control essential. I’ll walk you through my preparations as they pertain to scents. First I pack all the camo I expect to use inside a plastic bag and then inside a plastic tub. This is easy because that is exactly where they were placed after last year’s season. When we arrive in Maryland the night before, I will wash all the camo and any other clothing I plan to wear such as socks, under shirts, etc. in the scent reducing detergent and dry them with the scent reducing dryer sheets. I usually wash everything a few times throughout the year, especially when hunting in warm weather. If you also plan on using carbon-lined clothing, be sure to check the label for specific washing instructions. They are then placed back into the bag and tub, with maybe a scent wafer or two, and left til morning.
The morning of the hunt, I will shower with the scent eliminating body wash and shampoo and get all my gear together outside of the house. I put on my camo pants outside, but I do not put my outer camo shirt on until I reach the stand. This will help prevent me from over-heating on the way, thus reducing sweat and scent. When driving to a hunting area, I do not put any of my outer layers on until I am outside of the truck. Until then, they remain in the plastic tub. I spray down with scent eliminating sprays from top to bottom, including my pack, bow, release, hats, gloves, and rubber boots. Rubber boots are a must for preventing a scent trail in and out of your hunting areas. I check the wind to be sure the weather man was right and the stand chosen is the best for that morning. Then I head out, trying not to touch any branches, saplings, etc. with my bare hands so not to leave any sweat or oils behind on my way.Once at the base of the tree, I will put on my outer layer of camo, safety harness etc. Before settling in for the hunt, I breakout my small bottle of scent spray and give everything one last blast. I am a big wind checker and every 30 minutes or so give a little puff to be sure it’s still blowing in the desired direction. I will usually hunt during a swirling wind, but even with all the preventive efforts I just went through, a wind change to a constant dead wrong direction and I will climb down and switch stands when possible. Once the hunt is over, I leave my camo hanging outside or place it back into the bag and plastic tub and repeat the process the next day.
Sure it sounds excessive. My eyes were growing wider while writing this article. Wow! I really do all of that before each hunt? But I believe that I owe, in part, the success that I have had to good scent control practices. Actually it has become my routine, and so it is second nature to me. Even while hunting in the mountains of Virginia, the only change to the routine is that I use hiking boots instead of rubber for the added ankle support.
Again, I know it is possible to kill a deer without doing all this stuff. I’m sure someone out there will tell you they have killed deer in a t-shirt and blue jeans. But I think if you talk to the hunters who consistently put the mounts on the wall and the meat in the freezer, you will find that they perform some measure of scent control. That’s who I strive to be. So, please do not use this article as a basis to go out and buy a thousand dollars worth of scent control gear. After all, people were hunting deer long before sprays and soaps. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t conscious of scent. They attacked from downwind.