Scent Control; Are you in... Or Out...?

Mike Furman

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  • Prostaff Member Mike Furman

Scent control. Even so much as whisper these two words in any circle of hunters and you'll likely find yourself in more of a firestorm of controversy than if you were to start rapping at a Hank Williams Jr. concert.

You will instantly hear arguments from the 'left' side of the campfire from the 'old school-ers', (and those claiming to be 'old school'), barking that their Grandpappy used to venture off into the deer woods with a Marlboro Red between his lips and 870 slung over his shoulder, sporting nothing more extravagant than a red and plaid wool-rich hunting coat, some sort of heavy coveralls and a pair of leather work boots, and how HE always wound up dragging something decent out by day's end; and then from those on the right-hand side of that same campfire who are so scent-conscious that they won't even eat anything with garlic in the mix unless they're taking chlorophyll tablets 2 days prior to a hunt. Indeed, this debate can be a very confusing and tricky topic to absorb to the new guy, or to some who may find themselves following well-intentioned but misguided information. So isn't there at least some middle ground we can all agree on when it comes to keeping yourself from being picked off by the extremely scent-savvy whitetail? Well, that depends upon who you talk to and their personal experiences of course, but if you ask me.....not really; at least not if your carrying your bow with you.

To really understand and embrace scent control as part of your arsenal of defense in attempting to get within bow (or even gun) range of a whitetail's nose, we must first develop a healthy appreciation for our quarry's sniffer. Most wildlife and deer biologists will agree enough to tell you that the whitetail deer can smell an average of some 300 times better than a human, can detect tens of thousands of different odors, and have the ability to differentiate between those smells, also. Charles Alsheimer, a renowned whitetail deer hunter, photographer and editor for Deer and Deer Hunting magazine from western New York state perhaps said it best; "there are many ways to attempt to fool a whitetail, but his nose is not one of them...". A whitetail's primary defense is its olfactory sense. She literally lives and dies by it, using it every minute of every day and night to detect and flee from potential danger and predators, (i.e., you and me). So to put ourselves at our best advantage to get as close as within bow kill range, we are fools not to respect a deer's incredible sense of smell.

A year ago very early one crisp fall morning, I had stopped at a local gas station and convenience shop on the way in to work to fill up my truck with gas and to get a cup of coffee. As I was filling up, another pickup pulled along side mine on the other side of the pump island. As the fellow appeared on the other side, I noticed that he was obviously on his way to do a little bowhunting that morning, the only season in at the time, as he was outfitted from head to foot in some of the nicest, top-of-the-line scent control clothing available to date, including the pair of Scent Blocker Dream Season boots on his feet. Our eyes met briefly, we gave each other the customary 'good morning' nod you would expect at 4 in the morning from one guy going hunting and one who wished he was, and he strolled into the store. He appeared a minute or two later slapping a pack of cigarettes against his palm as I was finishing up at the gas pump. I said "Good luck buddy", to him, he said "Thanks, take care", and I drove off. As I drove to my firehouse sipping my coffee, I couldn't help thinking to myself about how I wished I was on my way to the woods too, but more so about what I had just seen back at the gas pump. Things just weren't adding up; I thought to myself, 'Here's a fellow that obviously takes bowhunting seriously enough to go and spend money one of the best, latest scent elimination suits available, probably took a shower with unscented soap before leaving his house, and then he takes ten giant steps backwards by going to the local convenience mart to gas up in his hunting gear before actually going to his stand'.

Which brings us back to the whitetail's nose; that fellow probably was scent-conscious enough that upon arriving at his hunting location, he would more than likely go through the ritual of liberally spraying himself down with one of the many various scent-killing sprays available, and then perhaps squirt a little doe estrous urine on the sole bottoms of his boots in hopes of cover-scenting and arousing the interest of a love-starved buck prior to quietly making his way out to his stand. And then the only thing I can imagine happening next is at about daybreak, one of those rutty bucks will happen to be in the area of our man's estrous scent trail, pick it up, and happen to be just punch-drunk enough on testosterone to follow it until to the point of being close enough to realize that his would-be estrous 'girlfriend' smells like 'she' just walked through a gas station parking lot and then had a smoke. Game over. Who knows, maybe that same buck wound up wandering nose-down a little too far before figuring it all out, just enough to put him broadside at 30 yards to him. Stranger things certainly happen in the animal world. But given the facts, you can safely bet that would be the exception and not the rule. How else do you explain beginner's luck? Even a blind squirrel gets an acorn every now and then, as they say. More times than not, if you 'stink' and the wind direction or thermals are not in your favor, you More than likely have been detected and avoided by deer that were far enough away that you never even knew they were there.

Scent Control

No matter what side of the debate you are on when it comes to scent control, those who are inclined to embrace it as a necessary part of their hunting strategy are best to do so with a totalitarian mindset. Your scent control regimen is only as strong and effective as its weakest link, and there are plenty of candidates. For example, if you are going to invest the money in one of the latest of the very many scent elimination garments available today, and then hang it up in your closet between the same outer garments you wear to work every day, don't head for your computer to submit a "worst hunting clothing I ever bought, don't waste your money" review to Cabela's after you get busted in the tree stand. Don't take the time to take a shower with scent-free shampoo and soap before going hunting if you're going to dry yourself off with a towel that has been washed with Snuggle fabric softener, then dried with a Bounce dryer sheet. And then definitely don't get so far as doing the above two things correctly, only to completely blow your efforts by saturating your entire ensemble with gasoline vapors.

Your scent elimination regimen starts with using your head before you even set foot in the woods to identify potential target areas and should be as thorough and all-inclusive as possible, and that includes your gear, such as your backpack if you carry one to your stand, and your bow (or gun). In other words, if you're going to play the odor-elimination game and use it to your advantage enough that it is successful for you, then you are going to have to put forth the time and effort to do it 100%, and that includes watching wind direction.

The scent and odor control game is not necessarily for everyone who ventures into the deer woods each fall. It's just too time-consuming, labor-intensive, and not to mention expensive for some. I can only imagine that there are an equal number of folks who think we 'scent control freaks' are wasting our time and would be better off just playing the wind and doing like Grandpappy used to do back in the day. And that is a pair of dice that is up to each individual hunter to roll as he or she may. But for those who do take this critical piece to the predator puzzle by the horns, you can rest assured that you are either 100% in, or 100% busted!

Posted by Mike Furman under Deer Hunting on January 18, 11 10:35 AM | Permalink

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