It is, by far, one of the quickest vanishing acts in nature and anyone who has spent much time hunting whitetail deer has seen it more than once. One moment you’re holding your breath, pulse pounding, as your quarry slowly makes its way into range. Then, in the space of a few loud heartbeats, the animal’s muscles tense, its ears cock, and with a few graceful bounds your deer waves a tail in farewell and is quickly out of sight. Sounds familiar, huh? What caused this wake-up call in the middle of your dream hunt? The most likely answer is your scent.
Whitetail deer are remarkably equipped for sensing danger in their environment. Their senses of sight and hearing are amazing survival tools. If you’re moving around a little too much, or making unnatural noises in or near your stand, your chances of a successful hunt are reduced considerably. But walk into the woods without keeping the human scent factor in mind and you might as well go in turning cartwheels and banging a drum. A snoot full of human scent will cause any deer, from the smallest fawn to the most majestic buck, to make tracks for the next county.
Scent reduction is desirable while deer hunting with any type of weapon, but is of paramount importance when armed with a bow or handgun. When hunting with these weapons, a big factor in your success will be remaining undetected long enough to get an opportunity for a close shot So, how can you reduce the chance of human odor standing in the way of your deer hunting success? Even with the many scent “elimination” products available today, which I’ll write more about, it’s impossible to completely eliminate unwanted human scent. But they can be a great tool to help reduce the chance you’ll be winded by game. The use of these products along with some common sense may just reduce your scent to a manageable level and give you the edge you need to bag that whitetail deer.
The single most important factor in not being defeated by scent on your next hunt is to pay the utmost attention to wind direction. The wind can be your staunchest ally or your ultimate enemy. It is imperative that the area where you expect to see deer is upwind from your stand. If not, no matter how slight the breeze, you are most probably in for a long and uneventful hunt. Your best chance to harvest a whitetail is to keep the animal upwind from you, or at least in a crosswind, at all times. If possible, have several stand locations so that no matter the wind direction, you’ll be in a downwind position to hunt a likely area. A common mistake made by deer hunters is that of contaminating an excellent stand site by hunting it in the wrong wind. Be patient and wait for a favorable wind before hunting your favorite stand. Once deer have been spooked from an area by human scent, it could take them quite awhile to feel comfortable visiting that location again.
Develop a scent elimination ritual each time you deer hunt. Wash your body thoroughly prior to every hunting trip with a scent eliminator soap. There are some excellent and fairly inexpensive body wash products available that will greatly reduce human odor. The brand I use is called “Scent Killer.” It’s available in both bar and liquid form, and also as a shampoo. Once you have showered with a scent elimination product, don’t undo all your efforts by drying off with a fabric softener-scented towel, causing you to now walk the woods smelling like flowery fresh laundry. Instead, wash the towel, and your hunting clothes in one of the laundry detergents designed to reduce human scent. Wash every stitch of fabric you plan to wear or carry into the woods. When leaving for your deer hunt, bring along a good quality scent neutralization spray to apply just before you begin your trek into the woods. All of these scent elimination products are readily available at sporting goods stores which carry hunting products, or by mail order over the internet.
Another tactic available to the serious hunter is the endless line of scent reduction apparel available today. If you’re willing to spend the money, modern hunting clothes have been produced using activated carbon impregnated in their fabrics. The clothes are designed to trap and absorb human odors before they escape into the environment and, ultimately, into the nose of your prey. Virtually any hunting apparel item you can think of is available using this technology. It may be a good idea to do some research before you invest in any of this clothing as the jury is still out on whether it’s effective enough to be worth its considerable expense. A full set of these clothes for hunting in cooler weather (shirt, pants, socks, jacket, boots, hat, and gloves) can easily set you back 300 to 500 dollars.
After doing everything you can to minimize your scent prior to your hunt, use some common sense on your trip to your chosen hunting area. Do not smoke or ride in a smoke-filled vehicle on your way to your hunt. Avoid stopping at a restaurant or other public indoor venue on your ride. You will absorb odors in any indoor public place you visit. After your car trip and before entering the woods, spray your body thoroughly with a scent eliminator spray, paying particular attention to your hands and feet. Wear scent reduction boots and gloves if you have them. When walking to your stand, always approach slowly, quietly, and, if possible, with the wind in your face. You never know if a deer has arrived at your stand site before you. Try to limit the touching of plants and limbs as much as possible on your way in. No matter how complete your efforts at scent reduction, you will leave some scent trail as you make your way to your stand.
Remember that nothing you can do will totally eliminate your natural human scent. The most important thing to remember is to play the wind. It should be pointed out that hunters have been taking whitetail deer throughout history without any of the new-fangled high-tech aids I’ve mentioned. The best any of these products and tips can do is to reduce your chances of being busted by the wily nose of a whitetail and having to sit through that vanishing act one more time.