It is hard to fool a whitetail’s sniffer. Research has proven a deer’s sense of smell can be up to 1,000 times more sensitive than the average human’s. A whitetail deer nose actually has thousands of scent receptors, allowing them to sort and distinguish as many as six different scents at the same time.
Those noses aren’t short range weapons, either. Whitetails can perform this feat of sensory magic from some shocking distances. On a humid day with mild temperatures and a slight breeze, a buck can pick up your scent from more than a mile away.
Defeating that sensitive whitetail schnoz might seem like a hopeless endeavor. However, there are a few basic strategies you can use to help swing the odds in your favor. Just be aware that no matter how carefully you prepare or how well you play the wind, you’re still liable to spook that big toad you’ve been chasing. His nose game is just that good.
Controlling Human Scent
Some people mock those of us who use scent-control products marketed for deer hunters. They claim our grandfathers didn’t use those gimmicky products when they hunted deer, and they did just fine.
That is definitely true. Our grandfathers did not buy scent control sprays or fancy cover scents. However, our grandfathers also weren’t showering with perfumed body wash. Personal hygiene products were a lot more natural in Grandpa’s day. Chances are good that he washed with basic homemade soap, and Granny probably washed his clothes in that very same soap.
If a whitetail catches a whiff of modern day shaving cream, with its chemical ingredients and artificial fragrances, he immediately knows something is up.
The scent of hand lotion, mouthwash, and antiperspirant tells him an intruder just wandered into his living room.
If your normal personal care routine involves products you snatched off the grocery store shelf, you’re going to have a hard time getting away with what Grandpa did.
If you want to get past those keen whitetail noses, here are some simple scent control tips for the modern hunter.
Start with Personal Hygiene
Scent control starts from the inside out. Skip conventional personal care products, most smell like chemicals, even if they don’t have any extra added fragrance.
Thankfully, hunters have access to a whole host of products specifically engineered to help hide us from a deer’s nose. Scent Killer, Scent-A-Way, and Dead Down Wind all make body wash/shampoo without added perfumes. These products clean your skin without leaving behind any lingering chemical odors.
During hunting season, you will also need to stay away from other products with foreign scents like lotion, lip balm, hair gel, and chewing gum. Even when you aren’t hunting, you may want to put those products away until the season closes. You don’t want any lingering odors clinging to hair or clothes. (Ladies should also avoid using make-up and scented feminine hygiene products.)
Doing the Laundry
Just like modern personal hygiene products, most laundry products are loaded with chemicals and fragrances that will quickly spook a deer in the woods. You should be able to find laundry products engineered specifically for scent management somewhere in the outdoors section of your local sporting goods store.
One of our favorites is Dead Down Wind Laundry Bombs. These things are just like Tide pods, only without that “fresh laundry scent.”
Run your hunting clothes through a couple of wash cycles before opening day. This will help get out any lingering household odors.
You should also thoroughly wash any newly purchased hunting clothes before you wear them into the field. New clothes often smell like formaldehyde due to the manufacturing process. That stench sometimes takes a few washings to completely eliminate.
If you use dryer sheets on your regular laundry, you should avoid the dryer until after the season (or switch to these odor eliminating dryer sheets). The scent of dryer sheets can linger in the tumbler long after the cycle is complete. Line drying is always a better option for hunting apparel. Just make sure your clothesline isn’t downwind of your barbecue grill.
Storing Your Hunting Clothes
Fabric soaks up smells like a sponge soaks up water. After properly washing and drying your gear, you’ll want to make sure they stay as scent-free as possible. At the very least, you’ll want to stuff your clothes in a large plastic bag. Some hunters use a trash bag. Others prefer the jumbo storage bags.
However, it’s hard to beat activated carbon bags like these from ScentOut. Made of a sturdy, non-woven synthetic material with an activated carbon lining, these bags help neutralize any lingering odors attached to your clothes.
If you are super serious about scent control (and we all should be), consider investing in a Scent Crusher Ozone Gear Bag. This gear bag uses a digital ozone generator to eliminate odors before and after the hunt. This is the perfect option for extended backcountry hunting trips where you won’t have easy access to a washer machine
Using Scent Elimination Sprays
A scent eliminator spray can add a quick boost to your scent control regimen. Featuring bio technology that neutralizes human odor, a quick spray of Scent-A-Way Max or a similar elimination spray is an extra boost to help keep body odor at bay.
Here in the South, temperatures during bow season often spike into the 90s. Hiking in the woods in long sleeves with a climbing stand on your back is sure to work up a good, stinky sweat.
This is a great way to neutralize odors you work up on your way to your stand. Once you arrive, spritz yourself down. Make sure to get your underarms, crotch (sorry, there’s no delicate way to put that), and around your hat band. These are the prime spots that generate human odor.
Using Cover Scents
You can follow every tip known to man for minimizing human scent, but it is impossible to get rid of it entirely. At the end of the day, humans still smell like humans, even in a cloud of scent elimination spray.
There is one extra way to help keep you hidden from whitetail sniffers. Hide it behind a cover scent.
There are plenty of different cover scents to choose from, everything from natural animal urine to earth and pine scents. However, you don’t want to use just any random cover scent. Deer aren't’ stupid. They know exactly what scents belong in the woods and when.
Here are few quick cover scent guidelines to keep in mind.
Use a cover scent that occurs naturally in your hunting area. For example, don’t use a cedar cover scent in an area filled with oak and maple trees. In this case, an acorn cover scent would be the more effective option.
Use scents like estrus urine or buck tarsal glands during the rut. They work great for attracting whitetails during the rut, but can cause stress during other times of the year. These aren’t technically designed to be used as a scent cover, anyway.
When possible, use a cover scent from a natural source. Fresh snapped pine branches are a better cover than any bottled pine scent.
Hunting the Wind
Even the slightest drift of wind can carry human scent a serious distance in a short period of time. The wind can be a hunter’s best friend or worst enemy, either wafting human smell away from or toward an incoming buck. To increase your chances of tagging a big buck, you want to be aware of the wind and know how to use it to your advantage.
Pay attention to wind speed and direction, as well as thermal air patterns before planning your hunting position. Choose a stand that has the wind blowing toward you from the direction you expect the deer to approach. Usually this means sitting with the wind blowing in your face.
You can’t always trust the weatherman when it comes to wind direction. Be sure to check the wind again when you’re in the woods. (Keep one of these wind detectors in your pocket to help you out.) You may have to change your strategy once you arrive at your hunting location.
Summing It Up
It may be impossible to completely beat that keen whitetail sniffer, but by using these scent control tips and techniques, you can certainly help swing the odds in your favor. Remember to start from the skin out, eliminating chemical and human odors from yourself and your hunting gear. Once you’re in the field, use a scent elimination spray to neutralize sweaty body odor. You can also use a cover scent to help mask the natural human smell. Finally, be sure to use the wind to your advantage.
By using a little preparation and forethought, you’ll stay invisible to those fine-tuned nostrils.