How Important is Hunting Scent Control?
Hunting scent control – if you ever want a polarizing subject to discuss in the deer hunting world, look no further. There are all kinds of products that claim they can make you invisible to a deer’s nose. There are also lots of theories that go either way in the debate. Why all this focus on how we smell?
A deer has a nose many times stronger than a human. It’s their primary sense which they trust above all else, even above what they can see and hear. Long story short, if a deer smells you in the woods, it’s probably game over. But when it comes to actual scent control products or scent control clothing, how do you know what works and what’s just gimmick?
Enter Today’s Podcast Review
Today I’m reviewing a three-part podcast series on scent control practices. If you haven’t heard about the Down South Hunting Podcast yet, you need to check it out. While it’s tailored towards hunting in the southern half of the country, they cover hunting tactics that are applicable everywhere.
For example, this series interviews two northern hunters: John Eberhart from Michigan and Dan Infalt from Wisconsin. Both these hunters are renowned for killing big mature deer on public land. But I think you’ll quickly find out in the podcast that they take a very different stance towards hunting scent control. Listen to the podcasts (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), and read on below for a summary of their scent control tips, as well as a few of my own.
How Important is the Wind?
When you’re just starting out deer hunting, you don’t need to worry about getting all of the hunting scent control products on the market (there’s a LOT). While I believe some kind of scent control regimen will help, the more important thing for you to do is focus on the wind. If you can really pay attention to which direction the wind is blowing in each and every place you hunt, you can usually stay hidden from a deer’s keen nose. But how do you do that?
The idea is to always keep the wind so that your scent is blowing away from where you expect deer. How do you know where the deer will show up or which direction the wind is blowing? You need to scout your hunting area first to know where the deer trails are (they will often use common trails as they wander between food and bedding). As for the wind, you can use small squirt bottles of bread flour or even a natural substitute to see which direction it’s going. So if you’re facing the deer trail, make sure that the flour is floating back behind you.
Dan in the podcast mentioned that he never uses hunting scent control anymore. He even wears oily work clothes to the deer stand. While I wouldn’t recommend that, it raises an interesting point. He’s able to do that because he focuses so much on the wind’s micro-currents at each location he’s in. By grabbing some milkweed pods and scattering a few fluffy seeds into the air, he can watch how the seeds float.
This tells him the general direction the wind is blowing right where he’s at. But he can also watch it as it travels along the current to see how the wind shifts. He mentioned on the podcast how a seed could suddenly shift directions once it gets 20 yards away. Knowing this, you can adjust your tree stand location to stay downwind.
Basic Hunting Scent Control
As for actual hunting scent control practices, I’m a firm believer…in at least partially embracing it. I stick to my scent control process as best I can, but don’t go to extremes either. As John mentions, doing any scent control is better than none. The general idea is to clean yourself, clean your scent control hunting clothing, and keep it all scent-free.
Your deer hunt should begin in the laundry room. Wash your hunting clothes and some street clothes in a scent-eliminating or no-scent detergent and hang the garments outside to dry if possible. Store them in an airtight container, such as a scent control bag or tote, once they’re dry.
Next, shower using a scent free soap for hunting, such as Dead Down Wind Body and Hair Soap. While I’ve always used this brand, John mentioned you don’t need to use the sporting goods brands. A hypoallergenic, scent-free soap would work too. This removes any human scent and gives you a fresh start.
Wear your washed street clothing to your hunting area and then dress in your cleaned hunting clothing once you arrive. John is a big advocate of using an activated carbon Scent Lok® suit, which absorbs odors and can allow you to sit directly upwind of deer, in his experience. In addition, he uses more Scent Lok® hunting clothes and scent free rubber boots. He has even tried ozone scent control and admits it works in limited circumstances. As far as I know, he is the most passionate person I’ve ever heard of when it comes to hunting scent control.
What About Other Scents?
Interestingly, both the experts agreed that using scent blocker spray or other deer hunting scents (e.g., pine cover scent, attractant scents, etc.) is usually a bad idea. Why? Dan believes it’s impossible to actually fool a deer’s nose, so why bother with them. John believes the area he’s hunting in should work for itself, and using deer scent products draws attention to it in an unnatural way.
I see their points, but generally disagree a little. I also believe it’s impossible to fool a deer’s nose completely and I don’t use any cover scent for deer hunting. However, I do use a scent elimination spray (Scent Killer® Gold) since I don’t maintain high scent standards throughout the season. I also use deer urine scents like Code Blue® every season. I’ve had bucks follow my doe estrous scent drag trail to my deer stand on several occasions. So it’s tough for me to not believe in them a little…
How You Hunt Also Matters
Of course, how you actually hunt makes a big difference in hunting scent control. Going to the same exact spot repeatedly over a hunting season will educate deer to your presence, even if they don’t smell you. But each trip increases the chance that your scent will spook them. Dan avoids this situation by staying mobile and hunting with a hang-on stand. He will either scout from roadways in open areas for deer activity or walk into a more secluded area and scout for deer sign. If he finds fresh sign, he will hang his tree stand and hunt from it immediately. This allows him to surprise deer as they come back through the area.
Another one of both experts’ deer hunting scent control tips is to hunt high in a tree if possible. Being 20 to 30 feet off the ground can let your scent drift over the top of a deer that’s downwind. But if there aren’t any suitably tall trees in your area (or you’re not a fan of heights), you either need to play the wind or fully stick to a hunting scent control process. Being only 6 to 10 feet off the ground, you can’t risk the wind pushing your scent right into a wary whitetail’s nose.
I was really surprised that these experts have such polar opposite views, yet each one is a VERY successful deer hunter in very similar geographies.
Now what does all this mean for you?
I hope it teaches you that both approaches can work. Being obsessive about hunting scent control and getting all the hunting gear and Scent Lok® clothing absolutely works and may appeal to you. But if it doesn’t sound fun, you can get by with much less stuff as long as you’re hyper-focused on the wind.
It’s your adventure. Go get it.