I’m alone on a peaceful autumn morning. A steady 10 mph wind blows from the NNW, while temps start to creep above freezing. Perched in my tree, I patiently wait for shooting light. Dawn passes, and deer after deer start shuffling into my area.
I was no longer alone. Six deer surround me on three sides, each in favorable wind arrangements. They wander back and forth, snacking on an ample acorn supply, ignorant of my perilous presence.
I dream of mornings like this. Everything is going according to plan, and the situation has all the makings of a successful deer hunt. As I soak in the splendor, a new source of leaf crunching catches my ears. I hesitantly turn to survey the situation, and a big-body eight-pointer enters the scene. He’s a front-heavy beast with thick horns.
A shooter, by all accounts. Unfortunately, he’s approaching my downwind side, and I fear the inevitable. Busted. He catches my scent from 75-yards away, blurts out multiple aggressive snorts, ensuring every deer in my vicinity is aware of the danger, and they all high-tail it out of there. I’m alone again.
As a bowhunter, I know the deer’s incredible sense of smell is their first line of defense. To combat their inhuman skill, I follow an exhaustive scent control routine. I take a scent-free shower, dry off with a designated “hunting” towel, slip on my camo in the field, soak my gear in scent eliminator, and more.
To me, up in the tree, I smell like nothing. To a big-body eight, I smell like danger, and he’s right. Whether via residual floating molecules or cross-contamination, I gather enough aroma to catch the deer’s attention. To better understand how this is possible, I leverage what I’ve learned about the transmission of diseases during the ongoing pandemic.
The sense of smell is akin to taste in that it’s direct. If you place something on your tongue, you can taste it. Similarly, if tiny molecules of a volatile object, small enough to be airborne, reach your nasal passage, you can smell it. It’s not a pleasing thought, but if you smell it, you’re touching it. And these molecules are everywhere.
As I read the CDC advice for preventing disease spread, which is to wear masks, cover our mouths when we cough or sneeze, and maintain a six-foot distance from others, I think of my scent control routine.
Some diseases or viruses, like COVID-19, follow a similar transportation pattern in that they spread via airborne particles. If I’m within close proximity of an infected person, and they’re expelling airborne particles, odds are, some of those particles will reach me.
Applying that same logic to smells, I must wonder, how do I avoid aromatic molecules? Even with a scent-free shower and a designated hunting towel, where should I store my truck clothes, and how do I get to them without encountering smelly molecules along the way? Once I reach my truck clothes, how can I be sure they are molecule free?
After dressing, I still must traverse through the house and into my truck, ensnaring more malodorous molecules as I go. The kitchen is aromatic from last night’s dinner, and my truck retains hints of Tuesday’s takeout and Wednesday’s sweaty gym clothes.
No matter what I do, I’m not scent-free in the woods. Instead, I’m a diverse petri dish of the countless molecules I encounter, from the shower to the treestand.
Cross-contamination is the unintended transfer of matter from one object to another. Technically, cross-contamination is a medical term that presumes adverse effects, but since a busted hunt is as depressing as it gets, I’ll apply it here. Let’s run through a scenario where sickness is transferred via cross-contamination.
If sick person A touches the doorknob with their germ-infested hand, that doorknob is contaminated with the sickness. If the germ remains active and person B touches the same doorknob, their hand is now germ-infested.
Of course, to potentially become sick, person B must allow that germ to enter their body, but you can see how quickly this becomes convoluted.
Regarding matters of a smellier nature, the same general rules apply. If person A touches the doorknob with their smell-infested hand, that doorknob now smells. If person B touches the same doorknob… You got it. Person B’s hand smells.
Again, I consider my scent control routine. Does my designated hunting towel remain unscathed between hunts? What flowery lotion adorns the bathroom doorknob? Do the kids wash their hands before flipping the hallway light switch? What shenanigans did I get into before I last touched my steering wheel?
I’m overwhelmed by the number of smelly obstacles on my path. Like the floating molecules, a relentless barrage of smell-infested objects stands before me and my elevated destination. I think to myself, am I voiding my scent control efforts as soon as I walk out of the shower?
For deer, smelly objects exist in a realm unknown to us humans. Simply put, we are fledgling smellers compared to them. Deer boast a smelling sense 1,000 times more perceptive than ours, beating out the revered nose of a bloodhound. We are fools to think we can beat their nose, but we can even the playing field.
Take a page from CDC disease prevention guidelines, do what you can, and continually enhance your scent control routine. Identify and limit exposure to foreign floating molecules and cross-contaminated objects. Bottom line, don’t ignore the wind. It will make or break your hunt. Always hunt with the wind to your advantage.