UPDATED ON: May 1st, 2015
As avid bowhunters we have all been busted by a whitetail’s nose at one point or another. In the early days, this probably happened more than we care to admit as we cut our teeth in the deer woods trying to place an arrow into one of these elusive creatures. There is no question that seeing a flash dart through the trees and the telltale “white flag” makes every bowhunter cringe. The same can be said of the high pitched wheezing sound that deer make in an effort to alert the entire area to our presence.
Hunters have been trying to overcome a whitetail’s acute sense of smell for hundreds of years. And during that time many different techniques have been employed in an effort to accomplish this goal. However, in recent years there have also been many “technological” advances that can also help you fly under the whitetails nose and become more successful. Let’s take a closer look at some of these techniques and advances in order to make you more deadly in the deer woods this fall.
Alerting deer is something no hunter wants to do and can literally ruin your hunting area for days to come.
Know your Enemy
In order to understand how to defeat a whitetail’s nose, one must first understand how a deer’s nose works. A whitetail deer’s sense of smell is by far its most powerful and valuable sense. They rely on their nose to provide them with information about food, their surroundings, mating, and danger. A deer’s olfactory sense is incredibly complex.
Studies have shown that a bloodhound’s nose is approximately 100 times more sensitive than that of a human. This means that their nose can pick apart odors and separate different components of them. For instance, a human may go into a bakery and smell an apple pie, while a bloodhound will smell flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, apples, butter…etc. This gives them the ability to pinpoint very faint odors. They can also determine the age of an odor by its intensity. This is why tracking hounds can tell which direction a person went. The trail in one direction is stronger than in the other, if only by a very minute margin.
With that being said, studies have also shown that a whitetail’s nose may be as much as ten times more sensitive than a blood hound’s. Think about what that means in hunting terms. A deer is in tune with everything in its environment. It knows the smells of every plant, tree, and animal it normally encounters. Any new or foreign odors that are introduced to its environment will immediately send up a red flag and will put the deer on edge.
And while many of these odors are ones we ourselves are unlikely to smell, that does not mean that the deer cannot. Gasoline and food odors can linger on boots and clothing for a long time. You may have pumped gas in your hunting boots two months before entering the woods, but there is a good chance if a deer walks across your trail it may be able to still detect that faint residue. If in fact a deer’s nose is that sensitive, it may suggest that hunters, especially bowhunters, don’t have much of a chance. However, there are a few tricks you can use to help increase your odds of remaining undetected.
Deer have a very sophisticated sense of smell. This sense is on overload when working excisting scrapes or making new ones. Any human odor will easily be identified.
The Golden Rule
One of the most important factors to being successful when hunting mature bucks is being able to do so without them knowing that you are hunting them. A big buck that knows he is being hunted is almost impossible to kill. The first key to flying under the whitetails radar is a bulletproof entry and exit route to and from your stands. An average stand location with perfect access and exit routes is much better than a fantastic stand location with bad access routes. Let me say that again. The best stand location in the world will do you no good whatsoever if you can’t get into and out of it without alerting deer. I would rather hunt where there is mediocre sign but I can get in my stand and get back out every single time without spooking anything. You may see deer from stands with poor access, but the chances of harvesting a mature buck are very slim.
It is best to always pick your access route into an area first, and then pick a stand location based on that. When looking for such areas, consider ditches, creeks, fence-rows, logging roads, and other terrain features that will hide you and keep noise and scent contamination to a minimum. Personally, I avoid walking downwind of bedding areas or anywhere I expect deer to be while I am walking into or out of my stands. Ideally, I can pop out of these access routes almost at the base of my tree. If I do have to walk through the woods for a distance to get to my stand, I do so quickly, sometimes even running to the base of my tree. I have found this actually alerts fewer deer than trying to sneak through the woods on crunchy leaves.
Studying aerial photos can help you find the best way to access your stand undetected.
Direction is Key
The second key to beating a whitetail’s nose is to NEVER hunt a stand with a bad wind. Even if the stand is hot, it will only serve to educate the deer and effectively ruin the spot; especially if you are busted by deer that get downwind of you. This is why on every farm I hunt, I have multiple stand locations so that I can hunt multiple wind directions. Deer are very intelligent, and they will remember where they have encountered human odor. I had a doe a few years ago wind me in a stand, and every time she came near that area after that she would look over in that direction. I finally moved the stand to the other side of the trail. One morning she came in and looked away from me towards where the stand used to be. That day I was able to put an arrow through her. She remembered busting me one time, over two months before that, yet she was still leery. If you are able to keep deer downwind of you they will remain calm and at ease, and will be more likely to continue using the area. This is especially important when hunting food plots.
Big mature bucks are usually the last deer to enter crop fields. Whether or not they come into the field depends on the behavior of the deer already in the field. All the other deer must be relaxed and feeding in order for the mature bucks to feel comfortable enough to come out of hiding. Keeping the does and younger deer from winding you is important in order to draw out the bigger deer. If even a single doe comes out in front of you and blows, your chances of seeing a nice buck are virtually eliminated. Therefore, keeping the deer upwind of your location is vital to success.
Some of the ways I accomplish this is by placing my stands so there is some sort of barrier that prevents deer from approaching on the downwind side of me. Things such as rivers, steep hills, or thick brush will accomplish this. This gives me confidence because as long as I only hunt the stand on a good wind, I should not have a problem with deer winding me.
If you are winded by a big buck, he will not soon forget the encounter.
A third crucial element to staying undetected in the deer woods is scent elimination products. This is a subject that has been and will continue to be debated between hunters all over the country. Some will say that it doesn’t matter as long as you play the wind and that scent control products are just a marketing gimmick. Others will swear a deer cannot be killed without using special soaps, laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, sprays and layers of carbon clothing. So where does the truth lie? Well, the answer is somewhere in between.
Recently, I had the opportunity to pick the brain of someone who is at the forefront of scent control research and development. This individual told me that any claim that a garment can completely eliminate human odor is false. Furthermore, no technology currently exists that is capable of such a feat. However, there are things that can help minimize human odor by destroying bacteria and containing scent so it does not escape to the atmosphere. Along those lines, there are two types of odors that hunters must contend with. These include Organic odors: those generated by the hunter such as body odor, and Non-Organic: man-made odors such as food, chemicals, gasoline, smoke, etc. He also said that the manner in which you combat the two is slightly different.
As far as organic odors, as much as 90% of human odor is generated by a person’s hair, scalp, and face. This may come as a surprise, but when you think about it, our scalp contains may dead skin cells that are constantly falling off. Likewise, our skin secretes oils, and our hair will attract and hold any odor it comes into contact with. Plus the bacteria in our mouth can create a tremendous amount of odors as well. This isn’t to suggest that we are all gross, smelly people walking around the woods. However, to a deer and their highly sensitive nose…..that is exactly what we are.
Small subtle odors are often all it takes to alert a deer. The first way to remedy such odors is to shower before hitting the woods. Using a scent free soap is important, because the almost all commercial soaps and shampoos have chemicals and fragrances added to them, which will just introduce a non-organic odor to your body. Showering will eliminate most of the current odors, but your body will start producing new odors almost immediately. So, what do you do about this? Most scent control experts suggest the importance of wearing a facemask. In my opinion, this is one of the most overlooked aspects of a hunter’s setup. Simply put, a facemask will prevent the newly generated odors from escaping into the air around you. Even if you must pull it down at the time of the shot, wearing one up until then can make a huge difference. As for the rest of the body, the same principle applies.
Begin by removing as much natural odor as possible with scent free soaps. Then, prevent any new odors from escaping by wearing scent-elimination clothing. Several different methods exist, with the most common and popular being activated carbon. Basically the carbon molecules are activated by your clothes dryer. Then, when you wear the garment, the carbon molecules attach to scent molecules and contain them.
Personally I feel carbon clothing is much more important for controlling non-organic odors than organic ones. Many hunting garments will do a decent job of containing human scent inside it if you shower before heading afield. But, it’s when other odors are introduced to the outside of your clothes that carbon shines. These odors can be things like a drop of coffee, an odor from the seat of your truck, odors from your dog that you said good bye to as you left home, exhaust from your truck as you walked around to open the tailgate. Many different things can contribute odors, and deer will pick up on all of them. Washing your hunting clothes periodically in scent free detergent will keep odors at a minimum. When in the field, scent elimination sprays help by targeting and destroying the bacteria and chemicals that cause odor. I keep a bottle in my stand to “freshen up” with every so often. I also use it to spray down all of my hunting gear.
Remember, scent elimination does not eliminate all human odors. However, in my opinion, it definitely helps my chances of success by masking and containing a great deal of my scent. The fewer scent molecules that are floating around in the air, the less chance a deer has of picking up on them. This year I am using a new line of products from Tink’s called B-tech. They have a complete line of scent control products including detergent, hair and body wash, and field spray. They use a substance called Byotrol that attacks bacterial odors and then leaves a polymer film to combat future odors. I also like that it does not leave a white residue like some other products. So far I have been impressed with how it has performed on my early season hunts in Kentucky.
Scent elimination products are an important part of a bowhunters arsenal…choose wisely.
A deer has many senses that he relies on to stay alive. Acute vision designed to pick up the slightest movement, and precise hearing that will notice the slightest little squeak or pop. But neither compares to a whitetail’s nose. Their ability to detect odors is unmatched. A deer’s nose is his number one defense. However, by hunting smart and using the right tactics a bowhunter can overcome theses obstacles and be successful time and time again. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy though. It takes patience and discipline to only hunt the right conditions, and to be consistent in our scent control. Sometimes this means forfeiting a hunt rather than educating the deer. But the hunter who does so can expect to reap rich rewards year after year.