A deer’s greatest defense is its sense of smell. Deer use their nose to communicate, sense danger and interpret their surroundings. Their ability to sense danger with their nose gives them a huge advantage over bowhunters. Even in urban environments where deer smell humans daily, scent management is vital to bowhunting success.
Think of a deer’s brain as a scent-driven computer. Each time deer inhale, their brain filters and analyzes all the odors in their environment. They smell acorns, plants, squirrels, other deer and – if you’re not careful – you.
As deer breathe in these many smells, their brain interprets each odor and determines its priority. Any whiff of human scent alerts them, but it won’t necessarily send them running. If deer fled every time they smelled humans, they would run themselves ragged. A strong whiff of human scent, however, can indicate a nearby threat and make them flee. And if they continually smell people in a specific area, they’ll avoid it during daylight.
To get shot opportunities on deer, controlling your scent must become a priority. By reducing scents you leave in the woods and being aware of your airborne scents while hunting, you improve your odds of success.
The key word in this discussion is “management,” because it’s impossible to eliminate all human odor. However, reducing your scent gives you a significant edge in the woods. Managing scent is a process that includes washing your body and clothes, and then preventing both from absorbing smells afterward.
Many bowhunters religiously shower with scent-free soap and shampoo before hunting. After showering, dry off with a towel that was washed in a scent-free detergent. Scents and perfumes in regular laundry detergent easily transfer to your body.
Likewise, wash your hunting clothes in scent-free detergent to reduce your scent sources. After all, your clothing absorbs scents throughout the day, so you must do all you can to reduce the odors you can control.
To keep your clothing from absorbing scents after washing, air-dry them outdoors or load them into an electric dryer with a scent-killing or earth-scented dryer strip to further control human odors. Once your hunting clothes are dry, store them in an airtight plastic container or scent-trapping bag. Keep your clothes sealed until reaching your hunting spot, and then put them on. These procedures keep your clothes as scent-free as possible, and prevent them from absorbing odors from your truck, breakfast and other sources they can contact between home and the woods.
Once you reach your hunting site and get dressed, apply a scent-killing spray to kill, mask or remove odors from your clothing. Think of it as hunting’s version of Febreze. Spray it all over your clothes and boots before heading into the woods.
You can further manage your scents by wearing rubber boots and clothing impregnated with anti-microbials. Rubber boots don’t hold scents as well as leather boots and, therefore, don’t leave behind scents as you walk through the woods. Anti-microbials prevent scent molecules from forming in clothing fabrics, which keeps you from smelling. That’s especially helpful in warm weather. Scent-free soaps, detergents, sprays, rubber boots and anti-microbial clothing are all available at archery shops.
Studying the Wind
Even when deploying all those techniques, be sure to study the wind and use it to your advantage to keep deer from detecting you. Always try to position yourself so the wind blows your scent away from deer, not toward them. This is seldom easy, because winds can be fickle, but pay close attention to their prevailing direction.
A good starting point is a weather forecast’s predictions for the prevailing wind direction, which helps you choose your hunting location. Once you arrive to hunt, always double-check the wind direction with a wind indicator because weather forecasts aren’t perfect.
Simple wind indicators are great tools you should always carry. They’re usually plastic squeeze bottles filled with a white, lightweight powder you puff into the air. Once the powder is airborne, watch the direction it blows. That’s especially helpful for detecting subtle thermal currents.
If you live in a hilly or mountainous area, thermals play a huge role in carrying airborne scents. In the morning, air warms in sunlight and rises. In the evening, air cools and flows downhill. If you bowhunt near the bottom of a hill in the morning, your scent will flow uphill on rising thermals. Choose blinds or treestands that you expect to keep you uphill of deer.
Defeating a deer’s strongest sense is all part of bowhunting’s fun and challenge. By managing scents and paying attention to the wind, you’ll increase your odds of remaining undetected. For more advice on scent management, visit an archery store and talk to its knowledgeable staff.