Scent control is a big topic of conversation amongst hunters around the world. This is a specific part of hunting where “common knowledge” has really changed in the past few decades.
As a bow hunter, I have to pay a great deal of attention to the details regarding my scent in the woods given my required close proximity to the deer. But all hunters stand to benefit from a persistent scent control strategy.
Please note that the advice below applies to getting and remaining as close to scent-free as possible. Therefore, I will not be covering lures or cover scents at this time.
I often hear skepticism regarding some of the techniques described below, or any scent control attempt for that matter. I’ll address a few of those to get started.
“Scent control is a gimmick designed to sell more clothing and accessories.”
It is true that hunting has become a big business, and there is room for debate regarding the level of effectiveness of some newer technologies. However, there is no doubt that deer have a highly developed sense of smell and that they use that sense as a primary defense mechanism.
Therefore, it is in the hunter’s best interest to make every reasonable attempt at scent elimination and to experiment with new products to find the best combination of tools and tactics.
“I don’t do anything to manage scent, and I still see deer.”
Congratulations—you have probably worked hard at developing the other skills necessary to effectively hunt deer. However, I will bet that 99 percent of the deer you see are coming from a direction where the wind is working to your direct advantage.
Furthermore, depending on how reckless you are in the scent department, deer detect and avoid you without ever revealing themselves. So you don’t even realize what you’re missing.
“People have hunted effectively since the beginning of time, and they didn’t use all this stuff.”
True. It is also true that the Wright brothers managed to fly a plane. That does not mean that there haven’t been significant improvements in the technique. Today’s technologies allow us greater advantages in scent control to improve our odds of harvest. This is particularly important in the current hunting culture, where trophy hunting has become such a focus.
Additionally, hunting pressure has amplified over the years due to decreased deer habitat and the increased popularity of hunting. In high-pressure areas, you end up with deer that are very leery and difficult to hunt. You need all the help you can get.
No. 10: Clothing
This is an area where you can significantly reduce your scent profile. Regular detergents (like Tide, Gain, etc.) clean your clothes but add fragrances that are definitely not found in nature. Using scent-free detergents will keep your clothes clean without adding the deer-alerting perfume.
Scent Killer, Scent-a-Way, Primos, and Dead Down Wind are a few of the many manufacturers of hunting-specific scent-free detergent. I have also heard of guys using combinations of baking soda and borax to make their own detergent, but I have not tried it myself.
Consider drying your clothes outside, on a clothesline, to avoid picking up odors from inside your dryer. The companies mentioned above also offer sheets to absorb odor in the dryer.
I might take a beating for this recommendation, but I believe that activated carbon clothing eliminates enough scent to make it worthwhile. Activated carbon clothing is touted to absorb scent to reduce your chances of detection. Scent-Lok and Scent Blocker are two popular manufacturers of these clothes. I use this type of clothing from head to toe, and I believe that it helps eliminate scent. In particular, I always use activated carbon headgear to reduce scent from sweating or my breath.
Recently, lawsuits have drawn this technology into question. It appears that manufacturers and marketing teams may have overstated the effectiveness of the technology, and it looks like the courts are going to reel their claims in a bit. While I do not believe that activated carbon is 100 percent effective or the only necessary scent control tool, I do believe that it helps control scent in coordination with other techniques.
No. 9: Clothing Storage
Getting your clothes clean and scent free is very important. Keeping them that way is just as critical. Zip-Loc makes extra large bags that work great for keeping your clothes sealed away from contaminants. After I wash and dry my hunting clothes, I seal them in the Zip-Loc bag and put the bags in a Rubbermaid-type plastic container.
There are also commercially available containers and rubber bags that are designed for this use. Keep your dry hunting clothes in the sealed container anytime they are not in use.
No. 8: Control Scent from Your Body
Use scent-free body wash to get clean without picking up unwanted perfumes. What smells nice to your wife will send every downwind deer scattering. The same companies listed above offer products including scent-free soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, and even chewing gum.
Shower with scent-free products before every hunt. Some folks even use these products exclusively during hunting season to prevent any lingering fragrance.
No. 7: Avoid Contamination
This topic is related to No. 8 but worth consideration on its own. There is no need to employ all the techniques listed above if you intend to wear your hunting clothes while having breakfast at the local diner, spilling coffee on yourself, talking to your buddies while they chain smoke cigarettes, all before filling your truck up with gas, and then heading out to hunt.
Obviously life goes on outside of the hunting woods, but try to take reasonable precautions to avoid picking up odor on your way to the stand. Small things like remembering to get gas the night before can pay dividends during the hunt.
Keep your clothes sealed in their scent-free containers until you reach your hunting area. Then get dressed outside to avoid contaminating yourself with odor from the vehicle. This may seem strange or extreme, but remember, deer are not accustomed to the “new car smell” air freshener or any of the other odors lingering in your pickup truck.
No. 6: Scent-Eliminating Sprays
All of the companies listed above also produce odor-eliminating sprays for use in the field. These sprays use a variety of technologies to kill bacteria or otherwise limit the amount of human scent detectable to animals. Spray yourself liberally from head to toe after getting dressed to restrict any remaining scent on your clothing.
No. 5: Hands
Your hands are natural reservoirs for scent. Not only do hands sweat, but they also come in contact with lots of odor-containing items through the course of the day. Wear gloves and spray them with the scent eliminator mentioned above.
Be conscious of the fact that everything you touch with your hands can be potentially contaminated with human scent. Try to avoid unnecessary contact with branches, fences, etc. on the way to your stand. To take things a step further, I spray my hands down before getting dressed to avoid contaminating my clothing in the process.
No. 4: Boots
Boots are a no-brainer. In the course of walking to your tree stand, every step holds the potential to reveal your presence to animals in the area. Since this contact is unavoidable, this is one of the most critical scent control items to address. Scent-Loc and Scent Blocker both offer activated carbon boots to combat scent, but I use rubber boots.
Several boot companies offer a wide variety of rubber boots in different camo patterns and levels of insulation for nearly any hunt. These boots are relatively inexpensive, waterproof, and don’t allow human scent out. Rubber boots may contain a strong rubber scent when brand new, so buy them in advance and allow them to “air out.” Be sure to spray your boots before every hunt as an added precaution.
No. 3: Accessories
Many hunters pay close attention to their hunting clothing but completely ignore the potential scent on their accessories. As an archer, the strap on my release is a perfect example. If I sweat on that release strap during tournaments all summer long, that scent situation needs to be addressed.
Furthermore, consider the “stale” smell on backpacks, calls, binocular straps, or decoys that have been in storage. Allow those items to air out, wash items when possible, and use that scent-eliminating spray before every hunt.
No. 2: Don’t Sweat It
The trip from your truck to the stand can put your entire scent control strategy at risk. All the precaution in the world doesn’t matter if you are sweating bullets by the time you reach your tree stand.
Give yourself plenty of time to reach your stand so you can walk slowly and limit your exertion. Take breaks if you feel yourself getting hot. These tactics will serve multiple purposes, as the slower pace should help to quiet your approach while affording time for you to observe your surroundings en route to the stand.
No. 1: Play the Wind
I would like to tell you that after all this consideration and preparation we can simply ignore the wind because we have completely eliminated all traces of our scent. Unfortunately, this is not the case. All of these tools and techniques will limit the amount of scent on your body and equipment, but complete scent elimination is impossible.
Pay attention to wind direction during every pursuit, and hunt in a position downwind of where you expect deer to emerge. Using the wind to your advantage will cover any areas that you may have missed during your preparation. However, all of that preparation can save the day when deer appear from an unexpected direction or when the wind shifts mid-hunt.
I am confident that these techniques will help you to manage your scent and ultimately make you a more successful hunter. I am also a planner by nature, so I like thinking about these things and manipulating my strategy to manage scent.
In the end, hunting should be fun for you, so if this looks like a big hassle that you’ll hate, then ignore me. Just don’t call me the next time a white tail bounding straight away proves me right.
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Good article!! Just wanted to add something since it wasn't specified in the article and some people lack high levels of common sense that when you shower to get rid of your scent don't turn off the water and open the curtain and grab a nice clean towel that smells like "fresh linen"!!! You should wash a spare towel along with your hunting clothes that will be scent free if you don't already use un-scented detergent for all your laundry.
If I sweating on that launch band during competitions for the entire summer time, that fragrance scenario needs to be resolved. Many predators focus on their tracking outfits but absolutely neglect the prospective fragrance on their components. As an archer, the band on my launch is an ideal example.
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