Scent control plays a large part in hunting deer with success
Have you ever sat in a deer stand early in the morning? The birds have woken the woods, squirrels are running around, and a duck’s wings flap overhead. You’re quietly watching all the critters that are out. Suddenly, you hear a very aggressive and extremely loud blow, followed by silence. After you gather yourself from almost jumping out of your stand, you realize that a deer busted you. The deer never saw you. You never saw the deer. You were sitting completely still, not making any noise. So, what happened?
Most likely, the deer smelled something that was out of place and registered that scent as dangerous. It blew to alert other creatures that there was a predator nearby. And just like that, just barely visible through the leaves, a flashy white tail bounces out of sight.
It’s hard to imagine that an animal would be deterred from a situation because of a scent. It is hard for hunters to understand how to avoid it because we mere humans cannot relate. The nose of a deer is arguably its go-to sense. A human’s most-used sense is arguably our sight; our nose comes in last. Therefore, relating to a deer’s ability to smell can be difficult, but trust me: they can smell better than we can see. So, how does a hunter avoid being detected by this amazing ability?
Wash your clothes, don’t shower, hang your clothes outside in a tree, and keep reading.
How Good is a Deer’s Nose?
A deer’s nose is better than we humans could possibly comprehend. Imagine making most of your decisions based on smell and not your eyes. Imagine smelling a person 200 yards away and being immediately attracted to them. What would it be like to never bite into a bitter apple because you could smell when they were perfectly ripe. I can’t imagine smelling a predator from far away.
Deer smell danger. So, will a deer smell you? Yes. Does scent control matter? Yes.
Ways Hunters Try to Hide Their Scent
When I first started deer hunting, my dad and I would decorate the trees in our yard every September with our camo clothing in preparation for deer opener. We thought if we kept them outside, they would take on an odor resembling the outdoors that would mask our scent. Did it work? Probably not.
Then we heard from a seasoned hunter that you should put some dirty clothes in your deer stand well ahead of the season so they get used to your scent. While not possible on public land, you could do it on private lands.
Next, we heard about all the scent-killing and blocking spray. Do they work? I believe if they’re not smelling you, they are smelling whatever brand of spray you put on. On public land, they have smelled all the brands and all their scents. If a deer has a close call with a hunter, it will remember what it was smelling. The next time that scent passes the deer’s nose, it will register as dangerous and you will probably never even see it.
Do scent killers work? Maybe. So, what does work?
What Scent Control Method Works Best for Hunting Deer?
The best way to control your scent is by using the wind to your advantage. It is the most field-tested and proven scent-removing device out there. It really works. Here in the midwest, prevailing winds bring the cold air from the north and the warm air from the south. I take these factors, as well as my local weather’s wind direction prediction, into consideration when I’m thinking about where to put my treestand.
If you can put yourself downwind from a deer, be quiet, and stay still, you will dramatically increase your chances of a successful harvest.
How Does a Hunter Play the Wind?
In general, playing the wind is as simple as putting yourself on the downwind side of the deer. If you have spotted a mule deer 600 yards south of you, the wind is coming from the north, and you are trying to get within bow range, you will need to make a large loop to put yourself to the south of that deer. Only then should you close the distance. Playing the wind on spot-and-stalk hunts is not easy and it takes many failed attempts to become successful.
The same thing goes for whitetail. You must put yourself on the downwind side of the deer. Set your stand in a location where the deer will cross paths with a shooting lane that is upwind of your location.
If you feel the wind in your face as you are closing in on a deer in a spot-and-stalk situation, you are downwind. You should be in good shape. If you feel the wind on the back of your neck as you are closing in on a deer, it is going to smell you and spook before you are close enough. It’s a simple rule that can at times be very difficult to execute.
How Hunters Control Their Scent From a Deer Stand
Although you can’t control your scent from inside a deer stand, you can prepare ahead of time so the wind is in your favor while you sit in the deer stand. Here are a few ways that I prepare for scent control during hunting season in the months leading up to the whitetail opener.
Cut lanes, set deer stands, and set out trail cameras months before the season. Plan and do it early so the deer can adjust to the changes; you don’t want to change their environment the week before opener. This can be done in February and then touched up in July.
When you are out setting your stand, think about the signs you are seeing. Pay close attention to where the deer are bedding, where they are eating, and what travel corridors they are using to go from one to the other. Knowing this information will help you set up your stand where you think would best work for you, especially when you also take wind direction into consideration. In the fall, where is the wind typically blowing from? Where I hunt, in the fall, the wind mostly comes from the north and west. Set your stand on the downwind side of the spot you are hunting over, whether it is a trail, agriculture field, a bedding area, or water. Just be sure to be on the downwind side of the spot.
Most importantly, trust yourself and your decisions. If the wind is not right, don’t hunt that spot; the deer will smell you. Put up another stand for those days when the wind isn’t cooperating, or scout a new location where you’re not that worried about getting caught by a nosey deer. Sometimes, learning a new area means getting busted. Set yourself up for success by using the wind to blow your scent away from the deer.
Yes, Scent Control Matters
Scent control plays a large part in hunting deer with success. The best scent control is the wind. It may take a little extra work and early preparation, but this fall, when you start seeing more deer, it will all be worth it. This is not new information, but the most field-tested and proven tactic. Go test it for yourself and enjoy the outdoors.
Jackson McDowell is a hunter, angler, gatherer, and conservationist. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology. Since graduating in 2016, his work has primarily been in restoring, planting, and managing land in Minnesota to its natural habitats. His heart and soul are rooted in nature.