A number of years ago I spotted a gnarly, odd-racked 6x6 whitetail from an early morning stand. I set up a treestand along the trail where the buck had walked that morning, and lo and behold he popped from a thicket at sundown and trudged directly my way. Minutes later, my heart raced as I drew the bow to shoot. A few more steps and the 6x6 would me mine!
Suddenly, the half-concealed deer dropped his head, sniffed the ground, whirled and disappeared. In an instant, the stiff moves of that old buck turned into well-oiled action because he smelled something he didn’t like.
As I sat in my stand, I realized I’d made two big mistakes. The day was warm, and I’d replaced my normal all-rubber treestand boots with cooler, leather footwear. I’d also neglected to mist my lower body with odor-purging spray. The buck smelled the trail where I’d walked 2 hours before, and one snootful of human scent was enough to send him packing.
This story has a happy outcome … at least for me. Five days later, after spotting Old Gnarly again, I erected another portable stand. This time, I pulled on all-rubber boots and sprayed the boots and my pants with Scent Shield to destroy my human odor.
Just before dark, the 6x6 appeared 100 yards away. He followed the same trail I had walked and didn’t smell me. When he stopped 25 yards below my treestand, I sent an XX78 Super Slam arrow through both lungs. To this day that buck is one of my favorite archery trophies.
My 2 Cents On Scents
It’s estimated that a whitetail has a nose 3,000 times more sensitive than yours or mine, and while that’s tough to prove, I wouldn’t doubt it. I believe bowhunters are fooling themselves if they believe such a snozzle can easily be fooled.
The best way to be scent-free is by hunting with the wind in your favor. Scent molecules cannot drift upwind any more than a leaf in a river can float upstream. If a breeze blows from the animal to you, the animal cannot possibly smell you. No way, no how.
But the devil is in the details. It’s easy to say “hunt with the wind in your favor,” but it’s hard to pull this off, even part of the time, because air currents shift unpredictably and animals appear in unexpected places. As a result, many bowhunters seek out aids in the form of commercial remedies. Some work and some don’t, but many are worth a try.
My least favorite form of odor control is cover scents. A myriad of concoctions are sold to mask human odor. Red fox urine, skunk scent and cedar scent are just a few. The theory goes like this: Saturate a scent pad and hang it near your stand, or actually squirt some cover scent on your clothes; the cover scent will overpower your own odor and fool wary game.
In my experience, this is baloney. At best, the deer you’re after will smell a combination of human B.O. and cover scent, which will still scare the hell out of them. Most often, I also suspect that commercial cover scent doesn’t smell exactly like the natural odor. To an animal with a 3,000-power nose, telling the difference is probably a snap.
I do, however, believe animal attractant scents can be effective. In particular, rutting urine collected by reputable companies can draw in amorous males like ants to strawberry jam. I’ve used doe-in-estrus, rutting buck and rutting bull elk urine around treestands and ground blinds to good effect. A few drops—use this stuff sparingly!—can flood nearby terrain with odor that drives bucks and bulls wild. Another option is placing a commercial scent wafer or wick a moderate distance from your stand.
Even more effective are scent trails laid down with boot-attached scent pads or scent-soaked wicks or strips of clean cloth attached to your boots. Wear these when walking to your stand, or get more creative and walk away from your stand in several directions like spokes radiating from the hub of a wheel.
A couple of autumns ago, I did exactly that. I made half a dozen scent drags using boot rags soaked with Still Steamin’ Peak Rut Estrus Doe Urine from Robinson Outdoors. I then planted two Still Steamin’ Estrus Scent Wafers 25 yards from my treestand. Less than 30 minutes later, a handsome 5x6 whitetail came sniffing along one of the scent trails. He cruised in from a crosswind direction, planted his nose on a scent wafer and enjoyed one last delicious sniff before my broadhead took him out.
The tricky part to attracting deer, elk and other rutting animals via scent is hiding your own scent. I suggest laying down rut-based scent drags upwind or crosswind from your stand, and place scent wafers, scent wicks or drops of doe-in-heat lure in similar directions. Although far from surefire, a higher treestand might help to keep your human odor above the level of nearby animals. Trouble is, cool morning and evening air is often sinking toward the ground, and treestand height alone doesn’t always keep your odor above ground level. If the wind blows directly from you to a buck, he won’t linger no matter how rut-goofy he might be.
One of the easiest things you can do is eliminate human odor on the ground. In damp or humid conditions, a deer can smell your foot trail several hours after you walked by. Even in dry weather, I’ve seen deer smell my footprints an hour after I climbed into my tree. To hide this odor, approach your stand from the downwind side. Even if you brush against damp grass or bushes en route, animals upwind won’t smell a rat.
Next, wear knee-high rubber boots, rubber hip boots or purchase a boot style specifically designed with scent-barrier layers. Successful fur trappers wear rubber footwear to completely fool keen-nosed critters like coyotes and fox, and you can do the same.
Finally, spray your lower body with a proven scent eliminator.
The Carbon Connection
There is a lot of hoopla about carbon scent clothing for bowhunters. Some outrageous claims have been made, and a few years ago one company said its activated carbon cloth could be tossed across a puddle of gasoline and presto, the gas smell would disappear! I actually tried it—and nearly gagged on the lingering fumes of 91 octane fuel.
But scientific evidence does indicate that activated carbon absorbs a very high percentage of human scent molecules. In my mind, a scent suit from Scent Blocker, Scent-Lok or another reputable firm will reduce human odor, but the real question is, can such a garment completely fool a deer’s ultra-sensitive nose?
I’ve experimented a lot with such garments and believe that on serious, high-perspiration foot hunts for animals such as elk and mule deer, carbon suits don’t work worth a hoot because sweat levels overpower scent elimination almost immediately. A sales representative for one popular scent-suit company admitted this to me a few months ago after he returned from a Dall’s sheep hunt in northern Canada.
“I was soaked with sweat after an hour of hiking that awful country,” he said. “Every downwind ram on that hunt ran like hell!”
If you bowhunt from a stand, however, I do believe carbon clothes can help. An average white-tailed deer lives close to humans, and it regularly smells joggers, people walking their dogs, and farmers on tractors. If you can reduce your human scent by 90-95 percent as you sit relatively perspiration-free, a nearby buck might linger long enough to give you a shot … even if he catches a diluted whiff of something suspicious.
I also believe in scent-free shower soap, scent-free laundry detergent, scent-free breath mints and gum, and anything else that might lower human odor levels. On an animal with an excellent sense of smell, every bit of odor reduction increases your chance of buying precious seconds to take a shot.