November 08, 2023
Ask a hunter their least favorite sound in the deer woods and it’s the sound of a whitetail clearing the human stink out of their nose. Of course, a whitetail has approximately 297 million olfactory receptors. That’s compared to 250 million in the average large dog, and about 5 million in humans.
Some reports say deer can smell you from up to a quarter, or even a half mile, away. The latter seems far-fetched, but the former, not so much. According to this article, Mississippi State University researchers claim a deer’s sense of smell is 500 to 1,000 times more acute than a human’s. Furthermore, temps between 50 and 70, high humidity, and light to moderate wind speeds create ideal conditions for a deer’s sense of smell. This leads to two major problems.
Ground Scent: The scent left behind by a hunter for a deer to smell after the hunter departs.
Wind Scent: The scent that drifts with the wind and distributes out into the scent cone.
Naturally, there are numerous reasons whitetails smell hunters, including:
1. The Wrong Soap
Those who hope to stay off a deer’s radar should use proper pre-hunt regimens. That includes showering with a hunting-specific shampoo and soap. These help reduce scent. Regular soaps just make you smell even worse (to a deer).
2. The Wrong Deodorant
Likewise, it’s important to use deodorant. I can’t speak for others, but when I hunt, I sweat — a lot. It’s like making-weight-for-a-fight type of sweating. Pure sauna stuff. So, use a hunting-centric deodorant that gets the job done (or at least closer to it).
3. The Wrong Toothpaste
Furthermore, use proper toothpaste. Most of the scent a hunter puts out exits the mouth. So, if you want to cut out a lot of that stink, use the proper toothpaste. Some are hunting focused, and others aren’t.
4. The Wrong Meals
The foods you eat change the way you smell. Certain foods produce stronger aromas. Others produce lesser ones. Some theorize that certain foods can make you smell “less threatening” to a deer. But I haven’t seen any science on that. Regardless, the strength of your stench most certainly fluctuates with diet.
5. The Wrong Habits
Certain habits — such as smoking — increase the volume of scent that is on and around you. So can filling your vehicle with fuel while wearing hunting boots. Or standing in the bathroom with hunting clothes on while your wife sprays smelly stuff. Therefore, the wrong habits can impact your hunt, and make it easier for deer to smell you. Cutting out these poor habits can decrease the likelihood of being smelled by the game you chase.
6. The Wrong Environment
Maybe you don’t have poor habits that increase the volume of scent on you, but the places you go might do so. Other places and people might follow perfectly normal day-to-day practices, but as a deer hunter, these things place too much unwanted scent on your person.
7. Poor Clothing Management
Prepared hunters who understand the power of a whitetail nose have experienced unwanted encounters while deer hunting. They’ve been smelled aplenty, and they don’t want it to happen again. Therefore, poor clothing management can increase the odds of getting picked off. So, wash clothing with hunting-driven detergent. After washing, dry with hunting-focused dryer sheets. Then, store clothing in an air-tight container. Once in the field, put on your hunting clothes. After the hunt, place them back in the air-tight container. Consider ozone “washes” between washing-machine cleanings.
8. Poor Gear Management
Like with clothing, poor gear management can ruin hunts, too. Most hunting backpacks collect scent, and ultimately cause more issues than clothing does. It’s important to remember this and keep these items clean and odor-free, too.
9. The Wrong Shoes
Some shoes are more likely to collect and hold scent. Others are not. That’s why so many deer hunters choose to hunt with rubber boots. These are less likely to deposit unwanted scent while walking afield.
10. Poor Entry Routes
Those who take poor entry routes to ground blinds and stand locations increase the risk of spooking deer directly. That said, they also increase the odds of a deer catching their ground scent.
11. Poor Exit Routes
Similarly, taking poor exit routes back to the vehicle can do the same. While that might not ruin the first hunt, it will certainly negatively impact future ones.
12. Shifting Wind Directions
Winds don’t stay stagnant. They shift directions throughout the day. As winds shift directions, it gets easier for deer to smell you, especially if scent starts drifting into unwanted areas. Therefore, keep an eye on the hourly forecast, and try not to let shifting wind directions ruin your hunt.
13. Swirling Winds
Not to be confused with shifting winds, swirling winds are where the wind seems to do that just — swirl. The wind can do several things, including bouncing-, curving-, tornado-like, and other unpredictable maneuvers.
14. Thermal Changes
Thermals can be an in-depth topic, but the general rule of thumb is that thermals rise in the morning and fall in the evening. Therefore, when the atmosphere heats up, the air rises. When the atmosphere cools down, air falls. But it can fluctuate throughout the day, especially during unruly weather patterns. So, if hunters don’t keep an eye on thermals, and completely understand their effects, it can lead to ruined hunts.
15. Not Going the Extra Mile
There are many different things a hunter can do to decrease the odds of a deer smelling them. Ozone is but one example of this. Where legal, and if one is inclined to implement it, ozone can be a great way to further decrease the odds of being smelled.
All things considered, there are many more reasons why deer are smelling you. But if you limit the mistakes above, and keep the blunders to a minimum, you’ll go a long way in decreasing the number of deer smelling you this season.