QUESTION: Can deer determine how far away the origin of the scent actually is? If I have a treestand within 150 yards of my house, can deer tell whether I am in the stand or in my backyard? I would have scent protection on stand, but not around the house. -- Chad Carl, Washington, Pa.
ANSWER: Under normal conditions, a deer can smell a human that is not making any attempt to hide its odor at least 1/4 mile away. If the scenting conditions are perfect (humid with a light breeze), it can even be farther. So they are pretty impressive. So the question is, will they forgive an odor that seems to be distant simply because it is weak? Here are my findings on that.
I believe that a deer can tell how far away the source of an odor is, but only if the deer is conditioned to the strength. In other words, they know when they smell your scent with a certain intensity that you are in the backyard. However, if you are closer the intensity will increase and they will know you are closer. This brings us to the point of scent control.
If you are doing a good job of reducing your scent, the deer will think you are farther away than you really are. I believe this because I have seen it happen in the woods. One year I did everything humanly possible (going to extremes to contain my odor in PVC waders and PVC rain jacket while hunting) and deer that were 40 yards away sometimes stopped and looked way back into the timber behind the stand. I even had a few of them walk closer to look back into the woods -- way off in the distance.
I shot a doe that way one time that came walking in and looked way behind the stand for the distant person it smelled. But I was right above her. She thought I was a long ways away -- way outside of her danger area but she was just curious to figure out where I was.
I think you can get away with a lot in those suburban areas by doing everything possible to eliminate or contain your scent. In fact, in my experience, that situation is where scent elimination works the best. When deer are accustomed to small doses of human odor but know it to safe, they are much easier to fool. They are hardest to fool in areas where the deer are hunted but where there aren't any people nearby. The only time they smell even traces of human odors is when they are being hunted. I have also seen this a number of times in the wild.