Extreme Scent Control for Serious Bowhunters
November 02, 2016
What I am about to tell you may shake up your thoughts about scent control. Back in 2002, I learned that it is possible to fool all of the deer all of the time. This is how it worked.
There are lots of products on the market today that promise to eliminate odor. Many of them work very well. Back in 2002, however, there were no ozone machines, only a couple of scent-elimination sprays and two scent-control garment options. My inspiration for extreme scent control was not high-tech; it started from my experiences when hunting from ground blinds.
My friends and I came up with a system of sealing ground blinds so none of our odor got out. We applied plastic sandwich wrap to the windows to keep the odor in while still allowing us to shoot out through the plastic, and we even dug in the skirts of the blinds to make sure no scent slipped out the bottom.
As a result of this work, we were able to hunt from ground blinds right in the middle of feeding areas with deer all around us, and none of the deer knew we were there. We killed some very big bucks as a result and learned a valuable lesson: you can beat all the deer all the time if you completely bottle up your scent. There's nothing high-tech about that.
There were lots of spots on the farm I was hunting back then that would have been awesome if only the wind didn't swirl in those places. I decided to put up a ground blind in a few of those spots, scentproof it and see what would happen.
If you have hunted from blinds in the timber, you know the problem I faced next; you can't see anything as it approaches. From a treestand, you will get an occasional surprise visit, but most of the time you see the deer well in advance. But from a blind, most encounters are way too spontaneous to permit a controlled shot. You will be sitting there looking out the window and suddenly a deer will step from one of your blind spots and walk right past before you can even react.
This drove me nuts. So, to remedy the situation, I started using a ground blind with a zippered top panel. I would literally stand in that blind with my head sticking out the roof. I would then zip the closure tight around my neck to further contain all scent inside the blind. The only thing outside the blind was my head, and to keep that as scent-free as possible I wore two came head covers.
If a shooter had showed up, I would have quickly pulled my head down into the blind, grabbed my bow and positioned myself in front of the appropriate window. My head was like a turret as I constantly panned the surroundings hoping to see the deer before they saw me.
I am sure it was quite a sight! Fortunately, no one was there to see it. The deer, on the other hand, didn't seem to care one bit. I had deer walking all around the blind, as close as five yards away, with my head sticking oddly out the top.
I never did kill a buck though — I got burned out on this style of hunting before that happened. As much fun as it is to do something this creative, I soon tired of the arrangement. This was far from comfortable, and after a couple of days, I had enough.
That is when the thought struck me. The concept worked. Now I just had to shrink the ground blind down until it was the size of my body and I would just wear it. In other words, I started looking for ways to completely contain my scent inside air-tight clothing.
In the simplest terms, the idea was to do nothing more with my body than what we do with our hunting clothes; I just put myself into a scent-proof bag. Only the goal was not to keep the scent out, but to keep it in.
With this inspiration in mind, one of my friends, Larry Kendall, and I set out to find the right garment. It had to contain scent, of course, but it could not have an odor of its own. We experimented with a number of garments made from different materials before finally settling on PVC.
We bought hooded PVC rain jackets. Larry bought a pair of PVC pants and boots, while I took this one step farther and purchased a set of PVC waders from Cabela's. I then tucked the rain jacket into the waders and duct taped the junction so no scent could possibly escape.
Next, I pulled the hood up and tied it tightly before duct taping around the neck opening to ensure no scent escaped from the jacket out through the neck.
Finally, I wore latex gloves and duct taped the cuffs of the jacket to the gloves. The only thing left was my breath, and I didn't mess with that. I figured I would just breathe through my nose if it proved to make a difference.
I am sure you are dying to know if it worked. My test started in Alberta in September. I remember one evening when the temperature was in the low 90s. I got to my stand early, with the sun pounding down. Three hours later, I was dehydrated and suffering from heat exhaustion.
I had to get out of that thing before I died. There were four or five does downwind of me feeding contentedly in the alfalfa when I pulled the hood down. Within 30 seconds, they stuck their noses up and trotted off. I just couldn't take it any longer — I was literally dying.
When I climbed down at dark and made my way to the outfitter's truck, I was sloshing in water in the waders. I am not exaggerating. I literally poured sweat out of those waders when I took them off.
It was a bad experience and a dangerous one, but it did prove the concept. If you go to extremes, you can fool all the deer all the time.
I wore the contraption for the rest of the season, every time out. Never once did a deer detect danger, even though I often dropped wind floaters that sailed right to their noses. For his part, Larry experienced very similar results to mine using his system.
It was the best season I ever spent when it comes to not spooking deer — and with the waders, the deer never even once detected my ground scent. However, it was also by far the least comfortable season I have ever spent in a treestand.
Why It Worked
That system worked for four reasons. First, it totally contained my odor, as I have already said. Second, the garments were made of a material that didn't have any residual odor of its own. That is very important. Third, the garments had very little surface area compared to other options.
Think about odor absorption in terms of soaking up water. If a garment can soak up water, it can also soak up (and hold) scent. When the wind blows or you move, particles and fibers containing the scent slough off the garment and the wind carries it to downwind deer.
The less surface area, the less opportunity for scent molecules to adhere. If you dunk a pair of waders in water and then pull them out, they won't weigh much more than they do dry. Try that with a fleece jacket and see what happens. Which one do you think will absorb and hold scent most aggressively?
Not only that, but it was very easy to scrub the PVC garments clean and set them in the sun to evaporate any scent that might somehow attach to the surface. Being able to scrub the garment with a stiff bristle brush was important in being able to get it totally clean.
If you don't believe different materials hold scent differently, try an experiment. In a dimly lit room that is backlit by the sun shining in a window, shake a fleece jacket and see what drops off it and slowly settles to the floor. Now try the same thing with a PVC rain jacket. You will notice a huge difference. This just shows you what happens when the wind blows and carries scent molecules and tainted particles from the garment downwind.
Finally, the fourth reason the system worked is because I was very careful to only handle the garments with clean gloves and then to only take them out of their tote when I was heading in to hunt or when washing and hanging in the sun to dry.
You can do what I did, and you can experience the same successes and hardships I experienced. It will work. However, you will not enjoy the time nearly as much as you would with more comfortable clothing. In the end, you will ask yourself, like I did, whether it is worth it.
Manufacturers know people won't buy the perfect solution. They will complain it is too loud, too hot, too cold, too shiny, etc. So, to sell scent-control clothing, garment makers have to strike a compromise between comfort, performance and effectiveness.
In this attempt, they land all over the place. Some are more effective than others, but less comfortable. Others are super comfortable and quiet, but not as
effective. You will need to sort that out for yourself, but I do know that it can be done — you can fool all the deer all the time, but you have to go to extremes.
There are many ways you can push your scent-control efforts to the extremes without being wrapped in a polyvinyl cocoon. Last season, I and the rest of the Midwest Whitetail team started testing Ozonics machines. We had open minds. The company was interested in sponsoring our web shows, but there was also another competing company in the ozone arena that was interested. So, we didn't have a financial incentive to select one over the other.
After a season of testing, all six of us came to the same conclusion that Ozonics did work to reduce the reaction of deer to our presence. Ours was also a harsh test, because we always have two people in the tree — a hunter and a cameraman — putting the system to the maximum test. I won't say we beat all the deer all the time, but we did beat most of the deer most of the time. However, when used in a blind with only one window open, the Ozonics was nearly 100 percent effective. And in a treestand it still made a noticeable difference.
Of course, various companies offer odor-control clothing. I am sure that if used correctly, all will help reduce human scent to some degree. I have not tried all of them, so I don't have an opinion on which is best. Scent-eliminating sprays also do make a difference. So, you have plenty of comfortable options in today's
No matter what system you use, the most important thing you can do is handle your garments as little as possible. I think it is a lot harder to remove scent contaminants from clothing than detergent manufacturers would like you to believe. At a certain point, you can't get them clean enough no matter how often you wash them. Give them to the kid who mows your lawn and buy new garments.
However, you can prolong the effective life of scent-control clothing by only wearing it when actually hunting and not handling the garment with bare hands. I always wear a fresh, clean pair of gloves every time I go hunting and I also keep the gloves clean by not putting them on until I start dressing to head for the stand. That ensures I won't transfer any more scent to the garments than absolutely necessary.
I have made a big deal about the three levels of scent control. You can fool some of the deer some of the time, you can fool most of the deer most of the time or you can fool all the deer all the time. If you really want to go to the absolute fringe of effort and comfort — and push your sanity — I have proven it is possible to reach level three, to fool all the deer all the time.
I am not sure that is realistic for many bowhunters, though. Most bowhunters, with moderate scent-control efforts, are easily capable of a level one outcome. Fooling some of the deer some of the time will definitely pay benefits and at the very least will reduce the distance that deer can smell you, keeping your hunting area fresher longer.
If you get a little more extreme, you can proceed to level two. This is a good goal for serious bowhunters. You can still maintain some comfort while taking maximum advantage of today's garment, spray and ozone technologies. The benefits here are much more obvious — directly resulting in more deer in the freezer.