Whitetail deer have been witnessed reacting to human body odor from as far away as a half-mile. That alone tells you the odds are stacked against you when trying to defeat a deer’s olfactory capabilities.
Even with a rifle, it’s a difficult proposition to outwit a mature buck’s nose if you don’t play the wind correctly. Pick up a bow, reduce your effective range to 30, 40 or 50 yards, and the scent becomes that much more of a factor.
Obviously, setting up downwind of where you expect your prey to be is the number one objective when trying to remain undetected in the deer woods. There are whole books on this subject. However, regardless of predominant winds, the scent you left coming to the stand, the slightest wind shift, circling air currents or changing thermals throughout the day can quickly tip a mature buck off to your presence. All it takes is for a few molecules of your odor to drift into a deer’s nasal passage and you’re busted. It just makes good sense to do what you can to control your own scent in the deer woods.
My brother is somewhat of a scent control freak. He does all the normal washing and spraying and keeps his hunting clothes in an air-tight container until he puts them on when he gets to his stand. This once put him in the funny predicament.
After a long uphill hike to his stand for an afternoon hunt, he stripped down completely and toweled off the sweat he couldn’t avoid. In the nude, he was opening the bag that held his hunting clothes when he heard a deer approaching. He grabbed his bow, nocked an arrow, strapped on his release and dropped to a knee. Not out of modesty, he concealed his pasty white nakedness behind a tree as a doe stepped into range. He drew back on her.
Then he had a terrifying thought. His man parts were dangling unprotected in proximity to the cams and strings of a compound bow. Fearing a high-speed tangle-up, he didn’t take the shot.
Getting naked in the woods is not really a trick to see more deer. That anecdote merely shows the lengths hunters go to give them a slight advantage. You cannot completely control wind, weather or even your own scent. But there are steps you can take to make yourself stink less and increase the odds of putting yourself in bow range of a mature whitetail.
Shower with unscented soap and shampoo before going to the field. Dry off with a towel laundered in unscented detergent. Wash hunting clothes in unscented detergent and store them in an air-tight container. Maybe throw some pine needles in the bag to let your hunting clothes pick up the smells of the woods. Also, avoid picking up scents between the shower and your hunting area. Cooking smells, gasoline, the stink of the inside of your vehicle after a few weeks of hunting season, all these things reek against the natural smells of the woods. You can minimize these smells that cling to you by waiting to don your camo until shortly before or while walking to the stand.
It doesn’t hurt to use a scent-neutralizing spray, either. Spray down when you put your hunting clothes on and as needed during your hunt. Cover scents like fox pee or earth scent or attractors like vanilla or apple might also beneficial. I like to mist cover scents on the wind conservatively while already in the stand. I can’t prove it disguises the scent emanating from my position, but it makes me feel more confident, especially when I imagine all those human scent molecules drifting off through the trees when the wind shifts momentarily and blows a short gust in the wrong direction.
Also, try not to sweat. Wear light clothing and take it easy walking to the stand. All the scent killer in the world won’t help if you smell like a workout when you get to your hunting area.
Speaking of getting there, walking to the stand leaves a long human scent trail. You can use rubber boots and carbon-lined clothing to cut down on this, but you cannot completely eliminate your scent. Avoid walking through or upwind of deer trails, bedding areas, feeding areas or anywhere deer might be. Heck, if a creek passes near your hunting area, use it as an approach and let your stink roll on downstream.
What this all boils down to is hunter-gatherers were killing deer with bows long before even bathing came into vogue. Playing the wind and putting yourself somewhere a deer won’t sense you is the crucial element. Taking precautions with your own odor simply limits the factors that might keep a buck from stepping into bow range.
Here are a few more things some bowhunters do to reduce their scent profile, but they are so hard-core I can’t bring myself to try them. I’ve heard of guys gargling with peroxide or taking chlorophyll tablets to lessen the smell of their breath. I’ve even heard of people going vegetarian for the season to reduce body odor. That kind of defeats the purpose for a meat-hunter, though.