Gazing at a trail camera picture that showed an extreme close-up of a deer’s nostrils, it finally dawned on me. For several seasons before I became a scent-control disciple, my trail cameras would ignite with fresh deer photos (including mature bucks) soon after I hung them, only to peter out to young bucks and small does by the time I checked the card again.
Assuming the deer had moved on to a new location, I would chase them with my camera, hanging and re-hanging. This would perpetuate the cycle of pictures of good deer for the first day or so, then a downhill slide leading to the occasional glimpse of a doe or fawn. Something was wrong; I knew mature bucks were around, but were they really changing their feeding and bedding habits this often? After years of research, observation, and discussion, I came to the conclusion that the deer were patterning me. The deer would hear me making all sorts of racket hanging the camera, then safely after I left, they would come in to investigate—hence the large volume of a variety of deer. Not long after, the lingering human scent would convince them that I was up to no good, and the animals would stay clear of that area.
Recently, at a scent-control seminar I was giving at the local Cabela’s store, a skeptical customer raised his hand and said, “This scent-control gear is a big waste of money. I just play the wind.”
I humbly replied, “You’re never wrong playing the wind, but you could possibly not be completely right either. Think about what happens when you leave. The deer act like dogs—they sniff everything. Chances are good that they hear you in the woods. And when it’s safe, they’ll come in and investigate, smelling everything you left behind.” The man was all ears, and by the end of the seminar, I know another scent-control disciple had joined the club. I told the man that by following my advice, this fall may be his best yet.
Entrance and exits
It is important for scent-free hunters to constantly strive to be invisible to deer. Quite often overlooked, entrance and exit routes are particularly important in the quest for stealth. Obviously, we do not want to make a bunch of noise accessing our stands. Too many foreign sounds may put the deer on alert and cause them to keep to the security of their beds until well after sunset.
Many hunters enter their morning stands after first light so they can see where they are stepping and be on the watch for moving deer. How often have we hunters carefully snuck to our stands only to hear a deer alarm blowing at us from the darkness? Along with these logical access strategies, it is important to remain scent-free. Any rogue wind blowing around will carry human scent a far downwind from the faint trail the hunter followed to his stand.
The same is true after the hunt. After many hungry and frozen hours on stand the sunset is often a welcome sight—but it is important to not hurry back to the truck and instead take a logical way out, playing the wind and keeping quiet. When deer are spooked in the early morning hours, they often make it a point to get back into their bedding or security cover earlier, convincing the hunter they’ve vacated the property. The same is true of evening hunts. When deer are scared by a hunter leaving for his truck, they’ll stay in the security cover longer, avoiding the hunter altogether. In a nutshell, when it comes to entering and exiting stands, be scent-free, use plenty of scent-eliminating boot spray, and take all the time in the world. An ounce of prevention could be worth a pound of antler in this case.
Scent-free hunting is crucial. Not only do deer wind stinky hunters, but as I mentioned above, they’ll pick up on the human scent long after the hunt is over. The wind acts like flowing water, and often pools and collects in lower areas. This same wind, carrying a hunter’s scent, will spread his or her noxious odor all over the deer woods, concentrating it in lower areas. What if there isn’t a lot of wind? Then the human stink will collect at the base of their treestand! Either way, long after a hunt the signs of human pressure are still present.
When I mentioned to the gentleman at my seminar that playing the wind is never wrong, there are circumstances where it isn’t ideal either. Most hunters play it safe, and think “selfishly” when setting up their treestands. They only think of the wind that is good for them, and not the wind a buck may want to use. This is a whole other controversial topic in itself, but some experts swear deer like to travel with their wind slapping them across the face. If a particular buck does like to have the wind in his face when he’s out cruising for does, the chances are good he’ll also wind the hunter long before he’s ever seen. Like I said, a that’s its own topic entirely, but it’s certainly food for thought.
Just because the season has arrived doesn’t mean scouting should cease. In fact, many dedicated hunters scout way more than they hunt. Granted, most of their scouting comes in the off-season, but if these guys aren’t seeing the deer like they want to, they’re strapping on the hiking boots and finding fresh sign. Once again, scent control is crucial here. Often the only fresh sign will be near a bedding area. If a mature buck detects human presence near his sacred bedroom, he’ll become pretty edgy and look for a safer residence. A great time to scout is during a rainstorm, when noise and movement will be easier concealed, and any scent residue will be washed away at a much quicker rate.
When scouting during the season, don’t make the mistake many hunters have made and go out unarmed. Once I had a great eye-to-eye encounter with a 150-inch Illinois 10-point, which ended with him calmly walking away because I had no way to take him. Lesson learned.
Unless you’re tracking the biggest buck on the farm, scent control is important here too. Even if you’re on the blood trail of Mr. Big, I’d play it safe. If anything, you don’t want to scare all the rest of the deer in the county to the neighbor’s place. Remember to regularly douse boots with scent eliminator and try not to touch anything with your body or hands. Often many great spots are ruined by excited hunters on the trail of a doe or small buck. Recovering these deer is of the utmost importance, but don’t booger up a buck spot by doing it in a sloppy manner.
That’s not all
These are just a few examples of why scent control is important. There are many more reasons why the hunter must try to remain invisible. Scent control does not have to be expensive, and if used properly, the money spent on scent-control products is a wise investment. However, effective scent control does require a lot of determination and commitment from the hunter. So be safe this fall, hunt scent-free, and have fun!
Images courtesy Jason Herbert/Robinson Outdoor Products