Saturday, August 20, 2011

Is Scent Control Really That Important?

This past year one of the men in my church passed away. The widow knows that I hunt, so she has been bringing me her husbands subscription of Virginia Game & Fish until it runs out. This magazine is specifically for Virginia sportsmen. It is not normally something I would pay for, but I have enjoyed reading it each month.

This month it included an article titled "3 Steps To Lick Their Noses" by Tony J. Peterson. It is a well written article, but I can't help but wonder if the author goes a little overboard on scent control. For instance, he recommends clearing a path to your stand, so that you can get to it without touching or brushing up against any vegetation. He also recommends wearing rubber boots, even in the coldest times of winter. The last half of the article is excellent, explaining tactics for staying down wind.

I'm not trying to critique this article, I'm just using it to bring up an important question. Is scent control really that important? For every successful hunter that spends hundreds of dollars on scent control clothing, bathes in special scent eliminating soap, and follows every scent control rule, there is a successful hunter who wears plain old jeans and t-shirts, has been in a hunting camp and hasn't bathed in days, and smokes while in the stand! I knew an old hunter that always urinated off his stand. He claimed that all pee smelt the same. This old guy never failed to bag a deer or two.

Scent control advocates believe that the moment a deer gets a whiff of a human, he will run away. I'm sure that is true for some deer. Scent control sceptics think that deer smell people everywhere, and are not entirely alarmed by it. Remaining downwind and reducing movement is more important to them.

There is no question deer have a good sense of smell. They can smell better than the best dog. In fact, they can smell so well I can say without reservation that deer that live in a populated area (anywhere but the wilderness) always smell humans. It has been suggested that they can distinguish the smell of individual humans, thereby getting more spooked when an unfamiliar human is close. While the idea that a deer can sense us by smelling a twig we touched while wearing gloves seems ludicrous at first, it is true. Bloodhounds can detect the slightest traces of human scent, deer can smell 30% better than bloodhounds.

However, the question I asked was not whether or not deer can smell us. It was whether or not scent control is as important as some make it out to be. I believe the answer is "yes" and "no".

Yes, if a deer smells you your chances of killing it are slim. A hunter should do everything practical to prevent a deer from smelling him. Staying downwind, using scent control products, and reducing human scent in the area are all useful.

No, no matter what you do the deer are going to smell you, at least a little. The only really important step to keeping a deer from spooking from scent is wind direction. Deer are used to smelling people, a little scent on a footstep or on a twig is not going to spook most deer.

It is a balancing act. I wear scent control clothing for the minor amount of help it might afford, but concentrate on wind direction. I'm not afraid to touch a branch, but I'm also not going to pee under my stand. It is all about putting the odds in your favor without stressing out. Hunting is supposed to be fun after all.

This is a hotly debated issue. I figure most will disagree with me one way or another, but that is one of the things that makes hunting so fun. Everyone has their own personal style that works for them.

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