Archery Talk: Scent Control & You

Scent Control: Game animals rely on their sense of smell to detect danger. Fooling their nose is a critical part of the bow hunting equation.

As the evening sun began its descent, I heard a twig snap. Adrenalin pumping I knew this could only mean one thing: a deer was coming my way. Moments later I glimpsed a patch of hair and heavy antlers behind a tangle of leaves and branches. It was a handsome four-by-four mule deer. Just a few more steps and I would have my shot opportunity.

The cool evening air carried the aroma of early fall, but sadly a subtle breeze swirled with reckless abandon. During the rut, the wafting air currents may not have affected this buck the same but in the early season as velvet sheds and bucks enter their earliest stages of the pre-rut, all senses are on high alert. As abruptly as it emerged from the foliage, the bruiser buck stopped, raised its nose high in the air, and snorted. Alarmed, it spun, stomped off stiff-legged, and continued to blow loudly as it made a quick exit! My near picture-perfect shot opportunity was foiled and, despite best efforts to control scent, the deer busted me. The lesson here is that no matter how much we do to control scent, sometimes environmental conditions and circumstances intercede to give game the home turf advantage.

Bottom line — human odour is offensive, especially to wildlife. We can never eliminate our foul smell completely, but we can certainly take measures to minimize it. Using the wind in our favour is indeed the most important step any bow hunter can take, but we can also use scent-blocking clothing, blinds, cover-up scents, and footwear to contain or eliminate much of our offensive smell.

Is Scent Control Necessary?

Scent control is probably one of the hottest topics discussed among bow hunters. Archery hunting is a close-encounter game and we simply cannot experience success if we can’t get close. Contemporary marketing has convinced many of us that commercial scents and scent eliminators are the ticket. While I’m a firm believer in a few of these products, I can say with great confidence that after twenty-some years of bow hunting and a decade of operating commercial bow hunts, some do indeed deliver as they promise but if we fail to hunt smart, no amount of technology or cover-up scent can close the deal for us. In the end, this means it’s important to understand thermals. Acknowledging when, when, and how thermals carry scent along with reading and interpreting prevailing winds will help you get close to game.

Use the Wind

Wind can be capricious. It can come up in a hurry and it can dissipate just as fast. It can gust, swirl, waft, or blow with intensity. Erratic or swirling winds create the worst conditions for any bow hunter. The unpredictable nature of wind carries scent to and fro at random. Every bow hunter knows that erratic or swirling winds or even light breezes can be the kiss of death when it comes to close range hunting.

Some bow hunters concerned with scent control prefer calm conditions, but my own preference is usually for a slight or even stiff but constant breeze. Depending on the species I’m hunting, wind can be good or bad. Spot and stalk hunting for instance is usually more successful when a consistent wind allows the bow hunter to work into or across it. Regardless of its mood on any given day, there is no arguing that wind carries scent.

One of the most valuable tools I carry is a wind indicator bottle containing odorless talc powder. Before doing any stalk or even walking into a stand location, I give the bottle a squeeze to see how the air currents are moving. If you don’t use one already, you should.

Clothing & Scent-Blocking Fabrics

Odor concealment is equally important. Some of the best gear I’ve discovered in recent years is made by ScentBlocker; in particular, their Dream Season line. Several companies proclaim scent-blocking or masking qualities and, given the outcome of a recent court case, evidence has shown that claims about their ability to block human odour are substantiated. Over the last few years, I’ve become a big fan of this stuff. Made with activated carbon and antimicrobial technology to aid in odour control, this technology is unreal and yes, it works!

Along with scent-blocking clothing are other related fabrics used extensively in some of today’s portable commercial blinds. One of the best odour controlling blinds I’ve discovered is Ameristep’s Dream Season ground blind. Utilizing ScentBlocker technology as well, it effectively conceals and helps block undesirable odours from possible detection by game.

Cover-Up Scents

Observing the trend in cover-up scents over the last couple decades, you’ve probably noticed a huge influx of commercial products. When the first commercial cover-up scents were made available, it was common to see things like earth, rabbit and fox scents. Today things like cedar, pine, coon, acorn and more are readily available. Attractants like estrus and urine scents have become so popular today that many different brands can be found on the shelves of your favourite hunting store. And, while I’m sure many work, I’ve come to rely on a select few.  Having tried many different brands over the years, I now rely on three main brands including H.S. Scents, Tink’s and Scent Shield products almost exclusively. Sometimes I’ll hang canisters with cotton or tissue saturated with these estrus or urine scents near where I’m hunting. Other times I’ll anoint the ground close to my stands, place attractants in existing or mock scrapes, and sometimes I’ll put a few drops on the sleeve of my jacket or on my pants.

In my experience, cover-up scents work but circumstantially. In my view a smell is a smell. I tend think “no odour” is better than introducing an “additional odour.” Most bow hunters have their own opinion on this matter, but for me scent-eliminating sprays are a better bet for controlling odour. They are probably the most universally used and most effective cover-up products on the market today. Tink’s Vanish, for example, uses Byotrol, a technology proven to destroy over 300 odour-causing compounds produced by the human body and the environment. Needless to say, for bow hunters, this is invaluable.

Footwear

As obsessive as many bow hunters are about scent, it is surprising how many of us forget about our feet. Feet sweat and smell. Think about it; we wear our boots or shoes everywhere and we step in all kinds of stuff. From washrooms to gas stations, restaurants, and more; everywhere we step, we pick up manmade odours that are highly offensive to critters. Aside from spraying down with odour-eliminating products, we can take practical steps to minimize foreign odours. Granted, we’ll never get rid of them completely but we can take simple steps. When possible, wear a rubber boot. Rubber tends to shed odors more than fabrics or even leather. In the early-to-mid-season, I like to where a knee-high rubber boot.

But just wearing that footwear isn’t enough. Savvy bow hunters take extra care to wear street shoes or boots in their vehicle and even up until they arrive at the location they’ll be hunting. For years, I stored and transported my hunting clothes and boots in plastic bags or Rubbermaid containers. I’ve even gone so far as to place spruce limbs in with them to ensure as natural a smell as possible.

Other Stuff

In the end, bow hunting demands that we consider a variety of variables to help us get close to game. Remember, your face, hands, and even your breath retains odour. I’ve seen odour-eliminating facemasks, gloves, and even chewing gum that is said to obliterate foul breath. Just how far we take the scent control thing is up to each bow hunter but one thing is certain; if animals catch our scent, it’s game over.

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