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All About Scent Control
Learning how to mask your scent can give you more hunting success
I believe that I have a pretty decent sense of smell, possibly even better than the average person. I say that only because I have been able to detect various odours when others could not. When hunting I can, at times, detect game such as deer, sheep, elk, and even moose by their smell. Not particularly unusual, but it does point to the theme of my column because if we, as humans, can detect game by their smell, just think of how that plays out when it comes to the game we hunt, such as deer, being able to detect us by our scent. Let’s get right to the facts. Researchers claim a deer’s sense of smell may be 1,000 times better than ours. They garner this ability through olfactory receptors and deer have 297 million olfactory receptors, compared to humans who only have five million. Even dogs, with their 220 million receptors, fall short of a deer’s nose. Ever wonder why a deer constantly licks its nose? It does this to keep it moist, as a moist nose allows scent, such as human scent, to adhere to it, making it even more detectable. I once read that they can smell you like you can smell a skunk. I suspect that it may even be more obtuse than that, as they live and survive by the use of this most trusted sense. So how do we hunters combat this apparently overwhelming olfactory advantage?
Using Mother Nature
While game do not always re-act the same to human scent, especially if hunting in areas where there happens to be a lot of or no human activity, most hunted game has developed a keen sense of alarm to it. And while there are all but unlimited products on the market these days to aid in scent control, it is my view that Mother Nature, or should I say using the advantages Mother Nature provides, is still the most useful resource that we can employ.
The first of these resources is wind. Use the wind to your advantage – put it to work for you. A strong, unidirectional wind will steadily disperse your scent downwind and can cover some noise during a stalk or a still hunt. As an example, I have used a strong/steady wind to stalk right into the centre of herd of Cape buffalo (spooky), a band of rams (so close in fact that I could almost reach out and touch them), a herd of elk and so on. Some tips:
- Set up your stand or call/rattling site so that prevailing winds carry your scent away from the area to be hunted.
- Pay attention to the natural flow of wind direction on mountainsides – down at night, up during the day.
- Plan your stalk around wind direction and, if unfavourable, wait it out.
- Use elevation to your advantage, such as an elevated ridgeline, hillside or even a tree stand.
- During a stalk or when still-hunting, constantly check the wind. Here I use tiny bits of wool/yarn from a string of wool that I carry, or crumpled dry leaves/grass/cattail fluff or a scent-free powder dispenser. While I have not used it, cornstarch has been said to work as well.
Next, if you would prefer a natural approach, rather than a scent cover product for your hunting clothes, stick them in a garbage bag with a bunch of pine needles for a week or so before your hunt. You will be surprised at the pine scent cover now embedded in your clothing. And yet another great way to put Mother Nature to work for you is to set out a blind a couple of weeks prior to your hunt. Game in the area will not only get used to it being there, but also much of the scent that was originally associated with it will be gone so that it can provide you with an all but scent-free enclosure that can trap much of your scent when using it. Some companies even offer scent proof/control blinds.
Personal contributions to scent control
There is also much we can do on the individual level to assist in keeping us as odourless as possible. Here is a suggested list of the do and don’ts that I employ prior to or during a hunt.
- I don’t use perfumed soaps/lotions/lip balm – wash/shower instead with scent-free or scent elimination soap.
- I don’t chew gum or eat candies that can give off a scented breath during a hunt.
- I don’t use the areas around my stands or blinds as a bathroom or garbage dump.
- I remove as much of the oils on my gun as possible.
- I avoid contamination or contact with gasoline or oils.
- I don’t wash my clothes with perfumed soaps.
- I don’t camp or light camp fires right in the middle of my hunt area.
- I don’t use a scented antiperspirant.
- I avoid foods that will let every deer in the woods, as well as my hunting buddies, know what I had to eat or drink the night before my hunt.
Scent control products
My goodness, the market is jammed full of products to either mask/cover or eliminate your scent. I will briefly try to provide an overview so that you can at least have an understanding of what is available. I will start with clothing, but before I get too far along I should point out that there is a lot of debate as to the effectiveness of scent elimination clothing. While I have heard and read strong opposing views on the subject for a number of years now, and after using a variety of this clothing, I look at it this way: while it is all but impossible to eliminate 100 per cent of your odour, when hunt conditions warrant it why not give yourself as much of an edge as possible by using hunting clothes that are designed to either absorb odour or reduce odour-causing bacteria?
You can buy just about every type of clothing for this purpose, from under garments to base layers, socks, headgear, shirts and jackets and the list marches on.
You will, however, have to consider whether you would prefer to go with clothing that utilizes carbon-based technology to absorb odour, which require regular rejuvenation in a dryer, antimicrobial clothing or even the new Scent Blocker Trinity clothing that is said to absorb up to 40 per cent more odour than carbon. Or you may even want to consider Scent Blocker’s S3 clothing that combines silver antimicrobial and Trinity technology. To date, I have gone with antimicrobial clothing, but I do so in combination with those do and don’ts listed in the section above.
As an alternative to buying clothing, you may want to try the pine-needles-in-a-bag approach mentioned earlier or a spray for your clothes that controls odours.
Then, if you want to up the ante, there is an array of products aimed at odour control/cover, from laundry detergent, dryer sheets, shampoo/conditioners, antiperspirants and lip balms to towels and wipes. In other words, an array of products to aid in making you as odourless as possible and they may just assist you in boosting your confidence, and a confident hunter if a better hunter.
Last, you may also want to consider storage of your hunting clothes and, once again, there are a number of storage bags on the market that offer odour protection during the off-season. However, as an alternative, you may also want to consider my approach: I have vacuum sealed mine in Ziploc Space Bags.
While there is no one perfect solution for all scent control situations, when you combine what Mother Nature has to offer with your personal contributions and those products that work for you, that olfactory advantage game has can at least be balanced in your favour.
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