Deer Hunting 101: Scent Control in 10 Steps

Travis DormanContributor IAugust 25, 2010

Scent control is a big topic of conversation amongst hunters around the world. This is a specific part of hunting where “common knowledge” has really changed in the past few decades.

As a bow hunter, I have to pay a great deal of attention to the details regarding my scent in the woods given my required close proximity to the deer. But all hunters stand to benefit from a persistent scent control strategy.

Please note that the advice below applies to getting and remaining as close to scent-free as possible. Therefore, I will not be covering lures or cover scents at this time.

Scent Myths

I often hear skepticism regarding some of the techniques described below, or any scent control attempt for that matter. I’ll address a few of those to get started.

“Scent control is a gimmick designed to sell more clothing and accessories.” 

It is true that hunting has become a big business, and there is room for debate regarding the level of effectiveness of some newer technologies. However, there is no doubt that deer have a highly developed sense of smell and that they use that sense as a primary defense mechanism.

Therefore, it is in the hunter’s best interest to make every reasonable attempt at scent elimination and to experiment with new products to find the best combination of tools and tactics. 

“I don’t do anything to manage scent, and I still see deer.” 

Congratulations—you have probably worked hard at developing the other skills necessary to effectively hunt deer. However, I will bet that 99 percent of the deer you see are coming from a direction where the wind is working to your direct advantage.

Furthermore, depending on how reckless you are in the scent department, deer detect and avoid you without ever revealing themselves. So you don’t even realize what you’re missing.

“People have hunted effectively since the beginning of time, and they didn’t use all this stuff.” 

True. It is also true that the Wright brothers managed to fly a plane. That does not mean that there haven’t been significant improvements in the technique. Today’s technologies allow us greater advantages in scent control to improve our odds of harvest. This is particularly important in the current hunting culture, where trophy hunting has become such a focus. 

Additionally, hunting pressure has amplified over the years due to decreased deer habitat and the increased popularity of hunting. In high-pressure areas, you end up with deer that are very leery and difficult to hunt. You need all the help you can get.

The List

No. 10: Clothing

This is an area where you can significantly reduce your scent profile. Regular detergents (like Tide, Gain, etc.) clean your clothes but add fragrances that are definitely not found in nature. Using scent-free detergents will keep your clothes clean without adding the deer-alerting perfume.

Scent Killer, Scent-a-Way, Primos, and Dead Down Wind are a few of the many manufacturers of hunting-specific scent-free detergent. I have also heard of guys using combinations of baking soda and borax to make their own detergent, but I have not tried it myself.

Consider drying your clothes outside, on a clothesline, to avoid picking up odors from inside your dryer. The companies mentioned above also offer sheets to absorb odor in the dryer.

I might take a beating for this recommendation, but I believe that activated carbon clothing eliminates enough scent to make it worthwhile. Activated carbon clothing is touted to absorb scent to reduce your chances of detection. Scent-Lok and Scent Blocker are two popular manufacturers of these clothes. I use this type of clothing from head to toe, and I believe that it helps eliminate scent. In particular, I always use activated carbon headgear to reduce scent from sweating or my breath.

Recently, lawsuits have drawn this technology into question. It appears that manufacturers and marketing teams may have overstated the effectiveness of the technology, and it looks like the courts are going to reel their claims in a bit. While I do not believe that activated carbon is 100 percent effective or the only necessary scent control tool, I do believe that it helps control scent in coordination with other techniques.

No. 9: Clothing Storage

Getting your clothes clean and scent free is very important. Keeping them that way is just as critical. Zip-Loc makes extra large bags that work great for keeping your clothes sealed away from contaminants. After I wash and dry my hunting clothes, I seal them in the Zip-Loc bag and put the bags in a Rubbermaid-type plastic container.

There are also commercially available containers and rubber bags that are designed for this use. Keep your dry hunting clothes in the sealed container anytime they are not in use.

No. 8: Control Scent from Your Body

Use scent-free body wash to get clean without picking up unwanted perfumes. What smells nice to your wife will send every downwind deer scattering. The same companies listed above offer products including scent-free soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, and even chewing gum.

Shower with scent-free products before every hunt. Some folks even use these products exclusively during hunting season to prevent any lingering fragrance.

No. 7: Avoid Contamination

This topic is related to No. 8 but worth consideration on its own. There is no need to employ all the techniques listed above if you intend to wear your hunting clothes while having breakfast at the local diner, spilling coffee on yourself, talking to your buddies while they chain smoke cigarettes, all before filling your truck up with gas, and then heading out to hunt.

Obviously life goes on outside of the hunting woods, but try to take reasonable precautions to avoid picking up odor on your way to the stand. Small things like remembering to get gas the night before can pay dividends during the hunt. 

Keep your clothes sealed in their scent-free containers until you reach your hunting area. Then get dressed outside to avoid contaminating yourself with odor from the vehicle. This may seem strange or extreme, but remember, deer are not accustomed to the “new car smell” air freshener or any of the other odors lingering in your pickup truck.

No. 6: Scent-Eliminating Sprays

All of the companies listed above also produce odor-eliminating sprays for use in the field. These sprays use a variety of technologies to kill bacteria or otherwise limit the amount of human scent detectable to animals. Spray yourself liberally from head to toe after getting dressed to restrict any remaining scent on your clothing.

Read more at HuntersClub.com.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.