Managing Your Scent While Hunting

January 5, 2021

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“What’s the Wind Doing?”

Anyone that has ever hunted any kind of hooved animal has heard it time and time again. This concept of “winding” an animal is directly related to scent, and how animals use their extraordinary ability to pick up and identify specific scents from great distances. Just like humans use their eyes and ears to see and recognize danger, animals have an additional defense mechanism, their nose. However, unlike the eyes and ears, the nose is absolute and concrete in its ability to determine danger. Whether it be a whitetail in Iowa, an elk in Montana, or a hog in Florida, game animals rely on this sense of smell to avoid predators, including those in a tree stand.

Because of this fact, proper management of your scent while hunting is of pinnacle importance. Generally speaking, there are two types of ways to minimize the impact of the smell your body will inevitably create: eliminate odor before hunting, and control the direction odor travels while hunting.

The first method mostly applies to those hunting in a stationary position, such as a tree stand or blind. Typically, species like whitetail deer and wild hogs are hunted in an ambush style, sometimes over some type of food source or trail. Here, the hunter is at the mercy of the wind, and is unable to adapt in the moment to the animal’s movements. This type of hunting scenario is where hunters turn to scent eliminating tools. The following is a list of methods to help minimize your scent footprint in the woods.

  1. Preventative Measures: Minimize Your Scent
  1. Wash your hunting clothes in scent free or cover scent laundry detergent.
    1. There are several types of detergents on the market designed to eliminate clothing smell. Most regular detergents are scented, and even if you cannot obviously smell it, the deer can. Wash your clothes in the scent free detergent, and put them in an airtight container until you hunt to keep them from being contaminated.
  2. Use scent free soap before hunting.
    1. Much like your clothes, most regular soap is scented and will leave you smelling like a bottle of perfume. Scent free soaps are designed to remove your human smell without adding anything else.
  3. Spray your clothes and boots with scent eliminating or masking spray.
    1. This spray treatment is your final defense as you head into the woods. Here, your boots are likely the most important piece, as any smell from your truck, garage, or hands that is stuck to them will be left on the ground. Believe it or not, animals will often spook if they hit your ground scent (area you walked on), regardless of whether you are downwind of them. Removing this scent from your boots can help reduce the likelihood of this happening.
  4. Ozone Generators
    1. Ozone generators create oxygen particles that, when coming into contact with odors or bacteria, react and oxidize with the particles, thus eliminating the smell. Hunters use these in a variety of ways, from putting them in their gear bags, closets, trucks, to even hanging them in their tree or blind. While there is controversy behind whether these actually work, tests with drug dogs have shown that ozone generators extend the time it takes for an animal to react and pinpoint your location, potentially giving you a few precious seconds to seal the deal before they spook.

Managing Your Scent in the Field

  1. Scent management in the field is based on wind direction.
    1. Flat Ground
      1.  Certain parts of the country, like Kansas, have relatively consistent wind due to the lack of topography. Here, hunters simply choose to sit a spot downwind or slightly off wind from where they expect an animal to come from. As long as the animal is not directly downwind of you or hits your ground scent, they should not smell you.
    2. Elevation Change
      1. Whether you are in the mountains of Montana or sitting on a high river bank in Kentucky, you will be subject to thermals carrying. Like you learned in grade school science class, warm air rises and cold air sinks. As the sun rises in the morning, cool thermals run downhill and bring your scent with it. Midday, warm thermals carry your scent back uphill. Finally, as night falls, the air again cools and brings your scent downhill. Learning these thermals and how to use them throughout the day is extremely important to success when hunting in areas of changing elevation changes. 

While scent control and elimination is not an exact science, all of these techniques may give you an edge in the field. Personally, anything that might help me beat that animal, (whose only job is to survive) is worth trying, as there is no downside. Confidence in the woods is important, so give yourself that added boost before you get in the stand or hit the mountain this year.

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