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Get Your Blaze On... and Odors Off
Scent control counts during the firearms deer hunt, too
By Adam Johnson
Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson says we want deer to feel comfortable, not on edge, when we’re hunting them. A deer that feels comfortable is a deer that’s much more likely to expose itself to you, and your firearm, this season.

Outdoors writers expend vast quantities of ink describing in exacting detail how to fool a buck’s nose during the archery deer season.

Come firearms season, however, all that TLC disappears. Why this occurs, I don’t know. It’s not like all the gunpowder overpowers a whitetail’s olfactory senses. Yet, we see little space devoted to containing scent during the important firearms hunt.

Scent control is every bit as important come November and December, because our guard is down. Firearms deer seasons in many places means deer camp – with all of its comforting and tasty smells, like wood fires and camp cooking.  Unfortunately those same odors scare whitetails out of their wits, so we need to take proper precautions.

We all know guys whose eyes glaze over when the discussion turns to scent control. Part of the gap is understandable. Humans simply are not equipped to handle and decipher smells the way many animals can. A whitetail’s sense of smell is its No. 1 defense, and bottom line, even on your best day, you don’t smell very good to a deer.

Ever see a deer walking toward you, suddenly freeze, and then move away. That deer probably busted your scent. I see this when I’ve expended little to no effort to control my scent while turkey hunting. (As they say, if a gobbler could smell you, he’d be impossible to kill!) Even 100-plus yards away, your scent can end a whitetail kill opportunity before you even knew it existed.

Let’s start with wind. Right now, you need to scout and observe deer movement to determine how your stand sites sit in relation to the wind. Whenever possible, choose a stand where the wind is in your favor. Deer likely will be returning to bedding areas in the early morning, so if you’re facing a field, and you can have that wind in your face, all the better. You know the general wind direction is west to east, but it’s best to have several options for different scenarios. Wind has a nasty reputation for swirling and otherwise not cooperating.

That’s where the scent control industry can help with our deer hunting. Better writers than me have explained their scent-control regimen, but suffice to say, all the rules apply. I follow a regimen that starts with a shower every hunting day with a no-scent soap.

My hunting clothes remain outside hanging up where they absorb outdoor odors, not basement odors. One quick caveat here: Hanging them over your wife’s flower bed or in a cedar grove (when your hunting land is covered with oaks) will smell just as foreign and alert whitetails as the unnatural human odors you’re trying to eliminate. A little commonsense here goes a long ways, folks!

En route to hunting camp, I place my clothes in unscented plastic yard bags or big Rubbermaid-style tubs. I washed those plastic containers with a no-scent soap back in August and most have been outside ever since so plastic odors dissipate. The older the container, the less scent and the better they work.

A couple weeks before the season, I saturate my clothes with a favorite scent-elimination spray. It dries off fast, but the spray formula clogs those pores to contain my scent. Before heading afield to hunt, I spray a lighter “touch-up” application on all my hunting clothes.

Coming and going from camp, I hang my clothes outside. Don’t just waltz into your cabin and toss your clothes on the floor. Keep them away from all campfires, cooking fumes or any gasoline-operated devices. And for pity’s sake, don’t smoke cigarettes around them!

Afield, I walk as much as possible, being careful not to work up a sweat. Walking keeps me in better shape but the fewer ATV or automobile smells that reach my stand, the better.

I also spray down my boots. Uh-oh, I hear you asking: “Should I wear rubber boots?” I do not, and here’s why.

Rubber boots or gloves absolutely do not hold scent on outside. That’s a good thing, and it’s the reason trappers wear rubber gloves when handling traps. But I fall into the camp that believes that typical leather or cordura boots breathe better, so I build up less odor. For walking, rubber boots are foot saunas, and scent chimneys! That extra scent escapes through top, and in my opinion, creates more scent problems than it solves. Breathable boots keep my feet dryer, with less odor, and they’re more comfortable, too.

I employ liquid cover scents before heading afield, but again, stick with scents that match your location to avoid alerting deer with a foreign smell. I wonder what deer imagined back in the days when every hunter and his brother were applying a pint of fox urine to his boots. I mean, how many red fox actually are out there?

As for attractant scents, there are many great options on the market. Our rifle season comes around the peak of the rut, so you’d better believe I use a doe estrous scent then. You’ve read how-to features before describing how to lay a scent trail with them, via felt wicks or cotton tabs, and I follow this advice religiously. Place these markers at a deer’s nose level – say about 4 feet off the ground.

People for years would dump these scents on rocks or ground where it would quickly evaporate or the ground would absorb it. With tabs or wicks, the scent has a much better chance of carrying on the wind or thermals. You can draw deer from quite a distance, even hunting thick woods with a timely scent trail.

En route to any stand, I lay a scent trail by tying a scent-dispersing wick onto a stick. I’ll drag it adjacent to wherever I’m walking, so it doesn’t land right atop my own potentially deer-alarming footsteps. This also disperses the scent more randomly.

Once I arrive at my stand, I’ll walk a big figure-8 pattern – maybe 50 yards wide by 100-plus yards long – with my stand in the center. That way, all scent trails lead to me, and even deer passing upwind may trip across that trail and approach.

Post-rut, I’ll still use doe in estrus, until mid December. For archery hunting, before or after the rutting period, I’ll use a curiosity scent – like apples or acorns – something to catch the interest of deer.

In portions of Canada or other parts of the world, predators like wolves or bears are the dominant factor in the survival of game animals. Human scent may almost be a curiosity – even to whitetails in such remote places. In the Lower 48, however, we’re hunting highly pressured deer. Believe me, when every square mile is crawling with orange, deer learn quickly that human odors mean danger.

Given that, we want deer to feel comfortable, not on edge, when we’re hunting them. A deer that feels comfortable is a deer that’s much more likely to expose itself to you, and your firearm, this fall.

To contact Adam visit his web site at www.adamjohnsonoutdoors.com

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