Deer Hunting and Scent Control: How Good is a Deer’s Nose?September 30th, 2011 by Grant Woods
Most hunters know that deer have a great sense of smell. However, it is very difficult for researchers to determine just how good a deer’s sense of smell is. We can’t put samples in front of a deer and ask them if they can detect this odor or chemical. However, earlier this week I indirectly witnessed an example of how well deer can smell.
I shot a doe in the liver with my bow. I reviewed the footage on a high quality HD camera (we were filming for GrowingDeer.tv). I knew the hit would be fatal, but the trailing job would be a bit longer than a deer shot in both lungs. We waited an hour then took up the trail, which was easy to follow for the first 100 yards. The doe then traveled through a grove of cedars and blood doesn’t show up very well on cedar needles. In Missouri, all possible means to recover a deer must be used before using a dog to trail. I felt we were at that point so I called the local conservation officer and obtained permission to use Crystal, our 18 month old lab. Tracy, my wife, has been training Crystal to follow blood trails.
Crystal was a bit confused at first given all of my scent, but eventually she picked up the trail. She trailed the doe through the cedars, across a food plot, across a dry creek, through chest high weeds along the creek, down a gravel road for 100 yards, then 50 yards into a thick bedding area. I was thrilled to see the doe piled up and gave Crystal several treats and plenty of “good girl” comments!!
Besides being thrilled to recover the doe, I was once again shown how well deer can smell. It’s generally assumed that prey species (deer included) have as good, if not a better, sense of smell than predator species (Crystal included). This is one reason prey species are able to survive.
Several vehicles had driven the gravel road between when I shot and when Crystal trailed the doe down the gravel road. The humidity was low that day and because gravel is not porous it is not a good surface to hold scent. The gravel had been covered by vehicle exhaust, dripping oil, etc. Neither I, nor the folks helping, saw one drop of blood on the gravel road. Simply stated, Crystal was able to trail the deer in horrible conditions.
I share this event to illustrate how good a deer’s sense of smell is. It’s incredible! Based on this and gads of other similar observations, my hunting strategy has changed over the years to include reducing as much scent from my gear and myself as much as possible.
I start with a shower. I then dry myself with a clean towel that’s been laundered in scent free soap. My hunting clothes have been laundered with scent free soap also and stored in a barn that doesn’t have gas, etc., stored close by. I take my hunting clothes and gear to the field in clean tubs and change into them beside my truck just before I walk to my stand. Yes, it can be wicked cold changing in the field during the late season. I have a pair of boots I only use when I hunt. I never wear them inside my truck, let alone to go shopping, get gas, etc. I use the Dead Down Wind system because it is based on enzymes that destroy chemicals and bacteria that are the source of odors. Most scent control systems are only a bactericide – just one source of odors.
The effort involved to take these steps is worth it to me as I frequently watch deer cross the path I use to access my stand. In fact, I watched multiple deer cross the path the cameraman and I used to access my stand this past Wednesday, when I harvested two does. Multiple deer fed 270 degrees around the stand without giving any indication they smelled Adam (the cameraman), me, or our gear. It was a beautiful morning in the woods watching deer and bringing home some venison. I believe it occurred because Adam and I use a simple, but effective scent reduction system.
A deer’s sense of smell is amazing. However, by reducing the scent on me and my gear as much as possible by using a complete system, I have shown that I can keep from alerting deer to my presence. This is critical in the humid, swirling wind conditions where I live and hunt. During bow season, controlling my scent enough that deer may approach 10 yards closer can lead to more opportunities to draw back my bow.
I like watching Crystal work, but would rather watch her trail someone else’s deer. I’ll keep using my system and let my buddies know Crystal is available if they make a bad hit.
Growing Deer together,