How important is scent control for deer hunting? Understanding scent control is one of the most vital elements of your deer hunting success. How good can a whitetail deer smell? A deer’s sense of smell is greater than that of a dog with 297 million olfactory receptors whereas a dog has just 220 million. A deer relies on their nose more than their eyes and ears to tell them when danger is near. You will never beat a deer’s nose, especially a mature buck’s, but if you follow this quick and simple list of 26 scent control tips for deer hunting (My Scent Control Routine), you just might improve your chances.
There are some bow hunters that will use only use scent elimination techniques for deer hunting and they will not worry about wind direction or things like thermals. Other hunters do the exact opposite. My opinion is that there is no such thing as perfect scent control, but I also want to minimize my signature as much as possible when hunting. That’s why my scent routine takes every element into consideration.
I want to maximize my chances.
I hunt in the mountains of Pennsylvania on public land and have done so most of my life. The one thing about mountain hunting is that the winds always change and swirling winds are very common. Evading a deer’s nose can be really tough in this environment. This requires a complex approach to what can be a complex problem.
That’s where my scent control routine comes in. I know that I can’t totally eliminate my scent, but I do what I can to sneak myself into a buck’s scent cone without being detected. As you will see below, my routine is probably different than some others you may have seen.
26 Scent Control Tips (My Scent Control Routine)
The scent routine below will help you understand how to prepare yourself for your next hunt and how to minimize your scent exposure. Follow each tip and see how each falls into the flow of your hunt preparation. Even if you don’t do everything listed below, if you use most of it and understand the basics, you will be better off when deer hunting.
- Use Scent Control Hunting Clothes
- Use Rubber Boots
- Use Scent Eliminating Laundry Detergent
- Dry Hunting Clothes and Hang Outside
- Store Hunting Clothes in Scent Bag or Tote
- Shower Using Scent Wash
- Use Scent Control Deodorant
- Prep Your Breath
- Dress Outside
- Spray Down Boots
- Spray Down Hunting Gear and Pack
- Use Ziplock Bags for Food
- Wear Gloves (Minimize Skin Contact)
- Wear a Mask
- Pack-in Cold Weather Clothes
- Stay Off Deer Trails
- Don’t Urinate or Defecate Near Your Stand
- Wipe Down at Your Stand
- Hunt Above the Scent Line
- Hunt Downwind
- Hunt the Thermals
- Change Your Clothes Outside (After the Hunt)
- Hang Your Clothes Outside (After the Hunt)
- Respray Everything
- Dry Your Boots
- Rinse and Repeat
Use Scent Control Hunting Clothes
A great start to any routine is to have hunting clothes that incorporate some type of scent or odor control. There are hunting apparel companies like ScentLok and Scent Blocker, that focus their hunting clothing lines on blocking scent. While I own some of this gear, I don’t use it as much as I did years ago. Now I simply look at hunting gear that has some type of odor control like Microban, Polygiene StayFresh, Polygiene OdorCrunch, or uses antimicrobial technologies that kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria like silver, triclosan, and triclocarban. There are also some natural fibers that are great for minimizing odor like Merino and Al Paca wools.
All in all, there are a lot of good options out there. At a minimum, I recommend using an upper and lower layer that incorporates some type of scent control. Using wind and water-resistant gear can help keep your body odor scent from escaping when you wear it. So look out for these things when buying your hunting clothes.
Use Rubber Boots
Wear rubber boots when you hunt. Rubber boots don’t hold and carry scent as normal hiking or hunting boots do, plus they allow you to walk through water obstacles during your hunt without impacting you negatively. They also hold in and block the scent from your feet which are one of the largest scent producers on your body when they sweat.
Use Scent Eliminating Laundry Detergent
When you are preparing for your hunt, you should always wash your hunting clothes with a scent-elimination laundry detergent. It is recommended to wash most hunting apparel in cold water to aid in preserving their odor-control properties. This type of laundry detergent removes scents and eliminates odors. If you have clothing that is extremely dirty, you may want to launder it more than once to get true odor removal. I highly recommend using either Scent Killer Gold or Dead Downwind laundry detergents (unscented).
Dry Hunting Clothes and Hang Outside
Once you get done washing your clothes, you can place them in the dryer. I recommend using odor-control dryer sheets but that is not required. What I do think is essential, is hanging your clothes outside after they come out of the wash. This allows them to air out naturally. Sometimes I will even spray my clothes down with scent elimination spray and let the clothes air dry, but it can be overkill depending on how soiled your clothing was when you washed it.
Store Hunting Clothes in Scent Bag or Tote
In order to retain the scent-free qualities of your hunting clothes, you will need to store them in a scent bag or tote. Some people simply put their clothes in a plastic bag with scent-absorbing pads. Either way, this is a critical step that will keep your clothes in an odor-free state and allow them to be used when you are ready.
Shower Using Scent Wash
Before you go out to hunt, it is recommended to take a shower using odor-control soap and shampoo. This isn’t always possible and is why I always carry large scent field wash towels with me when I go bow hunting. This is really the first step in keeping yourself scent free when heading out to hunt. Washing your hair is extremely important as it holds a large amount of odor and keeping it clean will help a lot as 40% of your scent is released from your head.
Use Scent Control Deodorant
After showering, put on scent control deodorant. This will help to minimize odor coming from your armpits. Some people even apply this to their groin and foot areas. This isn’t something I do personally, but it’s an idea for sure. I always use this type of deodorant even when I can’t get to a shower to control my odor.
Prep Your Breath
Your mouth emits a massive amount of odor and it is important to prepare your breath for hunting if possible. I recommend not eating foods like garlic that have a strong smell and make sure you brush your teeth with baking soda or baking soda toothpaste. This will minimize the scent coming from your mouth.
When you get to your hunting location, get dressed outside your vehicle. Make sure you are using your scent bag and that your hunting clothing wasn’t exposed to all the various smells that can end up in your car or truck. I personally have a large mat that I take with me so I have something to stand on when I am in remote locations and in different weather conditions. I have changed my clothes outside for many years and it isn’t always fun, but it’s a part of my routine that might not be that big of a deal, but every little bit helps.
Spray Down Boots
Once I get dressed, I always spray down my rubber boots before I start walking to my hunting spot. Removing the scent from your feet is one of the most important scent control steps you can take. I saturate my boots with field spray before I step one foot into the area where I am hiking to my hunting spot.
Spray Down Hunting Gear and Pack
One of the biggest mistakes bow hunters make is taking care of everything except their actual hunting gear, backpacks, bow, climbing sticks, and tree stand. Make sure you always spray down your gear with scent-elimination field spray. Packs tend to hold a lot of scent, so be sure you spray yours down liberally. If you have the ability to store your gear outside before you hunt, do so to air it out. Spray it down and give it time to dry if possible.
Use Ziplock Bags for Food
If you plan on taking food or snacks with you on your hunt, make sure to store them in a ziplock or some other sealable bag. Animals, not just deer, will smell and track sources of food that appeal to them or they will move away from it because it may signal a threat if they smelled it previously. Don’t forget about all the odors given off by food when you take it into the field with you. It can make a major difference.
Wear Gloves (Minimize Skin Contact)
Remember that wearing gloves, even very light ones, will help keep you from transferring your scent to everything you touch as you walk to your hunting stand location. Minimizing skin contact on your hike to your stand aids in keeping your signature in the area you are hunting small. This is especially important if you plan on hunting in that area more than once. The more sign you leave, the more deer will move away from the area. You can burn a hunting spot pretty quickly if you don’t take the steps I have talked about here.
Wear a Mask
Wearing a mask will aid in keeping your breath from traveling long distances. Have you ever watched the cloud of steam from your breath travel when it’s cold out? That creates a scent cloud coming from your mouth and by wearing a mask, you won’t stop it, but you will make it a lot smaller. As I said above, around 40% of your scent comes from your head and your mouth is the biggest culprit. Brush your teeth and wear a mask. Some people even chew things like apple gum to mask their scent.
Pack-in Cold Weather Clothes
When you sweat you stink. If you want to keep your sweat to a minimum, in the early season, wear lightweight hunting clothes. If you want to keep from sweating when it gets cold, pack your cold-weather jacket or top into your stand. I always carry my cold-weather clothes with me and layer up when I get to my stand location. This keeps me from sweating as much when I am navigating to my hunting spot.
Stay Off Deer Trails
When you are hiking to your spot, try to stay off the deer trails that lead into your stand location. Nothing will spook a deer more, especially a mature buck, than smelling your scent on the trail they are walking on. You count on being able to hunt a specific spot or trail system and you don’t want to walk on the same trail you expect the deer to walk on. This could make them detour around you without you ever knowing they were there.
Don’t Urinate or Defecate Near Your Stand
Try to keep from urinating or defecting near your stand location. I know this can be tough sometimes, but I really try to keep from sending any kind of strong signature like this to the deer in the area. That being said, I have actually taken a leak out of my tree and had does come up and lick the area where I went. I don’t think a mature buck will react the same. Young bucks might be oblivious to it, but if you are trying to get that big racker you saw on your trail cam, you probably don’t want to take any chances.
Wipe Down at Your Stand
I talked before about using field wipes and wanting to minimize sweat when hiking into your stand. This can be impossible in some cases. That’s why I carry field wipes with me and wipe down after I get to my tree or stand location. This helps remove any scent that I may have generated walking to my spot.
Hunt Above the Scent Line
The higher you hunt in a tree, the less likely your scent will travel to where the deer are walking below you. There are limitations to this of course and if you hunt from the ground or in a ground blind, you aren’t worried about this. I like hunting at least 18 feet high in my treestand to aid in keeping my scent above the deer’s scent line. Thermals play a huge role in this and sometimes will drag your scent straight to the ground. It is one of those things that may or may not help, but it does help most of the time if you are hunting the wind and thermals correctly.
There is nothing that will control your scent better than hunting downwind of the spot you are hunting. This means that you should always hunt a specific spot or trail system where you expect the deer to travel. You need to check the forecast to see what the wind direction is the day you are hunting and then use wind direction tools like milkweed to make sure you know what the winds are doing on the ground at your actual stand location.
There is a lot of planning that goes into hunting the wind and understanding what spots to hunt for the wind of the day. Deer can smell you hundreds of yards away if the wind is blowing in their direction and putting yourself in the right position can be tough. Hunting winds takes a lot of experience and trial and error, but winds are not always reliable and that is why I use the other scent control techniques outlined in this scent control routine to improve my chances when the winds change and swirl mid-hunt.
Hunt the Thermals
Thermal winds are generated when the air in low-lying areas is warmed by the sun. In the early part of the day, as the air warms, it rises. In hill country or mountain areas, this can be very significant and can change the wind direction dramatically. As the evening nears, and the temperature cools, the air cools and drops. This causes the thermals to push the wind downhill. This thermal effect has a huge impact on where to hunt in the morning and evening hunts and can change the wind direction in the forecast radically. Understanding thermals and their impact on the wind can be huge for you and your hunting spot.
Change Your Clothes Outside (After the Hunt)
If you are on a multiple-day hunting excursion, what you do after the hunt is as important as what you do before it. When you kine back to your vehicle after hunting, change back into your regular clothes outside your vehicle again. Put all of your hunting clothes back in your scent bag before going home or back to your tent site or cabin.
Hang Your Clothes Outside (After the Hunt)
Once you get home or to where you are staying, hang your clothes outside to air them out. This will help remove the scent that was generated during your hunt. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than letting sweaty, stinky hunting clothes just sit in your scent bag or tote.
Once you let your clothes hang for a little, respray them and all your other hunting gear with field spray. This way the spray can kill the scent that was left on your clothes and gear and you can be ready for your next hunt. Make sure to place close attention to the areas where you sweat the most or need the most attention and use extra field spray on those spots based on your previous use.
Dry Your Boots
While it’s not always possible, do what you can to dry your rubber boots after your hunt. I have a great boot dryer that I use and spray out the insides of my boots with field spray too. Rubber boots are great for hiding scent, but they also can really make your feet sweat. Keeping them dry inside will help keep them from generating a lot of odor (along with continually changing your socks from hunt to hunt). I continually spray my boots as I always worry about tracking my scent through the woods to my stand.
Rinse and Repeat
This is the scent routine I use. Continue using this process as you hunt. Once you start following the scent control tips outlined above, do the best that you can to continue using them, but it might not always be possible. If you are out on a multiple-day hunting trip, use the steps that you can to continue hunting with the least amount of odor that you can. Some hunters like to use cover scents, but I haven’t had much luck with them. If you have, I’d love to hear about it.
It’s never going to be perfect and you will never completely eliminate your scent. Your best bet is always going to be to use the wind’s direction and use thermals to stay ahead of a deer’s nose. The goal is always going to be to minimize your scent and signature in the area you are hunting. The more that you do this, the more successful you will be.
I’m sure you can come up with your own version of this scent control routine. You have to do what works for you and the only thing we have is the evidence of our own success to drive what we do when we go hunting. Hopefully, the 26 tips outlined here will help you be more successful and will help you develop your own routine.
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