The first line of scent-control defense is to pay close attention to personal hygiene.
“If you don’t start with a clean body and clean hair, it doesn’t matter what you wear,” says Mike Jordan, vice president of technology at Atsko, a South Carolina company that makes scent-free Sport-Wash and N-O-Dor, a spray-on odor killer.
Hunters should use a wash for both body and hair that rinses completely free, taking with it any odors that remain on the skin. Avoid perfumed soaps and shampoos. Otherwise, cover scents and carbon suits won’t work as well as they should.
“Scientists say that a deer is able to identify six different odors at the same time. If you try to use a cover scent without killing your odors first, a deer can still smell you,” Jordan says.
Hunter’s Specialties pro-staffer Alex Rutledge credits a strict odor-control regimen with helping him tag his biggest buck ever, a 160-class Kansas whitetail.
“There are no shortcuts to fooling a deer’s nose,” Rutledge says.
Perhaps the most notable development in controlling human scent in the last decade has been the carbon suit, created by Scent-Lok. These suits are lined with carbon, which adsorbs odor from the wearer. Complete lines of carbon accessories are now available and include masks, socks, gloves and even backpacks. When not in use, these items should be stored free of any scents.
For the hunter who still wears regular camouflage hunting clothes, Rutledge recommends storing them along with scent wafers rather than natural ingredients. Wafers that smell like the earth or acorns can be placed in storage containers and will deliver the same results as natural items without the mess.
Once you’re dressed and ready to walk to a stand, spray yourself with more cover scent. Pay particular attention to boots, in which foot odor can pool. Be sure to wear rubber footwear when scouting or hunting.
When you’re setting up your stands, Rutledge recommends planning an approach that minimizes contact with limbs or trees. If that means removing saplings or branches from a trail before the season with pruning shears or saw, then do it (assuming you have the landowner’s permission). Organize the gear you’ll be taking so you can climb directly into the stand with little disturbance of the surrounding area.
[pagebreak] Clean Your Gear
Stands, hats, pull-up ropes, backpacks-all are handled by a hunter and bear his scent. How many times have you seen a guy spray himself down with great care and then throw his gear in a backpack that has been soaking up odors in his house or car?
Wash backpacks and equipment ropes, even safety harnesses, just as you would hunting clothes. Always check harnesses after washing to ensure they weren’t weakened in any way. Store the larger equipment in airtight plastic containers or scentproof bags, available at major outdoor shops. Place smaller items, like the rope used to pull gear up to a stand, in resealable plastic bags until you need them again.
Keep stands outside or in a separate, odor-free shed. Metal gang boxes or large outdoor plastic containers made by Rubbermaid are great options. Fabric seats should be removed and washed before the season. Prior to each use, spray your stand or blind with a scent neutralizer. If the stand is squeaky, spray it with an unscented lubricant like Invisible Gun. (800-635-7656; invisiblegun.com)
Six Steps to Becoming Scent-free
While working for a weekly newspaper many years ago, I met a local bowhunter who followed a scent-control routine that I thought bordered on the ridiculous. As the years passed and deer educated me, however, I came to respect his attention to detail.
1. Washing Camo
Following every hunt he went on, this bowhunteer machine-washed his camouflage in baking soda (there are a variety of other odor-free cleansers available today, but baking soda is cheap and still works well) and hung it outside to dry.
2. Storing Clothing
He would then put away the clothing-shirts, pants, long johns, gloves, mask and even socks-in a heavy plastic bag. In that same bag, he would place pine boughs, cedar chips or dirt and leaves wrapped in cheesecloth to allow the scent to permeate his clothing.
3. Storing Boots
In a separate bag, he stored his rubber boots. “I don’t wear anything but solid rubber boots,” he told me. “Odor doesn’t stick to them, and they don’t allow the smell of my feet as they sweat to bleed through.”
4. Scent-free Zone
In his garage he created what was essentially a scent-free area, where he never allowed yard tools or other household items to be placed. There he kept his archery equipment, his stand and the bags with his boots and clothing. He also kept street clothes there that he washed the same way as his camo.
5. Shower Before Hunting
Before leaving his house, the hunter showered with a scent-free soap. Then, dressed only in his underwear and slippers (used for nothing but the walk to his garage), he went out and put on the scent-free street clothes.
6. Getting There
Set to go, he loaded everything into the back of his Jeep, which he had stripped of carpet to further reduce scent, and drove to his hunt location. Once there, standing upwind of his vehicle, he changed yet again into his hunting clothes.