Scent Control: Does It Really Matter?

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“I’ve killed more deer wearing a red and black flannel and smoking a cigarette than in camo and worrying about scent. I don’t believe in scent control.”

How many stories have we heard like this? Maybe the comment came from a friend or your seasoned grandfather for whom you have the utmost respect.

The truth is that lots of people have conducted successful hunts in this manner with the belief that scent control doesn’t matter. Then, the opinion becomes firsthand truth. This anecdotal info is based solely on your experiences or the experience of others and can lead you down a path of headaches if you’re not careful.

I’ll offer you a few things to consider in this regard:

  • How consistently do these hunts have successful endings?
  • How often are these hunts taking place in close quarters and not during long-distance rifle hunts?
  • Was the animal killed upwind in a field where there was no chance the deer would dircle downwind?
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Can you see what I’m getting at? To help put a whitetail’s nose into perspective, I’ll share with you my firsthand experience while hunting a few years ago. On a rainy day in November of 2016, I watched as a mature 5.5-year-old buck came in upwind from me and bedded down roughly 50 yards away. Behind him was an extremely steep hill that rose roughly 50 feet above his location. Several hundred yards upwind of him was a field and a parking location where our hunting club members would enter and exit the property. Through texting, my hunting buddy told me he was leaving his stand and heading back to his truck. As he walked well over 300 yards away from this deer, upwind, uphill, and completely out of sight, I watched this buck stand to his feet, do an about face, stick his nose in the air, and then immediately vacate the area, never offering me a shot. It was at that moment that I knew scent control wasn’t just about your stand location but so much more.

Scent Control Dustin Prievo Buck

Every time a mature buck is bumped out of where he feels secure, he begins to feel less secure and eventually will no longer reside in that area—or, even worse, on that property. And much like others’ firsthand experience, like shooting a buck while smoking a cigarette, this was my personal experience that led me to a system I’ve made that has brought me consistent success, year after year, annually shooting some of the most mature bucks on our properties.

Understanding That the Nose Knows

My good buddy, Levi Rentzel, who is a bow tech at Lancaster Archery but also an avid hunter, once told me that, “Once you realize that a deer lives to survive and understand that every decision they make is based solely on their will to survive, your success rate will dramatically increase.” This, of course, was something I knew but didn’t really understand. When you really think about it, we are entering their habitat and their home. Thinking and sniffing like a whitetail, if someone was to enter my home, much less my bedroom, I suspect I would know it and act accordingly.

Everything a whitetail does is to survive, and their greatest line of defense is their nose. Mature whitetails are mature because they are smart and elusive. They don’t just ‘risk it’ by walking into an unusual odor. Although curious animals, a whitetail has a sense of their surroundings and knows when something is off. They may see very well and have a sixth sense to danger, but their livelihood is strongly dependent upon their ability to smell.

Take Necessary Precautions

Let’s face it. Walking into a bathroom after someone tried to cover up their odor by spraying some potpourri still smells, well, like . . . The same thing goes for human odor, and regardless of how much cover scent you may use, sometimes you just can’t cover up the odor of a human. Apart from Nose Jammer, which is a vanilla extract that I can’t 100% confirm works just yet but am having great results with so far, I will not use any form of cover scent. My goal is to be as scent free as possible so I, and the area, smell as natural as possible. Walking into the garage to smell fresh baked cookies would be odd to me, so fresh pine scent or overpowering ground earth scent in some areas may not sit well with a wild deer.

Scent Control Dustin Prievo Green Stand

To be prepared, start with your body. Utilizing scent-free shampoo, body wash, and deodorant will get you started in the right direction. Additionally, washing your clothes in scent-free detergent, not cover scent detergent, will help control much of the scent you give off while in the stand. My favorite product line is Elimishield based on personal preference and experience. I also use ozone generators like Scent Crusher and find them to be my saving grace while traveling or being away from the washer and dryer for a long duration of time. Ozone kills odor caused by bacteria, so through the use of ozone on my gear and clothing, the bacterial source is killed. What is left is a much more productive setup than before.

Clothing, Gear, and Footwear

I can’t go on record saying rubber boots don’t leave a scent, but I’ve read that to be true. I have never seen any peer-reviewed studies that prove this, but I feel as though it is my best bet so thats what I use. Leaving as little scent behind as possible while entering and exiting hunting areas matters, so having scent free gear, not just apparel, that helps neutralize your scent is a must.

Apparel that has bacteria-killing products integrated within can really help control surface odors. Once upon a time, carbon was the rage. Now, impregnated silver seems to be the go-to for odor neutralization apparel. For many hunters, just knowing that your apparel is actually working to help neutralize odors can really help build the confidence you need to get in close and get it done. As for field sprays, again I can’t confirm or deny that these work so I will leave whether or not you use them up to you. However, I would suggest you do your research and find what it is that makes a product successful in ‘killing odors’ and, if there is any form of science behind it, you may be headed in the right direction.

Don’t Just ‘Play the Wind’

One of the most important rules when it comes to control over your scent is playing the wind. With that said, it’s not just your stand location but also how you get to and from your stand and the scent you leave along the way from wind dispersion and all the foliage that touches you. Consider this while accessing your trail cameras or if you happen to fill bait stations or water holes, for example. Human intrusion can quickly push mature deer away from your hunting area, and the more you go in and out without playing the wind or understanding where your scent is drifting to and the scent you leave behind, the more you will fail to harvest mature deer.

Think about it this way. Have you ever noticed how some properties have lots of deer and those deer are seen more in daylight hours while the property next door seems like a blank slate? While this can be due to food or cover, this is often because deer are detecting pressure and have become aware of where they are and are not safe. For the herd, this comes through trial and error, which can be fatal, and leaves behind a distinct impression, especially on mature bucks. As they figure out the least pressured areas, this develops a sense of safety and assurance that they won’t be bothered. Once you find a mature deer to hunt, the goal is for that deer to feel as secure as possible for as long as possible to give yourself an opportunity to connect.

Scent Control Dustin Prievo Mature Buck

For example, a mature buck I killed in December 2019 was the result of me not taking the easy and short three-minute walk to my stand but rather accessing my stand through a creek that took me 30 minutes to walk down. I couldn’t be seen or heard, and there was no brush on which to leave scent behind. I’ve also had success accessing areas by water on the downwind side of bedding or travel areas using canoes or inflatable rafts or just entering through a ‘road less traveled.’

Though uncomfortable to think about, a successful criminal has a better chance of not getting busted by accessing your home through a window or back door. Kicking in the front door of your house is rarely the best way in. So it is with our approach to into a deer’s home turf. Although this is a tough comparison, remembering that a deer lives to survive can help you become stealthier as you consider your approach to your hunt area. Stealthy approaches simply require extra time and thought, and a great way to locate and plan sneaky routes into your hunt area is to use onX Hunt features like Wind & Weather and Optimal Wind.

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Put Scent Control to Work

At the end of the day, many people still have in mind that scent control is not part of hunting. Surely, they say, I can light up a cigar, grab my grandfather’s red and black plaid coat, and hit the fields with my rifle and strike up some lucky success, but I can assure you that won’t happen consistently if you need to be close in order to kill. Be mindful of your scent from the shower to your vehicle and from your apparel to your entrance and egress, and use good planning tools like onX Hunt. If you combine these strategies with your ability to scout, locate, find, and hunt deer, you will have a much higher success rate than your friend’s friend come the moment of truth. Good luck out there!

Dustin Prievo

Dustin Prievo is a true deer hunter’s writer. A ‘no fluff’ learn-by-trial-and-error kind of hunter, he is the founder of Mid-Atlantic Whitetail Solutions which develops solutions to balancing deer herds across suburban and rural properties in the mid-Atlantic region. His company allows him to have access to more than 3,000 acres of private land that hold some giant whitetails, yet he still travels across several states to hunt public land just to challenge himself to be the best overall deer and turkey hunter he can possibly be.