September 22, 2010
By Steve Bartylla
As the great Illinois double-main-beam buck followed the doe down the point, I never once worried about getting winded. I was sitting in a bottom where three drains converged and the winds constantly swirled, but I'd been covered up in deer all morning and hadn't been winded once. After about five minutes of milling around and being totally unaware of my presence, the buck fell to my arrow.
Then there was the mid-140s 10-pointer in Wisconsin. Setting up directly upwind of his bedding area, I watched this buck travel into my scent for over 70 yards before he caught my arrow in the ribs.
The best story of all involves a huge 10-pointer in Missouri. Having just hit the breeze detector less than a minute before his appearance, I knew the point where he stopped was the precise location the wind would be carrying my odors to. As he stood there, purposefully testing the air to determine the location of the Special Golden Estrus I'd put out, he had no clue anything was amiss. Considering that the high humidity, light drizzle and rock-steady wind made conditions perfect for getting winded, I remained undetected, and a well-placed arrow led to a happy ending. Obviously, my scent control strategies were not a waste of time.
I could fill this entire article with stories about bucks I've taken from "upwind." Better yet, several times a week each season I find myself totally surrounded by does. Yet I can count on one hand the times I've been winded in the last few years, and each of those times I can tell you what I did wrong!
There's no doubt in my mind that by using proven scent control strategies hunters can defeat a buck's sense of smell on a very consistent basis. No, I don't believe that I can realistically destroy human odor 100 percent. However, it's my firm belief that I can minimize my odor to the point where it goes undetected, and that approach provides me with the single greatest advantage I've ever had over mature bucks.
I feel so strongly about my scent control strategies that I haven't hunted the wind in years. Instead, regardless of the wind direction, I sit where I believe I have the best shot at killing a buck on any given day.
TREATING THE BODY
A successful scent control strategy begins by treating your body. Hair and body pores can and do become saturated with odors. To combat this, I begin cleansing my body a full month before the season opens. I no longer use aftershaves, traditional shampoos, deodorants, scented clothing wash or fabric softeners. I don't apply anything else to my body that gives off a "perfume-like" odor. By using Scent Killer products for personal hygiene and clothing wash, I allow my hair and pores to purify themselves.
Though I do know some hunters who eliminate red meat from their diet, I personally don't. However, I do stay away from spicy or overly aromatic foods and liquids during hunting season. Unfortunately, for me that includes coffee.
Odors in the mouth can be dealt with by brushing with Arm & Hammer baking soda toothpaste. When brushing, be sure to really scour the tongue and also hit the side and roof of your mouth, as well as your gums. Flossing with an unflavored brand is also important.
Nothing I'm aware of can eliminate odor emitted from the throat. That's where coffee is a killer. No matter how well you brush and floss, the coffee smell remains. That's why my scent control strategy includes making coffee 'off limits' during the hunting season.
CLEANING THE BODY
When showering, use a washcloth to scrub every inch of your body. This will help peel off dead skin and odor-causing skin cells. While washing, keep the water very hot. This opens the skin pores for a more thorough cleaning. After rinsing, stand under cold water.
This will close the pores and help prevent them from emitting new odors.
Throughout the showering sequence, I use Scent Killer bar soap and shampoo. I also use Scent Killer deodorant, powdered clothing wash, spray and foot powder. I always use an odor-free towel when stepping out of the shower. And make sure your scent control strategy includes treating towels and washcloths with as much care as your hunting clothing.
About the same time I stop using scented hygiene products, my wife switches to unscented laundry detergents and fabric softeners. This alone is a huge help in de-scenting the washer and drier. Before tossing any hunting-related items into the drier, I also meticulously clean the lint trap.
Next, I always wash my hands with Scent Killer bar soap before transferring any hunting clothing. After the clothing comes out of the drier, all of my under layers are taken outside and hung on a clothes line. I then spray them down with Scent Killer spray. Once dry, the Scent Killer remains effective until after the clothing has been used (as long as the items are stored in a scent-free container). After washing my hands again, I fold each item and place it directly in a ScenTote's Hard Tote. All of my Scent-Lok apparel goes into ScenTotes right from the drier.
ScenTotes' Hard Tote is a 20-gallon airtight container that includes an Activated Carbon-Web Adsorber mounted to the lid, as well as a Carbon-Web Adsorber Pocket, designed to de-scent and store smaller items. The Carbon-Webs continuously release activated carbon granules to eliminate scent. Like carbon suits, they can be recharged by placing them in the drier for 30 minutes on high. Between creating a true airtight seal and using activated carbon, I believe it's by far the best storage option available.
Before using ScenTote, my scent control consisted of using construction grade garbage bags for storing all my clothing and equipment. Though prone to collecting holes, not having an airtight seal and being bulky to handle, the bags work much better than regular storage tubs that don't even come close to creating a seal. To get rid of the plastic smell, these bags must be hung outside for a week, turned inside out and hung for another week.
Having an effective scent control strategy means every item you take into the woods must be treated. Mature deer don't care where the odor comes from -- if they get a whiff of human scent they'll be gone! Beating a buck's sense of smell requires a thorough and consistent approach to dealing with every possible deer-alerting object. Pulling it off consistently requires treating gear every bit as seriously as one's body and clothing.
Scent control starts with proper storage. Oftentimes stands, blinds, decoys and other hunting items are stored in the garage and tend to get saturated with the smells of gasoline, exhaust fumes, oils and other odors that are difficult to get rid of. To combat this, I built a storage shed exclusively for my hunting gear.
If that's not an option for you, a storage room in the house is an infinitely better choice than the garage. In either case, always allow ground blinds and other equipment to air out for a couple of weeks before use.
To make all of my personal items as scent-free as possible, I rely on Scent Killer Spray, hydrogen peroxide and/or a mixture of Scent Killer Liquid Soap and water to remove human scent. On items with hard surfaces that aren't damaged by moisture, such as bows, arrows, grunt tubes, rattling antlers, water bottles, releases and so forth, I wash them down with a paper soaked in hydrogen peroxide. Once dry, I spray them with Scent Killer. After drying a final time, all items except my bow and arrows go directly into a Hard Tote, where they remain until I head for my stand.
My hard bow case is scrubbed inside out with a Scent Killer Liquid Soap and water mixture. After drying, the foam is soaked in Scent Killer Spray. Because it seals, my bow is safe inside.
I use the same soapy water mix and spray approach to clean my rubber boots and the bottoms of my Elimitrax. In the past, I sprinkled baking soda in the boots and stored them in unscented garbage bags. I now use Scent Killer Foot Powder and BooTotes, a sealable carbon-based product serving a similar function to Hard Totes.
For optics, cameras or any other item sensitive to moisture, I take a clean paper towel and dampen it with hydrogen peroxide. I then scrub the areas that are safe from water damage and lightly dab the high-risk areas. Though I've never yet ruined any optics or electronics by doing this, please proceed with caution.
Using the above-mentioned techniques, I'm able to treat every piece of equipment I take with me into the woods. On items receiving heavy use, such as my bow and grunt tubes, I spray them down before every trip to the woods. Having two pairs of rubber hunting boots, I wash them inside out every other week, placing foot powder in them after each use and spraying them down every time before hitting the woods.
As you can see, any adequate scent control strategy can be a time consuming process. To help reduce the burden, look at each individual piece of equipment and ask yourself if you really need it. I have to have my glasses, so I wash them in scalding hot water before every hunt. However, I can live without my knife and towrope. Therefore, I leave them in the truck to retrieve on an as needed basis.
I always carry with me two identical releases. One is used for hunting and the other for practice. The practice release is kept as a spare. Because a release can get absolutely saturated with sweat, it's one of the biggest offenders in holding odors.
GETTING TO YOUR STAND
The final step in any scent control strategy is getting to your stand, and that usually involves some driving. During the season, I vacuum out my truck and wash every item I'll be touching with Scent Killer at least once a week. Next, I place an unscented garbage bag over the seat. While driving to my hunting location, I wear treated clothing that never sees the woods. Upon arrival, I remove my gear from the truck and go somewhere upwind to change into hunting clothes and boots.
Getting to your stand offers two challenges. One is remaining sweat free, while the other is covering your tracks. When temperatures are in the 30s or lower, I cheat by dressing extremely light and using a Heater Body Suit. My goal is to arrive at my stand a little on the cold side. Then, I slip into my Heater Body Suit, zip it up to the waist and hold my bow the entire time, always ready for the shot.
In warmer weather, I'll wear thin Scent-Lok Base Layers and a Savanna hood while walking to my stand. Once in, I'll finish dressing into my Scent-Lok suit. No matter how slow I have to go, I try to make sure I don't break out in a sweat.
To cover my tracks, I rely on one of two approaches. If I know I'll be walking through tall grass or anything else that I'm likely to rub up against, I always use the full Elimitrax Overboot System. When this isn't a concern, I'll wear either the Elimitrax hard bottoms or boot pads laced with Wildlife's Select Doe Urine. With each step, I deposit non-estrous doe urine that, when paired with scent-free rubber boots, is enough to cover my tracks.
Obviously, eating and drinking on stand are also issues. Unless pulling an all-day sit, I take only water. If going all day, I rely on apples to pull me through. The last thing I want is for food to tip my hand.
As you can see, going all out on scent control isn't for everyone. I admit that it can be a big hassle. However, it creates advantages for me that make it well worth the effort.
One last thing I should point out. Hunting is supposed to be fun. If the details involved in your scent control strategy remove the pleasure of hitting the woods, don't do them.
But even doing limited scent control will be beneficial. Simply wearing a Scent-Lok suit and spraying down with Scent Killer is a big step in the right direction. That alone could make the difference between getting a shot opportunity and watching that big buck slip away unharmed.