Scent control and camouflage are critical. Do you do all you can to stay undetected?
It does no good to find a great stand location if we then let the deer know they are being hunted. Therefore, we need to discuss measures we can take to avoid being picked off by whitetails, whether with their noses or their eyes.
Because of the nature of a funnel, getting winded by deer can be less of a problem there than with a stand not in a funnel. By setting up at the edge of the funnel, with the wind blowing into the restriction, I can keep my scent away from the majority of the deer. I usually have several funnels to hunt during a given season, and for each I note the wind direction needed to hunt it. Whenever possible, of course, I will hunt a particular stand when the wind is blowing my scent away from expected deer movement.
I do not use odor control as an excuse to get sloppy with stand selection. I still choose the stand I will hunt on a given day based on wind direction. However, no matter how perfect the wind direction is for the stand I am hunting, there always seems to be a deer that wanders downwind of me. For this reason, I always take measures to control my odor. To me it is worth the effort, because as opposed to the old days, you now can win the game against a whitetail’s nose.
In the past couple of seasons I have had a lot of deer downwind from me without them detecting my presence. The most memorable one was a doe in heat. I was hunting in central Illinois in the middle of November, in a patch of woods about 20 yards wide on a hillside. Below me was a funnel made by a drainage with thick cover running through otherwise open crop fields. Behind me was a picked cornfield. I hoped that no deer would approach from that direction, because my tree stand was only about as high as the cornfield, which was five yards behind me. A north wind was blowing my scent away from the drainage but through the field.
Around 11 a.m., I saw a doe enter the east side of the corn field. As I watched her through binoculars, I soon realized she was in heat. She was prancing around with her tail held high over her back, and her tarsal glands were coal black. She would take a few steps, bleat, then swirl her snow-white tail around. She definitely was trying to find a date. It was not long before the doe decided to look in my drainage for a companion. Here she came, prancing in my direction. She reached the edge of the corn field about 30 yards east of my stand and started moving west, up the drainage, in my direction.
When she reached the point of the drainage where my stand was, she stopped and began winding something with her nose held high. I braced myself for her to blow and run, but instead she bleated and began swirling her tail again. I slowly turned my head back toward the drainage, expecting to see the buck she might be smelling, but none was there. The doe began moving back and forth 20 yards one way, then the other. She did this five or six times, passing five yards from me as she flagged and bleated with every step.
What in the world is she winding? I wondered. Then it hit me: I had two fresh buck tarsal glands in my fanny pack, which was strapped around my tree about waist-high. I was convinced then, as I am now, that this is what the little doe was smelling. Meanwhile, there was no indication that she could smell me. Surely this incident points out that with the means available today, we can beat a deer’s nose.
No system is foolproof. However, to me it is worth the time and effort I put forth, because the majority of time I can remain undetected by a whitetail’s nose. If you remain undetected by most of the deer, you have made a big step forward in your pursuit of a mature buck.
To me, scent control is and will always be an everything-or-nothing effort. If I cannot go all the way and use everything at my disposal, I will do nothing. The way I see it, there is no such thing as a deer smelling a little human scent and spooking “a little.” If a whitetail smells a small amount of close human scent, it will go on high alert.
I realize that a lot of mature bucks have been killed by hunters who gave no attention to scent control. If the wind is blowing from the deer to you, you can stink to high heaven and not get winded. However, when you consider the way bucks move during the rut, you will realize that you can never predict which direction they will approach from – not even if you are hunting a funnel, because funnels are not foolproof. Deer will sometimes break through the restriction that causes a funnel, and most of the time this will put them downwind of the hunter. This is why I always try to control my odor. I do not like to be limited to shot opportunities at bucks that are upwind of me.
Scent Control First and foremost, take a shower immediately before you head to your stand. I would not consider going out in the evening to hunt if the last shower I had was in the morning. All of your efforts could be in vain if it has been some time since you last showered.
I also use a lot of scent-eliminator spray. In fact, I buy it by the gallon. If I am going hunting in the morning, the night before I will spray down two or three outer layers of clothing, my boots, hat, fanny pack and anything else I have handled a lot. If I am going out in the evening, I will spray down everything an hour or two before that hunt. Also, if I am hunting all day, I will carry scent-eliminator spray to my stand with me and spray down my outer clothing at noon. The only secret to using scent-eliminator spray is that it is impossible to use too much.
Next, I want to point out a few things concerning laundering. During hunting season my wife uses a scent-free detergent, such as Tide Free or Arm and Hammer. This makes things convenient for me; if she is washing clothes and I have a hunting garment to wash, I can just toss it in with the other stuff.
I do not always wash each garment after each hunt. If it is cold and I did not work up a sweat while hunting, I will wear an outer garment a time or two before I wash it again. However, if it is an inner garment, I will wash it after each hunt. Also, if I have sweated at all, I will not wear anything I had on until I have washed it. If I have sweated in something I cannot wash, I will not wear it again until I have aired it out for a week or so. Of course, all of my clothes are stored in containers with baking soda to keep down moisture and odor.
I am also a strong believer in a clothesline. When I go on a hunting trip, one of the first things I do is to stretch a clothesline. I like to keep as many of my hunting clothes as possible in the open air, whether I have worn them since washing or not.
One garment some hunters might overlook is one I would not do without. It is the type of inexpensive tight-knit nylon windbreaker ladies like to wear. These are sometimes called “jumpsuits” or “parachute suits.” This article of clothing serves two major functions for me: controlling my scent and keeping me warm.
A windbreaker beneath your camouflage not only will keep you warmer but also help to control human odor – especially if you treat the thin inner liner with scent-eliminator spray.
First, it serves well as a windbreaker, which helps to keep me from freezing out on those cold days. I wear a lot of wool when hunting in cold weather. Wool has a lot of nap, which traps air; that is why it is so effective. This is also why you can get very cold while wearing it if the wind is blowing and you don’t have a windbreaker over it. With its loose nap, air can move through wool and move the air pockets your body has warmed away from your skin. This is why a windbreaker should always be worn as an outer layer right under your camouflage. It does little good to place a windbreaker under your wool (or whatever insulation you use), because the wind can still move warm air pockets away from the unprotected nap layer of insulation.
This windbreaker is also a big part of my scent-control system. It is itself somewhat effective in not allowing scent to escape, because of its tightly knit fabric. Its effectiveness increases when you spray the thin inner liner with scent-eliminator spray. The tightly knit outer layer holds in human odor long enough for the scent eliminator on the inside to neutralize it. I also use activated-carbon clothing. I use the liners, not the camouflage designed to be worn on the outside. The reason I use the liners is so I can also put them under my windbreaker, where they can do the most work to absorb odor that is trapped there. Many times I will wear two of these liners at once.
If you do not already use windbreakers, purchase two or three of these inexpensive garments. Remember to buy them oversized, so they will fit over your carbon suits and insulation.
Another product I use in combination with scent-eliminator spray and carbon suits is hair and body deodorant gel. After I dry from my shower, I rub a thin coat of the gel on my entire body. Not too long ago I spent one season testing different scent-eliminator products, and the one that worked best by itself was the body gel. As a result of my test, if I could use only one product for scent control, it would be the body gel. I also use a lot of unscented deodorant. I apply it to the back of my knees, my groin area, under my arms and the bottoms of my feet. I also spray antiperspirant on my feet. It helps to keep them from sweating, which not only aids with scent control but also helps prevent them from getting cold.
Something else I might point out is, do not overlook the little things. Not long ago, I got winded by deer the first few times I went out. I re-evaluated everything and re-cleaned a thing or two, but it did not help. Then I realized it must be my watchband. I had cleaned it, but in my haste had not done a thorough job. I washed it again in scent-eliminator soap; then, after letting it nearly dry, I rubbed some scent-eliminator powder on it, followed by some scent-free deodorant. That did the trick. Of course, I only wear this watch while hunting, and every week or so (or any time I sweat) I clean it.
Have you ever considered that your fingernails and toenails could be sources of deer-alarming odor? If you are like me, sometimes during a busy hunting season you put off things you otherwise routinely do. If you neglect to keep your nails cut back, they can catch and trap odor. It is many times the little things we overlook that give us the problem with scent control. Some other things you might overlook are your belt, cap, billfold or release-aid strap. If you use any of these items all year, then carry it to your tree stand without thoroughly cleaning it, you are fighting a losing battle on scent control.
Do not overlook cleaning your hunting boots, either. It does not take much time to stink up a pair. After each hunt, I wash and deodorize my boots and/or boot liners. Then I will let them air out for a day or two before wearing that pair of boots or liners again. I also pour a scent-eliminator powder into my boots before each hunt. Keep in mind that it does little good to clean your hunting boots if you wear them around the gas station, while walking into a store or into a restaurant. Neither should you wear your boots while driving to your hunting location. I have a plastic pan in the back of my truck, and I keep my hunting boots and my Elimitrax overboots in it until I am ready to walk to my stand. Also remember to pull your carbon suit’s pant legs over the top of your boots; do not tuck them in.
Breath odor can also be a problem. If you floss and brush your teeth and tongue thoroughly after breakfast, you mighty be good until you eat again. You should also give attention to breath control after lunch or any other time you eat. During a day’s hunt, it is not convenient to floss or brush after each meal, especially if you eat lunch in your tree stand. However, it is simple to carry one of the new high-powered breath strips in your daypack to use after you eat.
You might also try eating an apple after each meal. Apples are great breath cleansers. I always carry fruit-flavored hard candy to my stand. It not only covers what little breath odor I might not have eliminated but also breaks the monotony and helps me to stay alert.
Let me next mention something that you do not hear a lot about these days, and that is cover scent. Those of us who have hunted for a few years can remember a time when there was nothing to speak of available to eliminate human odor. All we had to work with was baking soda and cover scents. Of all the different cover scents I have tried over the years, nothing even comes close to being as effective as skunk oil. Years ago, when there were no carbon suits or eliminator sprays, I used skunk oil with good success – and I still use it every time I am in a stand. The way I see it, even with my best efforts I still might not eliminate all human odor, and as the day wears on, things will only get worse. A little cover scent can help.
If you give skunk oil a try, use caution in handling the smelly stuff. You can be very unpopular in a truck cab or restaurant if you get skunk odor on your hands or clothes. The method I used to disperse it works great. I stick one end of a Q-Tip into the bottle, then place the cotton swab in a crevice in the bark of my tree, about waist high. Give this a try; it could make the difference on an old sharp-nosed buck.
Finally, let me say that all your efforts will be in vain if you sweat on your way to your stand. With everything I do in the way of odor control, if I get in a hurry on the way to my stand and the small of my back or my underarms get wet with sweat, I know that if a deer gets downwind of me, I will get winded. Most of the time I will carry my windbreaker, outer layer of camouflage and hat to my stand before putting them on. I also walk to my stand very slowly, stopping often. I would rather slow my pace down, even to the point I arrive at my stand after daylight, than to sweat on the way to my stand. The way I see it, it is better to give up 10 to 15 minutes of hunting time than to sit all day getting winded by deer and having them blowing at me.
While we are talking about scent control, let me say something about a product on the market that has helped me tremendously in this area. It is called Elimitrax. This system consists of leggings, overshoes and gloves that are made of a special plastic. It was designed by Scott Whitlock to eliminate scent on the ground and on vegetation a hunter comes into contact with.
At the risk of sounding like a commercial, I want to say that this product has made a tremendous impact for the good on my hunting. Before I began using it, I had serious problems with deer smelling where I walked to my stand. I tried virtually everything to combat this problem, with only minimal success. Elimitrax has made all the difference in regard to ground scent causing problems for me. As discussed, it is imperative that you do not let a mature buck know he is the object of your attention. Bucks that have lived for a few seasons are very alert to any intrusion. If he smells your track more than once in his area, he will become next to impossible to kill.
If a stand tree lacks cover, add some. Here, Scott Goldman and the author place branches in a tree that is naturally bare at stand height.
The 2002 deer season was the first in which I used this product. I spent well over 300 hours in a tree stand bowhunting trophy whitetails, and from reviewing my notes, I see that I observed 128 bucks and 175 does during this time. Only once did a deer smell where I walked into my tree – and that was also the only time I did not use the Elimitrax overshoes. This is a great testimonial for the product, coming from a person who had a lot of problems in the past with ground scent. I am not getting paid a penny to say this; I added this information because I think it will improve your hunting. If you have a problem with deer smelling where you walked into your stand, you might want to give Elimitrax a try. I believe you will be impressed with the results.
Camouflage Let’s look at another area of concealment: camouflage. The two aspects I want to address are: (1) adding cover to a bare tree you want to hunt from; and (2) camouflage clothing itself.
If you are accustomed to hunting trails, rub lines or scrape lines, you know that you can be somewhat mobile in your stand selection, because usually your tree stand does not have to be placed in an exact location on the trail or rub/scrape line. However, this is not always the case when hunting a funnel. One of the few problems I have found with hunting funnels is that sometimes you do not have a large selection of trees to choose from, because of the small area you must hunt. If the tree you need to hunt from looks like a power pole, you have a problem. However, this dilemma can be fairly easily corrected by adding cover to the tree.
The most effective time to do this is in late July or early August, assuming you know beforehand the tree you will be hunting from. If you use branches, saplings and shrubbery cut in July or August, they will be more effective as stand cover, because the leaves will be mature and will remain on the cut branches through most of the following winter. While placing cover on a tree, keep in mind that it is better to add too much than too little. You can trim and rearrange the cover as needed later, when you hang your stand.
Always make sure you get the landowner’s permission before you cut even the smallest sapling. If I am hunting on public or private land I cannot cut cover from, I will carry my own cover to the tree with me. I have found that a cedar tree six to eight feet tall makes great cover and is easier to carry than are several saplings.
I will many times use artificial shrubbery or even a discarded artificial Christmas tree for cover if I plan to hunt from the same tree more than one year. This artificial cover is more permanent than native cover. (Sometimes when I use artificial Christmas trees I even leave a few pretty ornaments on them. I have often thought that it would be fun to hide and watch when someone happened by and found my Christmas tree 20 feet up in a tree!)
Here is another effective way to add cover to a bare tree. If a tall sapling is growing close to the tree I plan to hunt, I will cut the sapling partially through, then push it over into my stand tree and tie it into place. I realize that some work is involved here. However, if you are in a tree that will not allow you to remain concealed enough to get the shot off, you might as well stay at home. When hunting mature bucks, you must be ready to capitalize on any opportunity, and that could depend on your having made the extra effort in your preparations. It would be very disappointing to do everything else correct, only to have a monster buck see you because you did not take the initiative to add cover to a tree that obviously needed it.
In the area of camouflage clothing, there are only a couple of points I want to bring up. First, you should use total camouflage, especially if you have a light complexion. This includes wearing gloves and a facemask. As to the best type of camouflage, there are so many good products on the market today that it is hard to single out any pattern. However, I will say that I like to wear the “3-D” or “leafy” type of material most of the time. This type of camouflage really performs well for me.
While the author wears various camouflage patterns, in most cases he prefers them to be on “3-D” material. The leafy look did the job on this monster, which is featured in Chapter 11.
For bowhunting from a tree in an open area, the light, open patterns, such as Predator Fall Gray or Skyline, are good. They help a hunter blend in with the light sky. I will wear one of these patterns when hunting in a fencerow or other stand location that does not have a lot of cover behind it.
Also, while on the subject of concealment, let me say that I am very conscious of my eyes when a deer is in close. I try to hide them, either by using the bill of my hat or by keeping my face behind the bow.
Conclusion I hope this chapter has helped you learn how to remain hidden from a crafty buck. In Chapter 10, we will look at some fine points on applying what we have discussed so far.