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Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Deer’s Nose Knows

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Sept. 15, 2007.)
One thing always beats the deer’s nose.
A few days ago a brown truck dropped off a package that contained a new scent control product for hunters – actually 3 new products. My wife asked, “What’s that?”

“It’s something they want me to review. It’s called a ‘Fresh Breath Kit.’ Here’s a tube of toothpaste, a bottle of mouthwash, and some breath mints. They’re supposed to be specially formulated to eliminate a hunter’s mouth odor.”

“How close do you think you’re going to get to a deer?” Visions of me nuzzling a Boone & Crockett whitetail flickered in my head.

“Um,” I paused, my mind racing through a whole bunch of stuff she could have been thinking. “Maybe 20 yards.” I added, “But deer can smell you a lot farther away than that.”

“I don’t believe that,” she said.

Her opinion of hunting products is that they’re a round-up of gimmicks made for gullible nimrods. (Definition, nimrod: 1. In the Old Testament, great-grandson of Noah, a hunter. 2. A person regarded as silly, foolish, or stupid.)

She’s right about some of them. Some gimmicks are a complete waste. (OK. So are some nimrods.)

Hunters have always been aware that deer can smell us. And contrary to what my wife thinks, deer have proven that they can smell at least a quarter mile away.

It’s true that nimrods Philip Tome, Daniel Boone and other pioneer hunters did pretty well without access to a Cabela’s catalog of must-have gear. But when I think of those old-timers, I think they must have stunk, even worse than yours truly on my worst day.

The fact is that our sweat is odorless, but it provides a medium where bacteria can grow. It’s the bacteria that nibble on our dead skin cells and the organic wastes in our perspiration that create body odor.

And although the old-timers didn’t have specialized toothpaste, mouthwash and mints, maybe standing in the smoke from their campfires tended to kill the critters that cause people to stink.

Recent years have brought a parade of weapons that fight human scent. Special anti-microbial soaps and skin cleansers destroy the bacteria at their point of origin. Clothing impregnated with activated charcoal is supposed to tie up the odor molecules that come off our bodies. Silver, a natural anti-microbial, has been woven into clothing. Various sprays using charcoal, baking soda, colloidal silver and secret mystery ingredients are supposed to lock up human scent.

But other than the advice to suck on a slice of apple, very little has been done to mask, control, or eliminate mouth odor. Yet every hunter produces an enormous volume of exhaled air, creating the potential for spreading human scent wherever the air currents take it. Now a new product addresses that.

But does it all work?

Most hunters are interested in anything that gives them an advantage over the deer’s most valuable defense – his nose. However, not everything is practical, and certainly nothing works miracles. Even if you shower in the right stuff, use the right anti-perspirant, wash your clothes in the right stuff, store your clothes in a bag with dirt from under your treestand, wear a layer of silver-impregnated clothing plus a layer of carbon, brush your teeth with baking soda, chew chlorophyll gum, suck on breath mints, crush apples or acorns and put them in your pockets, and spray down with the best odor eliminator – you won't beat the deer's nose all the time.

A deer’s ability to smell is truly remarkable. But one thing always beat the deer’s nose. A deer can’t smell you if you’re downwind. You can fool the deer’s nose, every time, by wearing what you’re comfortable in, and staying downwind.

Common sense tells me that the people who are most meticulous about scent control during preparation are also most meticulous about playing the wind during stand placement and hunting. Work hard at both, but remember that wind direction is what has always worked, and will continue to work. Preparation is important, but it's in the woods that the game is played. You may not nuzzle a buck, but 20 yards won’t be a problem.


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