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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

The Better to Smell You with, My Deer!

Part 3 of 3 parts on the deer’s eyes, ears and nose


How far away can you smell another human? A foot? Three feet? Five feet? How far away can a deer smell you? Multiply that five-foot distance by 300, 400, maybe more, and that's how far away a deer can smell you. Some evidence suggests deer can smell a human a half mile away! That's the big advantage deer have over hunters, and that's what a deer hunter must overcome. How can we do that?

This week's column in the Jamestown Gazette is the third in a series on the deer's primary defensive senses, his eyes, ears and nose. Find out what it takes to overcome the deer's super-sensitive sense of smell. Click here to read: “The Better to Smell You with, My Deer!


Photo: A deer’s eyes and ears are good, but its long nose misses nothing. (Photo by Steve Sorensen)

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To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.


The Better to Smell You with, My Deer!

Steve Sorensen


You smell horrible. Not to me. Not to your friends and co-workers. Not even to your significant other. But to a deer, you have an odor that’s either stinky, frightening, or worrisome. When he gets wind of you, he’ll do whatever it takes to avoid you.


No matter how extreme or how complete your scent-control efforts are, you cannot fool a deer’s nose. The better to smell you with, my deer!


A deer has one of the best smellers in nature. Tissue covering the turbinate bones within his long nose is highly sensitive. The air a deer draws in circulates through a passageway many times longer than your nasal passageway, and every molecule of scent skims across many scent receptors. Every mammal with a long nose lives by his keen sense of smell, and it rarely misleads him.


That’s not to say, when it comes to his ability to detect smells, a deer is a bear is a coyote. Each predator or prey animal uses his nose in the way that’s suited to him. Nearly everything has an odor, and nearly everything you walk by attaches its smell to you. These smells are foreign to the deer woods, and a deer will take note of it all. Detecting your scent comes as naturally to him as enjoying a delicious, freshly opened package of jerky does to you.


When you go hunting, you release the smells you’ve accumulated – the soap you use, the food you eat, the dog that lives with you, your wife’s lipstick, and more. We can use the products the scent-control industry sells, all based on the science of smell. But human habits give you a unique smell you can’t totally eliminate. Just as your dog smells like a dog, you smell like a man.


We virtually ignore one of the ways we produce scent. We are dropping dead skin cells all the time. I took off a black T-shirt one day and noticed the inside of it was covered with white powder – thousands of dead skin cells that had flaked off through the day. While many cling to the inside of our garments, it’s impossible to keep some of them from falling off. When a bloodhound is trailing a lost person, that would be one of the things he detects with his superlative nose.


You can address your scent (note that I didn’t say “eliminate” your scent) with a regimen that borders on religious faithfulness. Shower. Use scent-free soap and shampoo. Use scent-suppressing deodorant and toothpaste. Massage your skin with a scent-free lotion to keep most of those dead skin cells sticking to you for as long as you can.


Wash your clothing in scent-free detergent. Keep clothing away from any scents it might pick up. Lock it up in a scent-free trunk until you get to your hunting spot. Don’t buy gas on your way to hunt. Don’t eat in a restaurant while wearing your hunting clothes. Don’t use an air freshener in your truck. Don’t pet your dog. Don’t kiss your wife good-bye. These are all ways we accumulate odors, and we cannot eliminate them. We can only diminish them so that maybe a deer will think you’re farther away than you really are. Scent control is truly a hassle.


The alternative is much simpler. The old-timers didn’t have access to any of the scent control products we have today, so do what they did. Worry less about how you smell, and worry more about where your smell goes. In other words, play the wind. Easier said than done, especially here in the east where air currents constantly shift and land features block and swirl the wind. It’s difficult, but when it works it’s foolproof.


One more practical thing. About that jerky. If it smells strong to you, it will smell stronger to a deer. He might associate it with a hunter. You don’t want that, so leave it home. Take foods that have milder smells. Peanut butter. Chocolate. Nuts. Fruit. Apple juice. Water. These might make him curious, but they should not alarm a deer – especially if you play the wind.

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com.


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