Becoming a Student of Whitetail Deer 3 By Steve Bartylla
Although it would probably be good to begin this piece with a description of the critical roles a whitetail’s nose plays in their survival. Then transition into a ridiculously futile attempt at comparing their sense of smell to humans. Wrap-up with the importance of hunting the wind before finally getting to odor control. I’m going to assume that the vast majority of you have already heard all this before. Because of that, I’m going to cut right to the bone with as detailed of a description of the human odor-controlling techniques I use as I can.
Albino deer, that survive in wolf country, are one of the best testimonies for a whitetail’s superior sense of smell. With no natural camouflage during spring, summer, and fall, they must rely almost exclusively on their sense of smell to allude predators. This “once in a lifetime” photo was taken with Trail Master units at the Antler King Ranch in Northern Wisconsin.
I must preface one thing first. You may have already noticed that I refer to this as odor control, not as scent elimination or being scent-free. I do not believe that it is ever possible to completely eliminate all human odor. The human body is a finely tuned odor-producing machine and to think we can halt its assembly line-like production of odor is a fantasy.
However, the techniques I developed have made it so I no longer cringe when I spot the buck of a lifetime approaching from a downwind position. When the wind suddenly shifts and is blowing my scent directly to the bedding area, I stay in my stand with the confidence that I will go undetected. Although I still take wind direction seriously, I am now able to hunt locations that I would have never dared to go before.
Joe poses with the brute harvested on film in “The Essentials”. If it wasn’t for following these odor-controlling techniques, Joe would have never had a chance. Without being able to wind him, this buck turned out to be the one without a chance on this day. The way it should be!
Let’s begin with treating our equipment. This is an area commonly overlooked by many hunters. It really doesn’t matter how serious you take personal hygiene if you throw your portable in the back of the truck on top of those oily rags that are laying next to the leaky gas can. Simply put, a whitetail really doesn’t care if the offending odors it smells are coming from you or your equipment. All it cares about is ‘something ain’t right here and I’m not sticking around to find out what it is’. Obviously then, it is as important to treat our equipment as it is our clothes and ourselves.
Each and everything we bring with us needs to be treated with respect. Before I bring stands, tree steps, climbing sticks, safety harnesses, bow, release, arm guard, etc. into the woods, I wash them in a mixture of water and ‘Scent Killer’ liquid soap from Wildlife Research Center.
After allowing them to sufficiently air out in the yard, I transport them to the desired location.
While in transport, I either seal them in a plastic bag or, for items that are not practical to store in a bag, I lay them on the bags.
Once I arrive at the location, I give them a liberal dousing of ‘Scent Killer’ Spray to offset any odors they may have picked up in transit.
Now they are ready to enter the woods.
Everyone seems to understand the importance of treating one’s clothing in some manner. The odor control techniques I use rely heavily on both ‘Scent Killer’ and ‘Scent-Lok’. I find these two products essential to help control the constant flow of odors our bodies are constantly producing.
For years I have tried to eliminate the odor from myself and my clothes. Although I was initially successful at both, within a matter of thirty minutes, newly forming body odors would successfully thwart my efforts and I’d be stinking up the woods again. Because of that, I had to develop a procedure to eliminate newly formed aromas as well as existing ones. Hence, the role of ‘Scent Killer’ and ‘Scent-Lok’.
Next to the compound bow, they have done more to increase my success than any other new development in the hunting industry. Even with this said, far too many people make the mistake of ignoring personal hygiene and treating there clothing. As good as these products are, they aren’t a cure for laziness.
I begin by washing a minimum of five sets of clothes, three for hunting and two for wearing while driving. I can usually get by with wearing the hunting clothes two or three trips into the woods before they have to be washed again with the driving attire holding out a little longer. This way, with as much as I hunt, I can go around a week without washing before I run out of clothes.
Besides washing the clothes in ‘Scent Killer’ Clothing Wash, I include a half dozen towels and wash clothes as well. From the washing machine, they go directly to the clothesline. Once dried, I leave all but one set hanging on the line.
The ‘Scent-Lok’ suites themselves are never washed, just recharged by putting them in the drier, so they can be maintained with minimal effort.
I store them, along with a set of hunting and transport clothes and the attire I plan on wearing the next day, in a ‘Scent-Lok’ bag that is sealed inside a plastic bag. I do prefer to keep my clothes outside, but a few too many untimely rains have taught me to keep one sealed, just to play it safe.
C. Treating Ourselves
1. The first thing I do may sound a little fanatical even to seasoned bowhunters. I keep my armpits shaved during the entire season. Armpits are a virtual breeding ground for odor-producing bacteria, by keeping them shaved, I can reduce the odor my body produces.
2. I also keep my hair and beard short during this time which provides a little help as well. If someone really wants to take it to the extreme, shaving every inch of the there lower body would not be a bad idea. I just can’t allow myself to go there.
3. Before each trip to the woods, and I do mean both morning and afternoons, I shower using ‘Scent Killer’ Bar and Liquid Soap. I then dry with a towel that has been treated and hanging with the rest of the clothes outside, give my underarms a shot of ‘Scent Killer’ Deodorant and dress in my traveling clothes.
4. All this does no good if my breath wreaks, so brushing with baking soda and eating an apple are next on the agenda. Now I’m ready to leave, but I place a couple of garbage bags on my seat to avoid direct contact before I get in the vehicle.
D. The Hunt
Once I arrive at my destination, I grab my gear, boots, an extra bag and the sealed bag that contains my ‘Scent-Lok’ suit and any other clothes I will be wearing.
At a safe place, located upwind from the vehicle, I peal my outer layer of clothes, placing them in the extra bag and dress in my hunting clothes.
This is also the time when I douse my boots, bow and any other foreign objects I’m bringing with ‘Scent Killer’ Liquid Spray, as well as the crotch and arm pit areas of my undergarments.
After stashing my transit clothes and shoes I’m ready to head into the woods. If I am worried about overheating, I’ll leave myself unzipped until I get near my stand.
The only cover scent I usually use is doe urine that is applied to a pair of boot pads. This way I can leave a non-offensive scent trail to and from my stand and hang them from limbs to help mask my odor while on the stand itself. Care must be taken to avoid contacting the scent with the ‘Scent-Lok’ suit. The reasoning here is the suit does not know the difference between “good” smells and the “bad” smells. Ideally, the suit is spending all its efforts on absorbing the “bad” odors and proper lure care helps achieve this.
After the hunt has concluded, I change back into my transit clothes and return my hunting attire to sealed bags. This includes removing my boots. Often people will go to great lengths to treat their clothing, while completely ignoring their boots. Rubber may not absorb or transmit odors, but substances such as oil still cling to boots and can leave the wrong scent trail in the woods.
Congratulations, if you have made it this far, you truly may classify yourself as a bowhunting fanatic. I realize that odor control is not the most exciting topic in the bowhunting world, however, it is one of the most important. This may seem like a lot of effort to some people, but I find it absolutely necessary.
In the areas where I do most of my hunting, I have to work my tail off to get into a position to harvest a 120″ plus whitetail. If he winds me, more often than not, my chance of filling my buck tag that year is nil. Since adopting this method, that has yet to happen.
The best proof of this system is documented in our video, “The Essentials”. The 128″ buck Joe harvests would have busted him a hundred times over without employing this technique. For me, that makes it all worthwhile!