Scent Control for Deer Hunters

Why is scent control so important for deer hunting?

How you wash your hunting clothes affects your deer hunting success.

Deer have an amazing sense of smell!

deer nose, sense of smell

Deer have a sense of smell that humans can barely even begin to imagine. Which is why it is critically important for hunters to do everything they can to minimize their scent. Before we give you tips on making your hunting clothes and yourself scent-free, we wanted to give you some information on a deer's sense of smell.

Deer have up to 297 million olfactory (scent) receptors in their nose. In comparison, dogs have 220 million and humans have just 5 million olfactory receptors. Not only do deer have a huge number of olfactory receptors in their nose, they also have a secondary scent gland called the vomeronasal organ that is located in their mouth.

Deer have 2 large scent processing areas in their brains. These processing areas are 9 times larger than a human's scent processing area. So a sniff test of yourself or your clothing is nothing compared to what a deer can do.

So just how well can a deer smell?

Unfortunately not a lot of research on deer is available. However there has been quite a bit of research on what dogs are capable of smelling, so with this knowledge and the estimation that a deer's sense of smell is 30% greater, we can make some generalizations. Below is a list of abilities that dogs have, and you can safely assume that a deer is the same if not greater.

Dogs can identify traces of chemicals that are only one or two parts in a trillion. That is the equivalent of smelling one needle in a haystack of 1 trillion stalks.

Dogs can smell fear, anxiety and excitement. All these emotions cause you to emit pheromones from your glands. So if the wind is wrong, a deer will smell your excitement at seeing them enter your sights.

At crime scenes, dogs have been able to pick up a human scent from finger prints that are 7 days old. So it is important not only to be scent-free on your hunting day, but that your tree stand has been set up more than a week in advance of hunting season so that human scents on it have as much time as possible to dissipate. Setting up prior to a rain will help to cleanse your smell from the area.

Lastly, think about this: dogs are now being used to alert doctors of lung cancer simply sniffing the patients breath, and they are accurate 90% of the time. With this type of sensitivity, is it any wonder that a deer can detect you in the field when you have recently used cologne, shampoo, or laundry detergent?

How To Wash Deer Hunting Clothes

Focus on making your body and your clothes scent-free.

How to make your body scent-free: Personal cleanliness is very important - but the modern version of being clean will not help you with bagging that big buck. At least six weeks prior to hunting season, you should start showering with hot water and NO commercial shampoos or soaps. On most days, just plain hot water is really all you need to clean your scalp and skin. But if you work in a very dirty environment, there is a solution. Dissolve 1/2 cup of baking soda in 2 to 3 cups of water and put it in a squirt bottle. This mix will provide you with the cleaning power to remove dirt and odors from your hair and skin.

If you do not think that your hair and skin picks up odors, think back to a time that you spent an evening around a camp fire. That smell clings to your hair. If you smoke, now is the time to quit so that you do not smell like tobacco smoke while hunting. If you do smoke, then using the baking soda and water solution will help to remove the smell.

scent effects deer hunting

If you have long hair and feel that it needs some type of conditioner to help it stay manageable, a little white or apple cider vinegar diluted in water will help your hair be soft and in control. There are commercial scent-reducing shampoos and soaps. These seem to have varying levels of success. As with most things, using them for a long period of time and following the directions will give the best results.

Another way to help you limit your scent while hunting is to stay calm emotionally. When we are excited or afraid our bodies put off pheromones, so the less emotional you can be the less your glands will give you away. This also means that you need to avoid sweating - dress in layers and give your self plenty of time to move quietly and slowly to your stand so that you do not perspire. Be the Zen hunter and you will have less odor for the deer to notice.

How to make your hunting clothes scent free: Even though there are many products on the market that claim to help you be scent free - if you are using a washer that is occasionally run with common detergent and brighteners, or using a dryer that has been used with fabric softener sheets, then you still will not have scent free hunting clothes.

We recommend that you hand wash and air dry your clothes. Hand washing very dirty clothes is hard work. Here are the steps that we recommend for the best success for your hunting clothes.

Step 1 - Soak your clothes in cold water. You can soak them overnight if they are very dirty. Cold water is recommended for blood stains and other protein type stains. Hot water will "cook" the stains in. If your clothes have gotten wet and have a mildew odor from sitting for a couple days, you may add a 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the cold water soak. The mildew smell will be removed and the vinegar smell will also be gone after rinsing.

Step 2 - After soaking, plunge your clothes in and out of the water for a couple of minutes. This will remove the majority of the soil that the soak loosened. You can use something like this Manual Washing Machine or the Plunger Washing Kit from

Step 3 - Dump out the dirty water from the overnight soak. Refill your bucket with cold water. Add a 1/2 cup baking soda. Now wash your clothes one article at a time starting with your least soiled garment. Agitate each article of clothing using the washer tool for 1-5 minutes. I suggest working on a picnic table or an outside bench so you will not need to lean over to the ground. Hand washing clothes is hard work.

Step 4 - After all articles have been washed, dump the dirty wash water. You should now rinse the clothing by plunging them in plain clean water to remove any remaining baking soda or leftover detergents from previous washings. If after removing the clothes you see that your rinse water is still cloudy or soapy or dirty, then dump it and refill with clean water. Keep rinsing the clothes until the rinse water stays pretty clear.

Step 5 - Now wring out as much water as possible by hand. It is important to wring out the water so that garments will dry in a reasonable amount of time. We recommend that you also keep a large chamois towel specifically for this process. Spread a single garment out on your large chamois towel and twist tightly. The chamois is so absorbent that it will wick much of the remaining water from your clothes into the chamois.

Step 6 - Your clothes are now ready to air dry. You can dry them outdoors on a clothesline or indoors on a rack. You should air dry your clothes to keep them from smelling like any dryer sheet or fabric softener residue that is in your dryer.

Step 7 - Once your clothes are completely dry - you do not want them to mildew - store them in a sealed plastic bag or tote. You may put some dry leaves or twigs from your normal hunting area in with your clothes to make them smell like your prey's habitat.

Happy and safe hunting!

Disclaimer: You are responsible for any suggestions you choose to follow, or not follow. This advice is offered for consideration with no guarantee of safety or effectiveness. Use this information at your own risk.