Originally printed in the October issue of California Sportsman
It’s a brisk morning with a slight breeze and the sun is peeking over the horizon. It’s a beautiful day for bowhunting! You are set in your stand waiting for that big buck to walk by when the wind shifts and you get a whiff of something funky. ‘That can’t be me, right?’ Then you watch as a deer walks downwind, sniffs the air, and then looks directly at you before he bolts. Face it, you stink! We humans give off some funky odors that animals can smell from a great distance. No matter what we do, we will always stink, but there are ways to reduce your scent to get you closer to the animals you want to hunt.
Here’s a simple rule when it comes to being less stinky in the woods: don’t eat things that might make you stink, like onions or garlic or drinking a few beers for two days prior to heading out. It stays in your system and you sweat it out. Trust me, if you or your wife can smell the garlic, animals are cringing and running away. Think smart and eat foods that may not have much of an odor the next day. My family thinks I am a bit extreme when it comes to what I eat a day or two prior to a hunt, but if I am to get as close as I can I want to try to increase my chances. Don’t drink any alcohol the night before a hunt. I am not judging here as I love a good stout, but the night before a hunt I refuse to drink anything alcoholic. In the past, I have had a hunting partner or two that if they are upwind, you can tell they threw a few back the night before. It really does stink and if my inadequate human nose can pick that up imagine what an animal will smell. Avoid food and drink that is going to
As a man, if you feel the need to shave your face prior to a hunt, do so before you bathe, but honestly, why would you need to? Shower right before you leave the house with scent-free soap, or earth-scented soap (depending on where you hunt) and dry off with a towel that hasn’t been doused with fabric softener. Why ruin what you just started? Then be sure to use some unscented antiperspirant.
Halitosis, or bad breath as it is commonly known, affects us all. We all get it and probably have it when we hit the woods. Do I worry about it that much? Honestly, not as much as some say I should. Even if I brush my teeth with charcoal and chew on apple flavored gum all day I really have never had an issue with my breath and an animal winding me. Could it play a factor? It sure could and just might be one fraction of the scent you are giving off, but I normally shy away from breath sprays unless I am going to be sitting within 20 yards of a trail or waterhole. Why? Probably because it’s one more thing in my pack to worry about and I don’t treat hunting like a first date. I am not going to spray some breath-spray on my tongue right before letting an arrow fly. Instead, I will probably just close my mouth, focus, and then shoot. One of the guys I shoot with mentioned that your breath is 90% of what animals smell. When I asked him if that was science talking or word-of-mouth, he mentioned a guide told him that. To each his own on this one and in fact, if you have evidence to the contrary please share it! I would love to hear it.
Have some compassion for your hunting buddies, too. Lay off the baked beans at the Friday night BBQ if you are headed out first thing in the morning, especially if you are the passenger in THEIR vehicle. I may or may not have tested these waters in years passed. All I know is that it makes for a very long truck ride when it’s 20 degrees and you have to keep the windows down to keep from dry heaving.
Wash your hunting clothes in baking soda or scent-free soap after each outing. Yes, I said each outing, but I don’t mean every single hunt. Who has time for that and with the drought that we Californians are in, we need to conserve water where we can. The baking soda will absorb odors in a pinch, but I prefer some of the scent-free soaps like Scent-Away, Hunter’s Specialties, or Dead Down Wind. All work well in my book. I don’t like to use the dryer in any way because I feel that any scented fabric softener residue will transfer to your clothing. I have no proof of this, but it is a personal preference. If you choose to use your dryer, use an earth-scented dryer sheet in your clothes dryer, or you can do what I prefer and that is to hang them outside until dry. If you hang them up like I do, be sure that before taking them off the clothesline you haven’t just sprayed down with cologne or taken a shower with scented soap. It defeats the purpose!
Ozone use has been increasing in popularity over the years back East and in the Midwest, and slowly creeping into California. I have used the LOG6 ozone machine for a couple years and while I have no scientific proof, it seems to kill the scent of my personal odor temporarily. Ozonics makes a unit that is portable and proven effective by many people, but it costs upwards of $400. Many hunters have used it and continue to do so in the Midwest, but not so much in California. I think one of the reasons is that it’s an extra piece of gear that you have to haul around all day. I know people that use it for spot-and-stalk hunting, but for me it seems like more of a treestand or hunting blind application. It might be worth a try for sure.
An often overlooked item to be washed thoroughly is your pack. While I do not wash it after every outing, like I do my clothing, I do wash it thoroughly at the beginning of the season and a time or two through the season. Your back sweats…a lot…and your backpack acts like a wick. If nothing else, wet the back with water and scrub it with scent free soap. Do this often because I know it is going to stink. Once it has dried, I usually drop it in my ozone tote for an hour and then bag it to keep it as scent-free is I can.
One tactic to mask odors is to leave your clothes in a plastic tote with dry leaves or a scented wafer to mask any other scent on the clothing. Do not place wet leaves in the tote or you are asking for a mold colony. When I started out, my dad armed us with trash bags and had us gather up fallen leaves of the maple and cypress trees to help mask the scent on our clothing. We would hang our clothes outside to dry and get the farm air blowing through them. We just had to watch out for bees and other bugs you didn’t want crawling down your neck while in your stand. Be sure to shake them out prior to putting them inside the bag. Then we would add some leaves to the bag, along with our clothing, and cinch it up prior to a hunt. This is very effective and your clothes take on the scent of the areas you are hunting.
Another tactic I use is to fill an old sock (washed prior in scent-free soap) with baking soda, knot it off, and then leave that inside the bin with my hunting clothes. It will soak up some of the odors on the clothing and works better than nothing if you don’t have time to wash before the next day of hunting.
Scent reducing sprays have been around for as long as I can remember. Scent reducing sprays are different than a cover scent. These are produced to truly kill off nearly 100% of the odor causing bacteria on your clothing gear. No, they don’t kill it all off, but they help. Once I spray down with scent reducing spray, I use a cover scent. Cover scent spray is a great option for me, but they do exactly what the name says – cover. They don’t eliminate your scent, they just perfume it. Final Step Cover Scents is one that I use in California because they offer sage, juniper, cedar, and rosewood. The sage is great for Southern California.
Cover scents can also be found in the wild. Some of the areas I hunt hold large sage plants and if you snap off a piece or two, rub them in your gloved hands and then rub that onto your clothes (especially your armpits, back of the knees, even your crotch) that may help mask your odor for a short time. Whatever will get you closer to that animal. Just be sure you KNOW what plant you are using. Do this with poison oak or sumac and you are looking at covering your body in Calamine lotion.
You will notice I left footwear as the last item. Footwear care is an integral part of fooling an animal’s nose. You hunting boots track around your scent, the scent of the last place you were, and are notorious for giving away a hunter’s location. Why is that? Think about a deer walking through the woods. Most of the time deer are walking with their nose to the ground and eating. The scent of your boots is going to be all over that ground. Spray your boots as soon as you get out of the truck and are heading into the woods. Spray them well! I will even scuff them through dirt, sand, and weeds a few times to pick up some of the local scents. I remember one hunt where I forgot to spray anything on my boots and I figured I was safe to hunt. After I was set in my treestand, I watched a doe from a long way off start sniffing the air and soon the ground. She was sniffing the trail where I walked and it didn’t take her too long before she bolted. That gave me the idea to use cover scent, but my dad had a better idea. After I sprayed my boots with scent killing spray, he squirted a little bit of buck lure on the inside heel of my boot. That way as I walked through the leaves, a little would be given off each time. I have seen this work well as bucks have crossed the trail I walked in on, picked up the scent, and walked right to my stand. It doesn’t always work, but it sure is worth a try.
There are plenty of products that claim to keep you scent-free or close to it. You can reduce odor or cover it up a bit, but you will never be scent free. If a bear stick his nose up, he’s going to smell you…up to five miles away. Do what you can to reduce your human aroma and get in close to that animal.
Overall, the best method to an animal not smelling you is to be downwind, plain and simple. If you are anyplace else you are likely to be winded and the animal will bust out of there fast. When a hunter tells you to play the wind, you now know what they mean. It will make you think more and get you closer to the animals you wish to hunt.