Which is Best When Hunting Deer: Cover or Minimize Human Odors?

While ten other hunters were climbing aboard the hay wagon that would convey us to sites where we would make the first drives of my first hunting season (1945), my Uncle Jack turned to me and said, ”Before we go, there’s one more thing you should do to get ready. Come with me.” Upon entering the barn, he stepped to the gutter behind a cow and began stomping his hunting boots in a fresh cow pie. “The deer around here are used to smelling cow pies,” he explained. “With this stuff on your boots, deer that smell you will think you are just another cow, making it easy to get close for an easy shot.”

Most hunters back then used some strong odor to hide their human odors. My dad preferred stuffing his pockets with sprigs from cedar trees. A few years later, I began using a liquid containing buck musk, emitted into the air from the wick of a special hand warmer. In the 1980s I painted my boots with fox urine, the odor of which made my eyes sting, after which my boots were no longer allowed inside a house. Years later, I felt fortunate whitetails cannot laugh out loud, knowing the woods would then have been filled with laughter of deer that discovered humans were being urinated on by foxes.

To explain, consider what you smell upon entering Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving, Number one, of course, would be the roasting turkey, perhaps tainted with the familiar odor of sage dressing. You’d also smell pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes in the oven and coffee brewing. The point is, your human nose can identify lots of different things at the same time despite an overwhelming odor like that of a roasting turkey. Similarly, whitetails with noses ten-thousand-times more sensitive than human noses, can easily identify a multitude of human odors at one time along with any strong-smelling additional odor such as a so-called “cover scent,” likely actually making it easier for mature whitetails to identify and avoid hunters. Yes, I know, you have n uncle that swears by his favorite “cover scent” and you believe the one you’ve been using works great too because you’ve seen or taken deer that approached from downwind, though there are logical reasons why this can happen whether you use a cover scent or something claimed to eliminate human odors or not.

Much better, though identifying airborne odors or trail scents emitted by deer hunters cannot be totally eliminated, rather than add a strong odor when hunting whitetails, minimize your existing odors. Whitetails react with far less alarm upon identifying a motionless stand hunter that emits no strong and unusual odors than a motionless stand hunter that emits one or more strong and unusual odors. Minimizing odors emitted by your body, clothing, boots and hunting gear as best you can will therefore significantly improve your odds for hunting success.

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