To the hunter, the snort of a deer downwind and the flagging tail tell the ancient story yet again. Since the dawn of primal hunters, deer have been smelling us, foiling us as frustrated hunters trying to overcome our alarming array of odors. Even though the act seems as simple as the primitive response that causes bucks to flee with one small sniff, it’s actually an interesting scientific process. And harnessing the true science of scent from Ice Age to Space Age can make any deer hunter incredibly more effective.

What is scent?

 

First, we need to identify that mysterious something we cannot see, touch, or usually smell that creates such sudden spooking of deer. At the risk of igniting our universal dislike for chemistry class years ago, the secret hinges on two simple words – molecular biochemistry. Don’t fear. This understanding doesn’t have to be as complicated as splitting atoms. Just a few key concepts are all we need to comprehend the culprits floating in the air.

Even Ice Age hunters probably figured out that scent is simply an outpouring airborne biochemical compounds that have broken free from their source as clusters of molecules. Okay, though the scientific terms escaped them, they understood the raw concept. It’s kind of like seeing breath plumes on a frosty morning where thousands of tiny molecule clusters float away on the thermals from their source, tumbling in a slow state of decay as they break apart further, carrying a million messages to creatures with scent receptors that evolved over eons to avoid predators.

So just what in the heck are these biochemical molecules spooking deer? Unfortunately, the list in man’s modern world is too vast to even begin identifying. But the root is an array of chemical reactions caused by organic compounds and enzymes catalyzing and undergoing molecular changes such as oxidation and temperature that break apart their molecular bonds. It’s akin to a water evaporating. As molecular bonds break down on the surface, individual molecules break free and float away. For an odor to leave its source and become a scent it needs to become lipophilic, or generally electrically neutral and nonpolar, plus small enough in molecular weight (< 300 Da) to become volatile or airborne. This is the point where fragrant molecules escape from their fluid or solid source into the thin air. In our scent-rich world, this process causes the liberation of a vast mixture of molecular aromatics in the form of alcohols, aliphatic organics, organosulphurs, aldehydes, fatty acids, terpenoids, benzenoids, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into “smellable” odors. More odors are generated by the biosynthesis of these chemicals interacting with one another. Alright, enough chemistry torture. Suffice it to say that it’s those darn little volatile molecules floating off us and our stuff that’s messing us up.

ID The Sources

 

Now that we understand the general biochemistry and molecular science of scent, how do we deal with the complex problem of our bodies and our modern world liberating all these VOCs into the woods while were hunting? Ah-ha, that is the savvy hunter’s quest in understanding the science of scent that can effectively turn blind luck into calculated success.

Let’s begin by classifying the two main types of scent that typically ruin a hunt. They are direct scent “emitted” from the hunter and their gear, and indirect scent that a hunter “disperses” throughout the woods during the overall act of hunting. At first glance, one would conclude that direct scent is the worse culprit in ruining that chance at a big buck. But a closer look at all the causes and cures gives us an important glimpse beyond the simple source.

Causes – Your Body and Your Gear

 

Depending on the hunter, their gear, and their personal environment, the list of direct scent can be downright staggering. Nonetheless, a summary would include the obvious odors of the hunter’s body and breath. Not so obvious are various forms of odor-generating bacteria, natural hair oils producing scent, millions of dead skin cells liberating odors, hygiene products for the body and hair pouring out VOCs, and organic chemicals emitted from skin, ears, sweat, nose and other “shadowy” places on the human body. Dang it, too bad you need that body to take you hunting.

As if that small list from the body wasn’t haunting enough, consider the endless possibilities of odors on a hunter’s gear. Boots alone emit odors of rubber, leather, manufacturing chemicals, waterproofing, floor products, mildew, and virtually everything the hunter has walked past or stepped in – from cow pies to gas station odors. Beside boots, most hunters wear hats loaded with the scent of repeated wearing with the hunt-spoiling aromas of fabric manufacturing chemicals, human hair, hair products, sweat, more bacteria, and dead skin cells. The same goes for a hunter’s clothing worn underneath their camowear. Even a grunt call or rattling antler is loaded with hand oils, breath bacteria, and everything a hunter has touched with lips, gloved or bare hands. So is it any wonder that simply putting on a single layer of scent-control camowear consistently fails to keep our vast array of VOC’s from reaching a deer’s nose? Naw, not really if you think about it.

To make matters worse, every time we walk through the woods, brush against twigs or grass, touch brush, hang a treestand, climb a tree, use a pull-up rope, and lean against a tree, we leave an invisible trail of indirect odors from all the sources noted above. And although those odor molecules are invisible to us, they aren’t invisible to the nose of any mature whitetail, especially big bucks. Yes, we know you’re careful, but every time you enter a stand, you lay down another telltale trail of indirect VOCs that a deer’s nose uses to unravel your ambush. In fact, some of the top trophy whitetail hunters in America admit that it’s their lingering indirect scent that prevents them from scoring more than anything else on a big buck they’re after. That’s also why so many hunters have tagged their best bucks that first time they hunted a new stand. It makes perfect scent-sense.

The Cautions and Cures

 

Though the challenges of eliminating or controlling all this scent seems overwhelming, it can be effectively done and perhaps easier than you thought – especially with the help of today’s technology.

The first scent generating item on you list to control is your body. It may be a bother to shower right before you go hunting every time, but it is one of the most significant things you can do to knock down your direct human scent. It may sound strange but be sure to scrub parts of your body that produce the most odor, such as places you might not consider like in and behind your ears. It’s natural for us to think we don’t stink, but just rub a finger behind your ear sometime and take a good sniff. Your hair, eyebrows, around the nose and neck are also important odor rich spots. Fortunately, your choice of scent-free soaps, deodorants, and a whole new wave of personal scent cover products abound in today’s hunting market. Just a word of caution however before dousing your body with various sprays or lotions that are designed to eliminate or mask your human odor. The reason that more medications are available today as patches to absorb through your skin is that your body readily absorbs stuff put on your skin. And some doctors will tell you that if it isn’t safe to drink, you should think twice about covering your body with it. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to ask your family doctor. Or, with today’s Internet realm of research, do a little digging yourself, or simply ask the manufacturer. A safer solution that has worked for years is a dusting of baking soda to neutralize the bacteria and acids that form odors. For your breath, try one of the baking soda toothpastes. And be sure to brush your tongue as far back as you can without gagging.

Okay, now that you’re standing there naked, you better put some clothes on before heading out into the frosty darkness. Basically, treat your under garments and clothing the same as you would your body. Unlike your body however, fabric has a very nasty habit of absorbing a multitude of contaminating odors because the woven fibers act as a molecular sieve to collect all those lipophilic VOCs. Avoid using clothes dryer products and dryers that use scented fabric softeners. These products will generate aromatic VOCs for days on end. That’s one of their selling points.

Also, beware of where you store your clothing – even your underwear. Now before you think I’m paranoid, consider the last time you took clean clothes from a dresser drawer or closet. If you took a big whiff, you might detect a faint hint at what a deer could smell easily – cooking smells, mold, pet scent, and a host of environmental “drawer or closet” odors. And before you say, “No way!” keep in mind that your olfactory senses are naturally “calibrated” to your living environment. Just ask a stranger to smell your closet. Or better yet, smell the drawers or closet of some stranger (okay, relatives) and you’ll smell all kinds of odors that elude their noses because everyone’s nose becomes calibrated to neutral (undetectable) for base odors in their living environment.

 

 

 

 

Technology to the Rescue

Storage

– Just when you thought you might go crazy with all this scent stuff, ta-da, today’s technology comes to the rescue. Besides the products that help keep your body from smelling, new innovations are now appearing for scent-free storage. Both hard and soft storage containers are now available for keeping your clean clothes odor free. Though primarily designed for camo outerwear and boots, the rule of thumb is that if you plan on wearing it hunting, even underneath carbon-lined camo, be smart and keep your under layers stored in an odor free environment.

Find Scent Gold in Silver

– Now that your body and undergarments are odor free, consider tapping into the new wealth of odor control offered in today’s generation of silver-lined hunting garments. Silver ions (Ag+) work as antimicrobial agents toxic to odor generating bacteria on the human body. Ions pass from the silver-lined fibers to inhibit the bacteria’s ability to reproduce and form stinky gases. All the way from underwear to outerwear, manufacturers offer a wide range of silver-lined garments for today’s scent-savvy hunter.

Activated Carbon-Lined Suits –

After nearly two decades on the market, most trophy whitetail hunters today insist on wearing activated carbon-lined outerwear in the form of Scent-Lok products or their licensees to absorb odors. Though its effectiveness might be debatable in some circles, the vast majority of knowledgeable deer hunters today agree that it’s a key component in their battle to control the vast world of scent.

Ozone Machines

– Most recently, electronics have entered the arena of odor control with the appearance of some electronic devices that claim to kill odors using the accelerated process of oxidation. Organic compounds or odors that accumulate on hunter’s clothing, boots and gear can theoretically be oxidized by saturation with O3 (ozone and clustered ozone molecules) to the point that the VOCs become non-detectable OCs. Though ozone-generating technology was discovered way back in the 1840’s, some companies are now promoting the technology to kill a hunter’s odors. One portable ozone device in fact has even been introduced to generate a plume of ozone around the hunter in the field, supposedly neutralizing VOCs coming from the hunter in the stand.

Thanks NASA

– But perhaps the most revolutionary electronic device yet to appear in the war against odor control came from outer space. State-of-the-art technology developed in cooperation with NASA to keep astronauts and spacecraft from getting stinky in extended space travel, is now available in a device for hunters called the Xterminator (www.xterminator.us). This innovative machine uses patented technology to shred VOC molecules into their base elements, which destroys odors on anything within the effective range of the machine. The size of a six-pack, this device turns a hunter’s closet into an odor decontamination chamber by emitting a unique combination of four synergistic technologies. Despite the apparent complexity of the science, the bottom line is that it literally tears apart the molecular bonds of organic compounds into their base atomic elements, destroying odor-producing molecules on everything a hunter wears, uses or carries into the woods. As you might expect for outer space scientists, this gizmo also effectively kills a wide range of bacteria that cause odors. Watch out whitetails.

So next time you head for the woods, think twice about the new science of today’s innovations in scent and how it can make or break your chances of tagging that trophy buck. Some old timers might think it isn’t “fair” to use any technology to fool the nose of the whitetail, let alone use a space-age device that decontaminates odors on everything you own with the flip of a switch. Nonetheless, the whitetail remains the most finely attuned big game to roam the planet, and revolutionary stuff from outer space probably isn’t enough for the smartest ones to consistently elude the majority of hunters.