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Whitetail Deer’s Sense of Smell

Time and time again the ability for deer to detect hunters most often times is by sense of smell. Over the past several years many companies have tried relentlessly to produce products that over ride the whitetail deer’s sense of smell. Of course I can’t name them due to the fact most don’t work, however there is some hope, as I have discovered a few tricks over the years. In order to try and get a “leg up” on a deer’s sense of smell, one must first understand just what enabled whitetail deer to have a sense so keen in detecting predators.

Deer have a highly developed sense of smell, it is one of their best weapons for detecting approaching danger. The moist nose of a deer, similar to that of a dog, allows the deer to pick up the faintest of odors. The odor particles, drifting by on the breeze, stick to the moisture on the deer's nose and are then drawn into the olfactory organs. A deer can detect the odor of approaching danger several hundred yards away. This is why you should always try to hunt with the breeze in your face. Their elongated noses are filled with an intricate system of nasal passages that contain millions of olfactory receptor sites. Their keen sense of smell is very important for avoiding predators, identifying other deer, and identifying food sources. Perhaps most importantly, their sense of smell is important for scent communication with other deer. Deer have seven glands that are used primarily for scent communication.

The nose of a whitetail deer has up to 297 million olfactory receptors, dogs have 220 million with humans limiting out with just five million. A whitetail’s life is governed primarily by its nose; the scents that it smells plays a vital role in its decision making process. This is what makes the whitetail deer sense of smell amazing.


Let’s put this in perspective by “chasing a rabbit” for a moment and looking at how well a dog can smell and what they can smell. This may assist us in gaining insight in regard to just what we are up against with the nose of a whitetail deer and a deer’s ability to smell. The reason this information is important is because you must realize the whitetail deer’s sense of smell is nearly 1/3 greater than that of a canine or dog. Smell is the dog’s dominant sense, thus because of this we can assume a whitetail deer’s sense of smell is also the dominant sense. So much so that a huge part of its brain is devoted to analysing odours. Dogs and whitetail deer have two giant olfactory bulbs attached to the brain which decode every smell they encounter. The bulbs weigh around 60 grams, four times as much as human olfactory bulbs. Given that a canine brain is one tenth of the size of a human one, that means the canine brain has forty times as much of its brain devoted to smell as we do, and the whitetail deer sense of smell is even far greater than that.

Little wonder then that a dog’s sense of smell is reckoned to be so much greater than a humans. In tests dogs have been able to pick up chemical solutions that form one or two parts in a trillion. That is the equivalent of smelling one bad apple in two billion barrels. This is relative to a whitetail deer’s sense of smell as some hunters believe they can cover their human scent with cover up scents. Wrong! If the whitetail deer can smell better than a dog we just read that even a dog can pick out different scents from the same area, at a rate of two parts in a trillion. Don’t mean to hurt any whitetail deer manufacturer’s feelings but you cannot cover your human scent from whitetail deer. Impossible. Later in the article hope does arise as I will share ways to minimize your human scent.

The source of the dog’s and whitetail deer’s exceptional ability to smell is its wet snout. The moist leathery surface of the snout acts like velcro catching even the tiniest molecules of smells, then dissolving them so that the dog’s internal, smell receptor cells can analyse them properly. To keep his nose wet a dog must produce a constant supply of mucus through its nasal cavities. Scientists reckon the average dog produces a pint of this mucus every day, and that a whitetail deer produces even more.

What Dogs and Whitetail Deer Can Smell

Dogs really can smell fear. If a dog goes into a room where a frightened dog has just left, he will appear anxious and agitated. This isn’t, as many would claim, some kind of ESP type response. It’s caused by a scent, an alarm pheromone, which is produced by the anal glands of frightened dogs. Thus now we know the nose of a whitetail deer is so great that the animal can smell emotion. This is why if you’ve ever had a whitetail deer come in that didn’t see you, your high up in the air, not moving, and then suddenly the deer looks straight up at you like it had a sixth sense its very possible the whitetail deer can smell you emotions to some degree. Snicker all you want but we have far more to learn about the whitetail deer sense of smell.

Dogs can detect odors that are up to 40 feet underground, thus deer can detect them even deeper than that depth. They have been used to detect leaky gas pipes. They can also smell insects embedded in the ground or in woodwork. In the United States dogs are used to sniff out termite infestations. Dogs can also pick up the faintest whiff of other creatures.

In Guam, the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services use specially trained Jack Russells to sniff out brown tree snakes in the loading bays of aeroplanes.

Dogs can smell human fingerprints that are a week old. If dogs can do this then you must know that a whitetail deer’s ability to smell human scent must be far greater. That is why one shouldn’t be checking game cameras all the time or continue to ramble through your hunting area out of sheer curiosity. Estimates state that a whitetail deer can detect human scent for up to 10 days after it’s left.

Dogs’ noses are so sensitive that they can even smell electricity. While conducting an experiment, a researcher found that a dog could smell which of two compartments contained an electric current. He concluded this was because the charge resulted in the release of tiny amounts of ozone which the dog could detect. Now we can also assume that if a whitetail deer’s sense of smell is far more advanced than a dog that whitetail deer can smell objects such as electricity. Are you starting to understand just what your up against when you try and figure out how great a deer’s sense of smell must really be?

Dogs and whitetail deer can tell from the smell of a cow’s urine whether it is in oestrus, or heat. Farmers train dogs to do this so they know the best time to introduce a bull for breeding.

Dogs react in different ways to different smells. In tests, for example, it has been found that dogs relax when the aroma of lavender is fed into their environment. Camomile also makes dogs calmer. Maybe sometime whitetail hunting will figure out what smells make whitetail deer calmer so we can hunt them with more ease. Rosemary and peppermint, on the other hand, makes dogs more excited.

As far as dogs and whitetail deer are concerned, all humans have a unique smell. They can pick people out according to body and other odours they project. Scientists think the only way a dog wouldn’t be able to tell two people apart would be if they were identical twins on identical diets. The twins would also have to remain silent. Therefore think on this. The deer your hunting may quite possibly know the difference between how the farmer smells that works in the field that is NOT a threat to them, and you the hunter that seeks to kill them. This is why often times when hunting a place where cattle are present I will purposely walk into a big nasty fresh cow pie. Lets go a step further with the ability of whitetail deer to smell. If you are the hunter that wears cover scents then know the whitetail deer are probably associating your cover scents with those of a predator. Cover scents will hurt you more than help you. (I hope I don’t lose a Sponsor over that, but it’s true.) However that is how acute a whitetail deer’s sense of smell is.

As a result of this, dogs can track human smells over long distances. Scientists think they can pick up on the difference in odors from different footprints to work out which direction their prey is headed. They can do this twenty minutes after a person has passed by even though the footprints are made a single second apart. If this be true then again with the whitetail deer having a keener sense of smell it is very possible whitetail deer can smell which way you are headed and avoid you by going the other direction. Laugh all you want but it is this kind of knowledge that puts trophy deer on the wall. You must understand the whitetail deer’s sense of smell.

Scientists who tested four German Shepherds discovered they track footprints by dividing the job into three phases. During the first, search phase they move quickly, sniffing 10-20 times each breath. Once they have detected the smell they enter the deciding phase where they sniff at between two and five specific footprints. They do this for a longer period, slowing down as they do so. Finally, once the direction has been established, the tracking phase begin with the dog once more moving quickly. This must also be true with the ability of the whitetail deers sense of smell, because they know what direction to head off to in order to find the doe in heat they are seeking during the rut.

Dogs can detect cancer in humans. Scientists think that simply by sniffing samples of human’s breath, dogs can detect lung, breast and other cancers with an accuracy rate of between 88 and 97 percent. The accuracy rate of a multi-million-pound hospital scanner is between 85 and 90 per cent. Dogs can also be trained to alert people with heart conditions they are about to suffer a seizure. Now we can also assume whitetail deer can detect illnesses all the same. Therefore while it’s a reach if a person has an illness as aforementioned he or she may be more easy to detect in the woods by the deers sense of smell.

Does Carbon Lined Clothing Prevent Whitetail Deer from Smelling Hunters?

Trained domestic dogs are noted for their use in finding and identifying people, wildlife, and spore. Given the importance of scent dog use it is unfortunate that the limits of their capabilities remains somewhat unidentified. Collegiate studies show the ability of seven search dogs to find a person wearing sent absorbing clothing in order to investigate both dogs abilities and the a fact of nest of the garments. Scent of absorbing clothing which manufacturers claim prevent game from detecting human odors, is primarily marketed to hunters and may be useful for wildlife professionals to monitor or pursue big game animals. Based on 42 trials it has been concluded that scent absorbing suits with carbon lining had little to no affect on a dog’s ability to track human beings. However environmental factors such as the wind did effect the dog’s ability to locate. This information suggest a carbon lined clothing a odor absorbing suits may not keep a whitetail deer from detecting whitetail deer hunters. Scientist and dog handlers should understand the influence of weather conditions, especially wind on research operations. A whitetail deer’s sense of smell is nothing shy of amazing.

It has also been suggested that by the law’s of physics that you would have to light a carbon lined suit on fire to reactive it. Thus making reactivation if it did work impossible. It is a scientific fact that it takes 600 degrees for carbon to reactivate, however the modern day clothes dryer averages 175 degrees maximum temperature. Thus you aren’t reactivating your carbon lined clothing whether or not you think you are. For at the approximate temperature of 349 degrees particles ignite in fire. Some of you will keep wearing it even after reading this bold paragraph, however to do so would simply being denying the laws of physics.


Honestly there is no way to reduce human scent 100%. In a mirage of products that really don’t assist whitetail deer hunters its tough to figure out just what deerhunters can do to prevent being smelled by whitetail deer. After all the smoke clears, really only 4 tools are available to minimize detection by whitetail deer because of their acute sense of smell. We shall talk about all four to assist in your harvest of a trophy buck. They include silver ion clothing technology, playing the wind, stand heights, and products that help you stay clean so you can stack the odds in your favor. For the whitetail deer’s sense of smell is acute and should be addressed honestly and forthright.

Silver Ion Clothing:

Silver ion fabrics have revolutionized the clinical dressing market. They provide effective antibacterial control for wounded soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Our military and NASA both use these high tech silver ion clothes to reduce odor causing bacteria, due to the simply fact that bathing while at war or in space is minimized. The fabrics also are made into antibacterial blankets for the wounded as they are transported in military aircraft on long flights to veterans hospitals in the US. Such technology that adsorbs and
suppresses most body odor molecules in fabrics, then releases the odors during traditional home-machine laundering with unscented detergents. Products made by Medallist are both breathable, flexible, and less bulky than activated carbon-containing fabrics. (Which we have already proved by the laws of physics may not really work.) The silver ion technology works wet or dry, garments can be drip-dried or tumble-dried, and the scent-control technology is effective for the life of the garment. Believe me this approach to fooling the whitetail deer’s sense of smell is far more advanced than wrapping yourself up in a heap of carbon because your favorite hunt celebrity has his photo on it in a slick wrapper. (I have to be upsetting someone at this point if your reading, but I speak the truth.)

Even towels are being advertised for post bathing to actually kills bacteria and fungus which causes human odor.

I’d personally like to see some wipe downs for the field with silver ion fluids available to hunters, however I guess I’ll have to wait on them or make them myself. To fool a deer’s sense of smell such a fluid might be found in Colloidal silver in the accessory spray bottle can be sprayed on abrasions, acne, athlete's foot, burns, cuts, exzema, fungi, psoriasis, rashes, scrapes, skin cancers, sunburn, warts, and wounds, etc., and does not kill subcutaneous tissue as does alcohol and iodine. It can also be sprayed in the nose for sinus problems or sprayed into the mouth and inhaled to the lungs where transfer of colloidal silver through the alveoli is readily imparted to the blood. Colloidal silver can also be sprayed into the eyes of newborn infants to prevent infection, or under the arms which kills odor causing bacteria but does not prevent skin from breathing as do many deodorants. (IMB Outfitters nor I personally are recommending this and are not suggesting to apply this. It is simply a thought for future products.)

Playing the Wind with Whitetail Deer

The very best way to avoid the whitetail deer’s sense of smell is to “play the wind”. This means in a nutshell that the hunter always hunts and approaches a hunting area from a direction where the wind isn’t taking human scent into where he or she believes the deer are positioned.

Never hunt when the wind is wrong, even by only a few degrees. It's tempting to take advantage of every opportunity to get away from work and hunt, but resist that temptation to go anyway. All it takes is one good close-range sniff and a mature buck will abandon not only his pattern of movement, but also the immediate vicinity - maybe for the entire season. However let us stay realistic. For the advanced whitetail hunter we all know that certain treestand locations may lie in what I call a “triple funnel”. This is where three funnels all meet at one place. You can be certain on any given day that in one direction the wind will not favor you. These places should be hunted during the rut while bucks are chasing does, and simply know you have a disadvantage in one direction or another.

Every day that you scout or hunt a farm or woodlot, monitor the various wind directions at morning, midday and afternoon. Mark those wind currents on a map and in a journal. Over time you’ll determine the prevailing winds that accompany various weather patterns at different times of the year. That is vitally important info because the majority of the trees you pick for stands will be based on the most common winds. You know to focus on spots where deer will likely come in upwind of your stand. That is important, but it is not enough. When picking a tree, you need to determine where to put your scent so you’ll alert as few deer as possible in the area. If a mature buck circles in downwind of your stand and catches your stench, he might just melt away into the brush.

Determining the best wind for a stand definitely involves some trial and error. You might look at an aerial, point your finger and bark, “Okay boys, a northwest wind will work best right there.” But until you go in and sit the stand several times, you don’t really know if a northwest is best or even adequate. You need to study the topography of an area because ridges, bluffs, draws and other terrain and foliage features can and do affect wind direction, sometimes dramatically. You also need to glass a lot and observe the overall deer movement throughout an area as it relates to various common winds. Most of the time mature bucks work into the wind, or at least into a crosswind. Remember that lowspots often times present swirling winds no matter what the predominant wind direction is when considering how well a whitetail deer sense of smell is.

More often than not, your instincts will be good, and your theory about the best wind or winds to hunt a tree will be on the money. Once you’ve hunted a tree a few times and feel confident you’ve pegged the best winds, stay with that strategy when planning daily hunts from season to season. Unless the terrain or cover changes (i.e., a landowner cuts or thins 20 acres of timber) those winds will hold true over time.

Myles Keller once said you must be able to get to and from a treestand undetected. This is one of the wisest things Keller has impressed upon me. Your goal should always be to slip quickly and quietly to and from a stand without disturbing a single deer. To do it, look for stand locations that are not too far off old roads, trails, power-line rights-of-way, etc. Or sneak to a tree along the edge of a pasture. Use aerial photos and topographical maps to determine the easiest and most convenient routes to stands. However you must consider wind directions as well as easy entrances and exits when trying to stay one step ahead of the whitetail deer’s sense of smell.

Anytime you can creep up or down a creek or river, do it. You can wade a creek toward a stand like you’re strolling down Main Street without deer seeing or smelling you. Plus, the water helps to rinse traces of scent off your boots.

Stand Height is a Factor:

Their aren’t many hunters these days that like hunting off the ground more than 15 feet. Take my word for it as I am a whitetail deer outfitter that is constantly forced to consider how well the whitetail deer’s sense of smell is. Note that even modern hunting treestand sticks normally are never higher than 20 feet, with the hunter knowing the treestand is to be hung lower than the top of the treesticks. This is the safest height to hunt at with the exception of ground level, however remember I’m “old school”. Remember the Old Clint Eastwood Movie, “Hang em High”? While we don’t hang treestands at heights exceeding 17 feet here at IMB unless a hunter requests it, the truth is when I do get to hunt, (which doesn’t happen often) I hunt from very high treestands. Normally I like to hunt at 25 to 30 feet however I know hunters that come to camp would look at me sideways if I walked them to a stand that high.

The reason I hunt from such high levels is because I know the higher I position myself the more I benefit and two a areas. 1. The higher my tree stand is, the more any movement I make is minimized so I am not detected by whitetail deer visually. 2. The second reason I hunt so high up when I personally take to the field in pursuit of whitetail deer is because I know this scent that is expelled from my body is more probable to disperse a above the lined of the deer’s nose, or the direct line of scent the deer will intake. Let’s just use some common sense. The hunter who hunts from the ground disperses human scent to the whitetail deer at ground level. Ground level human scent is the easy for whitetail deer’s sense of smell to pick up. The hunter who chooses to hunt from higher levels creates a distinct advantage over the whitetail deer in regard to a deer’s sense of smell.

While I am no fan of heights, I utilize safety harness’s and enclosed climbing tree stands to ascend to higher levels. Perhaps I’m still young and dumb but I will do whatever is needed to avoid detection from the whitetail deer’s sense of smell. High levels result in fewer devil’s in the world of whitetail deer hunting.

Products that Will Assist Hunters from Being Smelled by Whitetail Deer:

Noticed I saved the thing I like the least to talk about last. That thing is products. The reason I hate to talk about products so much is because I see so many whitetail hunt celebrities swearing products work in the hunt industry simply because of endorsement money. Where have our morals gone? I have literally watched and known hunt celebrities on a personal level that did not believe in the products they represent but swore by them all in the name of money.

For some this article will revolutionize the way you view the whitetail deer’s sense of smell, while others will be irritated because I’ve told the truth. I will share with you exactly what I do in preparation for hunting whitetail deer in order to minimize human scent.

I have never been a fan of cologne. Remember we spoke about whitetail deer been able to smell human fingerprints for periods of up to 10 days. Therefore I never wear cologne. If you do where cologne then make a new resolution with yourself that you will refrain from using it or scented deodorants during hunting season. Let us look and an example which is poor in nature. John doe takes his wife out to eat on Saturday night. Prior to the occasion he splashes and amount of cologne onto his body and thoughtless tradition, just to smell good. Although he may bathe several times over the next 48 hours I will assure you if john doe hunts whitetail deer on Tuesday his odds of being detected by whitetail deer’s sense of smell is great. Stick with scent free commercial deodorants for armpit usage. Although one may laugh at the aforementioned example remember track dogs that possess a sense of smell inferior to whitetail deer track down human beings days after the person comes up missing.

Now let us speak about bathing. While a human being cannot cover up human scent, a human being can minimize human scent. From September to January whether in my home shower or in my hunting gear while on the road I always bathe at least once a day in what us old school deer hunters refer to as the green soap. In reality the product is made by hunter specialties and is described as follows. Available in both liquid and bar soap form, the original Scent-A-Way™ "green soap" contains natural vegetable proteins that attack body odors. It includes Honeyquat for increased hydration and aloe vera for soft skin and hair. Scent-A-Way Soap can be used as a body soap or shampoo and is also an excellent all-around hand soap. Odorless and environmentally friendly. Great for trappers, anglers and campers.

Although I shave my head and don’t have to worry about shampoo and conditioners it is a proven fact that hair produces odor causing bacteria. Thus if I were fortunate enough to have hair I would also take precautions in washing my hair with scent away shampoo and conditioner which is described as follows. Scent-A-Way Shampoo neutralizes human odors before a hunter goes afield, while the conditioner keeps hair soft and manageable. Includes 8 oz. bottle of shampoo and 8 oz. bottle of conditioner. This will minimize the ability of detection by the whitetail deer’s sense of smell. You have to stay clean.

If in many locations hunters are forced to carry packs and weapons great distances to tree stands. Many times this will result with perspiration. This problem can be solved with three steps. 1. When you know you are walking to a treestand that is a great distance away do not over dress thereby causing your body to perspire and disperse maximum amounts of human odor. 2. I have also found a product I simply will not hunt without. Scent a Way hunter wipes from hunter specialties. This is a moist towellettes which is immersed in human body neutralizing liquids. When I reach a stand location I literally stripped and wipe my body from head to toe. The product is described as follows. With enzymes that eliminate odor, these small wipes are perfect for taking into the field. They cleanse and deodorize when soap and water are not available. Soothes skin with aloe vera and Vitamin E. Environmentally friendly. Twenty 8" x 5" wipes are packaged in a peel-and-seal soft pack. I am adamant that I do not use wipes nor sprays that have any cover scent, such as earth spray at all. Deer will quickly associate you with a cover scent. The 3rd thing I utilize to minimize my scent in the field is human scent neutralizer spray from hunter specialties. This product comes in a spray bottle and after I reach the safe confines of my tree stand I spray myself down.

I’m also very particular about the clothing I wear while deer hunting for I know how keen a whitetail deer sense of smell really is. While in route to my tree stand in the truck I do wear my base layer of clothing. However my outer layer of hunting clothing is always stored in an airtight bag, and I never put my outer layer on until I reach the farm I am hunting and my truck you shut off. This prevents my outer clothing from absorbing foreign odors which whitetail deer can smell.

Understanding the whitetail deer’s sense of smell and taking precautions against it will maximize your results while deer hunting.

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