Eight Steps for Scent-free Whitetail Hunting

Back in the ‘80s, I used to get razzed because of the detailed preparation I went through to try and remain as scent-free as possible when hunting whitetails. My father and grandfathers taught me that whitetails have a great sense of smell, and they also educated me on how to play the wind. But besides hanging our clothes outside before a hunt, we did little to reduce odors. When others saw how persnickety I’d become about reducing odors I was made fun of—until antlers began hitting the ground.

We all know that a whitetail’s sense of smell is a force that’s difficult to beat. To an olfactory offense so strong, it’s impossible to be totally scent-free. However, it’s a proven fact that it is possible to reduce our odors to trace levels that even mature bucks will “tolerate” in close quarters.

But are you doing enough to reduce these alien odors so you can get closer to whitetails? Follow these eight steps to help:

  1. Wash your clothes in a quality hunter’s detergent.

Besides our body, we need to be concerned with everything else we’re bringing into the woods, especially on our clothes. Some feel they must also treat their clothes with a product to remove the UV from the garment. There’s no need if you use a hunter’s wash like Scent Killer Gold Laundry Detergent. It doesn’t contain optical brightening agents (OBAs) or fluorescent brightening agents (FBAs). So, besides removing all UV from the garment, it also doesn’t add any back. If you wash your deer hunting clothes in regular detergents you will likely add back the brighteners.

  1. Dry your clothes outside if possible.

If you live near a gas station or a restaurant you may be absorbing odors from those places when drying your clothes outside. If you do use a drier inside, remove all fabric softeners prior to drying. Before storing any hunting clothes, let them air-out for some time outside.

  1. Store garments in a container so no odors can infuse them.

Make sure the clothes are totally dry before storing them. And if there is any moisture, once they’re sealed in a container or bag, a chemical reaction will begin and odors will be produced. This is the same reason not to allow any leaves, dirt, pine boughs or other natural items in the container. Even with our limited human sense of smell, after one week in a container, the difference in the smell of fresh pine boughs compared to ones you’ve stored will be obvious. If you must put something in the container or bag, fill a sock with 1/3 cup of baking soda and place it inside, switching it out every few weeks.

  1. Wash with the right products before a hunt.

A human’s scent is the most feared odor for deer, so use Scent Killer Body Wash & Shampoo and use Scent Killer Deodorant. Brush your teeth too. Yes, toothpaste has a minty odor, but it’s better than the bad breath of a human carnivore. Eat prior to showering and brushing your teeth. Also, do not pass through where any odors may cling to you. If I’m going out for a morning hunt, I will shower beforehand. But if I come inside somewhere to eat lunch, I’ll remove all clothing and shower once again before heading back afield, if possible. Try to plan ahead and make sure you have your vehicle gassed up too. In addition, be picky about what you eat immediately before you head out. If you can smell it after a meal, guess who can smell it 1,000 times better?

  1. Don’t put your clothes on until you get to your hunting area.

Don’t remove clothes from their protective container until you arrive. It’s amazing how many put on their main hunting boots at home and then stop to fill up with gas or put on their hunting clothes and stop at a café for breakfast. These hunters usually have a vacant trophy wall and an empty freezer. And if you have a long walk to your ambush location, if possible, carry your outer hunting clothes until you get close to the site to avoid sweating in them, which produces more odors.

  1. Treat your boots and clothing with a quality scent-elimination spray. Apply the spray to your clothing the day before a hunt, allowing it to dry into your clothing. Return your clothes to their container. The molecules from scent-elimination sprays adhere to the odor molecules, making them too heavy to form a gas. Spray down each layer of your clothing, concentrating on your high-sweat areas.
  1. Pay close attention to any “scent transfer.”

We’ve taken care of most odors we may carry into the woods, but what about the smells we may be leaving behind? Every time you touch an object, it’s like you’re pushing your scent into it. How strong that smell will be there and how long it will linger depends on temperature, humidity and other factors. Why telegraph your presence to the herd? Wear rubber-bottomed boots and don’t touch anything with your bare hands.

  1. When the season is over for the year, where you store your treestands and other gear is key.

Hopefully, you don’t amass them in a garage or other area where foreign odors will perforate and cling. During the winter when you start your car to warm for several minutes before you drive, those exhaust fumes are collecting, and a whitetail will smell that later on. Store your equipment where odors will have minimal contact. An outdoor shed or a tarp covering under an awning for larger gear, like treestands, is ideal.

These tips are ways we can prevent odors from entering the woods so we’re better at closing the distance on the whitetails. We still must learn all we can about playing the wind and thermal currents into our favor. Understanding many factors, both controllable and uncontrollable, when combined with these precautions, will make you deadly this season.