View Full Version : Controlling your scent key to successful deer hunting

11-11-2008, 02:02 AM
Controlling your scent key to successful deer hunting


Dave Sartwell

Understanding how a deer relates to his environment might help you place yourself in a spot to get that big trophy buck.
Whitetail deer use all of their senses to stay alive in the woods, but there is little doubt that their sense of smell is the most important. They use their noses to find food and warn them of the presence of danger, but it is the function of scent in their role in communication with other deer that is perhaps the most important.

Human beings perceive their world primarily through sight, so it is often hard for us to understand how it is mainly through scent that deer perceive their's. A deer's olfactory bulb is much larger than ours and contains almost a hundred times more epithelium. More epithelium increases smell sensitivity. Each whiff of air gives deer an awesome array of information. Using their moist, hairless muzzles they are able to trap and detect scent gases we do not even notice.

Deer also use several different glands in their bodies to emit scents that are used to communicate information to other deer. Over the last decade there has been a lot of research done to determine how and when these glands are used. Although there is still a lot to learn, we now know that these glands differ between sexes, age classes, and times of the year.
Deer have 7 different glands or glandular areas consisting of the interdigital, metatarsal tarsal, preorbital, forehead, nasal and preputial. Each one has its own unique characteristics and are used to communicate different information.

The interdigital glands are small sacs located between the toes on all four feet. They are full of a foul-smelling yellow volatile fatty acid that is the result of glandular secretions. A little of this smell is dropped with every step a deer takes.

Research at the University of Georgia revealed that these fatty acid molecules deteriorate at different rates. It allows other deer to tell how old the track is and which way it is headed. This could mean that other deer could tell which tracks and ground scrapes are made by the biggest bucks simply by smelling the tracks.

The tarsal gland is one of the most important in this communication arsenal. Located on the inside of the deer's hind legs, these glands secrete a fatty substance called a lipid that adheres to the long guard hairs around the gland. They emit a very strong smell that comes about as a result of urine being deposited on the gland as well as the bacteria that naturally occurs there. Each deer has it's own combination of ingredients giving it it's own unique smell. This is how each doe can identify her own fawn.
The preorbital gland is located in front of the deer's eyes. It is a small pocket that can be controlled by the deer and is used to communicate with other deer. When bucks flare it open it is a signal for aggressive behavior.

Using the base of his horns and forehead, the big bucks will rub tree trunks and overhead branches, leaving his scent for other deer to smell. He will often stop during the rub and smell it himself, as if to check to see exactly what he is leaving behind. Often does will come to these spots and rub their own foreheads on these spots as well.

Nasal glands are two almond shaped glands the lubricate the nose. These glands help trap the scent in the nose, but may also be used to mark overhead branches along with the substances from the other glands.
What does all of this mean for the hunter?
Deer communicate through the use of smell. They have extremely sensitive noses that bring them an unbelievable amount of information. We all emit odors that follow us like an unseen mist as we move through the woods. Controlling this information a deer gets can help us in deceiving them.

One obvious thing we can do is control our own smell. I keep my hunting boots and clothes in a box that contains spruce boughs. This way, when I walk in the woods, my boots do not leave an unusual odor on the ground. If you are going to put waterproofing on your footgear, do it ahead of the season and then store the boots in the boughs so they have time to absorb the smell. Do not use aftershave or other strong scents.