By Bob Humphrey
Some studies suggest a whitetail’s sense of smell might be 10,000 times more sensitive than ours. We don’t know for sure, and the number isn’t really important. What is important to deer hunters — especially bowhunters — is doing everything you can to avoid being detected. You can tune your equipment, practice shooting, scout and hang your stands; but if a deer smells you before it comes within range, all that work was for naught.
If you want to be invisible to a deer’s nose you have to be meticulous and comprehensive about scent suppression. Attention to detail is important. So is covering all the bases by creating a scent-suppression system that addresses all possible sources of foreign odors.
Fortunately, it’s not an “all-or- nothing deal,” said Ron Bice of Wildlife Research Center, makers of a comprehensive line of odor-suppression products under the Scent-Killer name. He uses the analogy of a smoke alarm to describe how a deer uses its nose to detect us. “A smoke alarm sits idle, but it’s continuously encountering molecules, just like deer are continually encountering scent molecules, including human scent. It only takes so much smoke to trigger the alarm. If you can keep your scent below a deer’s alarm level, you might not get detected.”
The process of reducing human odor begins at the source. Sweat has no odor, but its byproducts create a perfect environment for the growth of bacteria. It is not the bacteria, but their waste products that are the source of human body odor. Eliminate the bacteria and you eliminate the problem, for a while. Bathing with scent-free soap washes away bacteria, their odorous byproducts and the dead skin and other organic debris they feed upon, temporarily eliminating the source and increasing the time it takes for bacteria to re-grow to problem concentrations.
But not all soaps are created equal. Some can even be odor sources. Mike Jordan of ATSKO, makers of Sport Wash and N-O-DOR, recommends using soap that leaves no residue. Most shampoos and soaps, even some designed specifically to eliminate odor, contain non-cleaning additives like moisturizers, perfumes and vitamins. “At best, some of these proteins, oils and other compounds might aid dry skin or provide a pleasant smell, but they are left behind on the skin and hair,” Jordan said. They also have an odor that is easily detected by a deer’s keen nose.
Jordan advises using soaps that rinse completely, leaving no chemical residue on skin or hair. “You should pay particular attention to your head, crotch and armpits, as they give off tremendous amounts of odor and heat.”
In time, your morning shower wears off and bacteria reform. This, according to Hunter’s Specialties pro-staffer Philip Vanderpool, is why you also need to spray yourself with a scent-suppressing solution. “Solutions like Scent-A-Way prevent and eliminate odors by molecular conversion, oxidizing, bonding with and neutralizing odors,” he said. And it might take more than one application. “If you’re in the woods all day, or for a long time, you sweat. I carry field wipes and a small bottle of Scent-A-Way so I can do a quick field bath.”
Dress for Success
Some clothes help reduce human body odor in several ways. A fairly new entry in the hunting apparel industry, anti-microbial base layers provide a first line of defense that’s effective enough to meet the demands of the U.S. military. Trey Harris is director of marketing and product development for Polar Max, which develops clothing for the U.S. Marine Corps., Army and Air Force, not to mention sportsmen. “We use fabric that is topically treated with an anti-microbial (solution),” he said. To be effective, the fabric must have good moisture-wicking properties. “This helps mitigate odor by wicking the perspiration into the fabric, where odor-causing bacteria are destroyed by anti-microbials. A lot of people miss that link between wicking and odor control.” He also notes these treatments will not wash out over the life of the garment, so it remains effective indefinitely.
An even more recent base-layer technology integrates pure silver — a highly effective antiseptic (anti-microbial) often used in the medical profession — into the fiber. The silver works mechanically, rather than chemically, and at the microscopic level through a process called ionization. “We co-developed a technology that introduces nano-sized particles of silver, spreading them throughout the fibers,” said Rus Huffstutler, executive vice president of A.R.C., manufacturers and distributors of ArcticShield and X-System/X-Scent apparel. “Previous technologies used micro-sized particles. Using the smaller particles increases the surface area, which increases the silver ionic activity,” he said.
The silver offers an added bonus. According to Brian Blank, director of marketing for Medalist, their Silvermax technology combines scent control and thermoregulation. “The silver first inhibits the ability of bacteria to form,” he said. “It then accelerates that process when it interacts with skin, pulling heat away when it’s hot and drawing it back when it’s cool.”
If you want to get close enough to take bucks with a bow, you have to pay attention to every detail of your scent regimen.
With the right clothing and solutions, you can pretty well handle bacteria and its byproducts, but your body still emits anaphylactic acids (through your pores) that also cause odors. “None of the soaps can touch them,” said Jordan. “That’s why you need to wear odor-absorbing apparel.”
The Next Line of Defense
“You need an effective one-two punch,” said Mark Tate, president of Mossy Oak Apparel. “Our base layers are made of a highly-effective moisture-wicking material, treated with an anti-microbial solution that retards bacterial growth,” he said. “Over this goes a carbon-impregnated outer layer.”
Scent-Lok, the pioneer in carbon technology, was first introduced to the hunting world roughly 16 years ago. Scent-Lok outerwear utilizes a layer of activated carbon — the most effective odor-eliminating substance known — fused to the garment’s fabric. The company also makes carbon-lined base layers that contain carbon and anti-microbial treatments for a double whammy. Usually more expensive than standard anti-microbial garments, Scent-Lok BaseSlayers can significantly improve odor control and scent adsorption, and can prolong the time between reactivation of carbon-based garments.
Carbon is porous, and as odor molecules pass through the material, they are trapped in the carbon pores. Eventually, the pores fill and the suit becomes saturated with odor, usually after 40 to 50 hours of continuous use in the field. According to Scent-Lok, you can re-activate it by heating it in your dryer, which breaks the bond between the odor molecules and the carbon, releasing trapped odor molecules through the dryer vent.
By following Scent-Lok’s Six Steps to Success instructions, hunters should be able to enjoy 3-5 years of use. How much and how often you need to wash your suit will depend on how much dirt, grime, blood or sweat is on the garment. It is not necessary to wash Scent-Lok garments unless they are noticeably soiled. Scent-Lok says you can reactivate your suit as often as needed without degrading the scent-control performance.
Keeping yourself clean not only reduces the chance of being detected by deer, it also increases the effectiveness, and the lifespan, of your Scent-Lok suit.
High-Tech Odor Control
The very latest in odor control technology — again from the medical field — are ionization machines. The Moxy Scent Slayer, for example, takes stable oxygen molecules (O2) from the air and generates supercharged molecule bundles ranging as high as O14. These “predatory” molecules are lethal to all forms of bacteria, virus, mold, mildew, fungus and other odor-causing micro-organisms. Put your hunting clothes in a separate airtight bag, hook up the Moxy and in 30 minutes they are virtually odor-free.
Wash and Spray
You need to keep your clothes as clean and odor-free as your body. This means first washing them in an odor-free, non-residual soap like Sport-Wash that kills bacteria and removes dirt, oils and especially organic particles. But caution is advised, as this is where a lot of well-intentioned folks go wrong. According to Vanderpool, “they forget that the previous load was probably washed in regular detergent.” That detergent probably contained perfumes, UV brighteners and other additives. Residual amounts often remain in the washer and could attach to your hunting clothes.
To avoid this, you should wash a couple loads of street clothes with your scent-suppressing soap before washing your hunting clothes. Or, hand-wash your hunting clothes in a tub or wash basin that is never exposed to conventional laundry soap. Apply the same logic to the dryer as well.
Once your clothes are dry, you don’t want to expose them to any foreign odors floating around in the air. Hustle them into an air-tight, scent-free container and leave them there until you’re ready to hunt. It’s preferable to change in the field rather than at your home or camp. Vehicles are full of odors your clothes could absorb. Though it’s a little more work, an even better way is to carry your clean hunting clothes into the woods with you and change at or near your stand. Seal your street clothes up in an air-tight bag and set them aside until you’re done hunting.
However you decide to handle the clothes situation, it’s still possible that your outerwear will pick up foreign odors. Spray yourself down liberally with a deodorizer. Here again, there are several types. “Some are baking soda-based,” said Mike Jordan. “They work by changing the pH, which kills bacteria.” This only works on organics, and these products have a shelf life. “Others,” he said, “like our N-O-DOR, work by oxidation. They turn the odor molecule permanently into a salt.” The third type is carbon-based and works the same way as carbon suits, by physically absorbing odors into the micro-pores.
In addition to anti-microbial treatments and carbon-impregnated fabrics, manufacturers are increasingly incorporating odor suppressing functions into the design of their outerwear garments.
Robinson Outdoors, for example, uses a BodyLock collar, cuffs and waist and an offset scent-proof zipper on their jackets and pants to keep odor from leaking out.
Not Done Yet
Even the most meticulous hunters sometimes overlook one of the more obvious sources of foreign odors: their equipment. I’ll bet most of you don’t bathe in scent killer soap and wear carbon suits when erecting a treestand. And even if you wanted to, you couldn’t put your bow in the washing machine with your carbon suit. Yet these things, and virtually anything and everything else you take into the woods with you, have the potential to alarm deer because they carry foreign odors.
Jeff Stawiarski of Xtreme Scents emphasizes keeping gear clean and odor-free. “I wipe down my bow, arrows, stand, pack — anything I take into the woods,” he said. He recommends using wipes treated with a dual-action solution containing colloidal silver. “Most formulas eliminate scent-causing odors on the molecular level by stopping them from forming gases,” he said. “By using a solution that also contains silver particles, you eliminate both organic (bacterial) and non-organic odors.”
There are even scent controls that strain the limits of credibility. I know some hunters who firmly believe in scent-suppressing toothpaste, chewing gum and mouthwash. I figure if a deer is close enough to smell my breath and I haven’t killed it, there’s a good reason. Then again, they certainly can’t hurt anything; and they might actually work.
No matter what you do, short of sealing yourself in an airtight bubble, you’ll never be totally odor-free. However, you can keep a deer’s smoke alarm from going off if you’re meticulous about reducing scent to the greatest extent possible. This includes everything from your body and clothes to your equipment. Think of your scent-control system as a chain. Combining all the aforementioned steps makes it that much stronger. One weak link in the scent-control chain, however, will render the entire system ineffective.
• Sweat Glands
Human skin has two types of sweat glands. Eccrine glands occur over most of the body and open directly onto the skin’s surface. When your body temperature rises, they secrete perspiration —composed mainly of water, salt and trace amounts of other electrolytes — onto the skin’s surface to balance body fluids and regulate temperature. Apocrine glands, on the other hand, occur in areas of dense hair follicles, such as the scalp, armpits and groin. They secrete a fatty sweat that is consumed by bacteria.
• Selecting Soap
When it comes to soap, serious bowhunters should never use anything but soaps designed specifically for scent suppression. Virtually all of the soaps you can buy at the local supermarket contain non-cleaning additives like moisturizers, perfumes and enzymes. In fact, many state fish and game agencies give out small bars of these soaps to landowners with deer depredation problems because they are such effective deer repellents.
• The Baking Soda Myth
A lot of hunters make up their own home scent remedies that usually consist of baking soda. Baking soda is very effective at absorbing odors when it’s dry. When it gets wet, it works just the opposite, giving off the odors it has absorbed. As long as you remain completely dry, it will absorb body odor. As soon as you begin to perspire however, it’s actually increasing the odor you give off.
• Avoid Anti-microbial Soaps
Anti-microbial soaps represent another option for washing body and hair. They’re specifically designed to kill bacteria. However, some studies show that depositing a low dose of anti-microbial chemicals can actually cause the offending organisms to become stronger and more resistant.
• The Silver Bullet
Medical professionals and the military have long known of the antiseptic characteristics of silver. In fact, some military units stationed in the Middle East are now being issued base layers with bonded-silver fibers. The intent is to reduce bacterial infection of a wound until the person can be properly treated.
This article was published in the July, 2008 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.