Scent Control to See More Wildlife

There aren’t many wild critters in New Hampshire that I haven’t seen multiple times. That’s not unusual for a hunter who spends a lot of time sitting quietly in the woods. And viewing wildlife close up is one of the things I really enjoy about hunting. I also see a lot of wildlife while hiking or scouting because I do these activities like a hunter. I control my scent.

No, I don’t mean I take a bath before a hike. What I do is plan a hike where I’m walking into the wind, or cross wind, not with the wind. That’s a basic of scent control. I know there are animals out there lying around in the daytime that put their back to the wind and their eyes downwind. Those senses are super sharp in most wild animals and it makes them hard to sneak up on. Walk with the wind and you’ll seldom see them. Walk into the wind and you’re much more likely to spot some.

Sometimes I do this unintentionally. I once walked up to a napping black bear this way. I was scouting for turkeys. It was close to noontime when the hunt is over for the day, so I left the shotgun locked in the truck and took my turkey call for a walk, yelping along the way, hoping to elicit a gobble or two as I planned the next day’s hunt. I wasn’t paying attention to the wind because turkeys, while they have extremely sharp senses of sight and hearing, don’t smell danger the way most other wildlife does.

That black bear got to its feet only a couple yards away. It was on the other side of a stone wall. We were both surprised. The bear looked at me as if to say: “hey, you’re not a turkey.” And then it ran off. The experience made me stop and consider how that close encounter had happened. I had been walking into the breeze. The bear had been napping on the other side of that wall, so it hadn’t seen me until it stood. And I was doing my best to sound like a hen turkey. Of those three factors, the wind direction was the most important. If that bear had caught my scent, I never would have seen it.

Not every wild animal runs away when it smells a person. Often, they simply freeze in place. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen a deer or hare close by, simply standing or lying still, watching me, letting me just walk by. It isn’t until I stop and look back that they decide to vamoose. Those same animals are much more likely to move and give themselves away if they’re unaware of your presence.

Checking wind direction isn’t always a breeze, so to speak. Often the wind isn’t strong enough to point the leaves in the right direction. Those wind currents can be subtle and thermals move scent uphill as the day warms and downhill as things cool. Sometimes those currents are so slight the old ‘wet your finger and hold it up to feel which side cools’ method just doesn’t work. Hunters employ a couple methods to check which way the wind blows. One is to use a small store bought or homemade squeeze bottle of scentless powder. Give it a squeeze and watch where the powder drifts. A more natural method is to collect and save a few dried milkweed pods when they’re at the point of bursting. Set one or two of those little parachute seeds loose and see which way they go. A ripe dandelion blossom will also do the trick.

Damp, drizzly days are great days to see wildlife for a couple reasons. Animals feel secure in those conditions because they don’t usually see people out and about. And scent doesn’t carry far in those conditions.

A lot of times a hike takes you there and back on the same trail. It’s less likely you’ll see wildlife on the return trip because you’ve shed your fresh scent along the way beforehand. One way to overcome this is the choice of footwear. Rubber (waterproof)) boots retain scent, sneakers spread it. There are also products that will eliminate or obscure your scent.

Many hunters use cover scents. This can be as simple as mashing an apple underfoot. Or you can purchase cover scents like fox urine or eau de skunk at the sporting goods store. Not everyone wants to smell like fox urine, so there are also spray-on products like Scent-Killer and Dead Downwind that just eliminate scent.

Of course that doesn’t work well if you wash your outdoor clothes in lemon-scented detergent. Another trick some hunters use is washing their outdoor cloths in scent-free detergent and storing them in a plastic bag with a few sprigs of hemlock.

However, you decide to go about it, controlling your scent will let you see more wildlife.