Last week I discussed ways to beat two of the whitetail’s keen senses, hearing and sight. This week we attack the most acute, their sense of smell. In order to beat this, hunters must make themselves and their equipment as odor-free as possible, and there are many ways to go about it.

Let’s start with human odor. The source of most human odor is bacteria, more precisely, waste products produced by bacteria. Bacteria thrive in a moist, warm environments and feed on dead skin.

Bathing with scent-free soap washes away bacteria, their odorous byproducts, and the dead skin and other organic debris they feed upon.

This temporarily eliminates the odor source and increases the time it takes for bacteria to regrow to problem concentrations. Pay particular attention to your head, crotch and armpits, the primary areas of human odor.


The type of soap you use is particularly important. Most conventional shampoos and soaps contain noncleaning additives such as moisturizers, perfumes and vitamins. They emit foreign odors, and some even promote bacterial growth. Use an odor-reducing soap specifically designed for hunters.

Eventually, the soap’s active ingredients wear out, you sweat, and bacteria begin to reform.

You can slow this process by applying a scent-suppressing solution or powder directly to your skin.

These work by molecular conversion, oxidizing, bonding with and neutralizing odors. Again, use those designed specifically for hunters.

Baking soda was once considered a household remedy for reducing body odor. It does absorb odors when dry, but it releases them when moist, making it a bad choice for hunters.


We can further reduce odor with the proper base layer.

Most base layers are designed to wick moisture away from the skin. This reduces the moist environment favored by bacteria.

Some base layers are also treated with an anti-microbial solution that destroys bacteria chemically. Others contain silver, which works mechanically rather than chemically, through a process called ionization.

Even at that, you won’t eliminate all odor. Furthermore, your body also emits anaphylactic acids through your pores that soaps don’t affect.

That’s why your next layer should be odor-absorbing apparel. The traditional style is carbon-impregnated fabric. The effectiveness of this technology has recently come into question, but the jury’s still out.

At the very least, wear outer layers with tight collars and cuffs that can trap odor (and heat, which is a plus on cold days).

The very latest in odor-control technology involves an ionization machine. Without getting too technical, it takes stable oxygen molecules from the air and converts them into supercharged ozone molecule bundles, which are lethal to all forms of bacteria, virus, mold, mildew, fungus and other odor-causing micro-organisms.

With one such machine, you put your hunting clothes in an airtight bag, hook up the machine and run it for 30 minutes. With another, you actually take to the field with you and hang it in your tree stand or ground blind.


Getting back to your clothing, you should also wash them in odor-reducing “hunting” soaps.

Then, you should store them someplace where they will not absorb ambient odors. Some type of airtight container is best.

You may even wait until you arrive at your destination before changing into your hunting clothes so you don’t pick up odor along the way, especially if you’re bowhunting.

Before you enter the woods, spray your clothing and gear with a scent-suppressing spray. Most of these work by bonding with odor molecules, effectively converting them to odorless salt crystals. You may even want to take the bottle with you and respray periodically, especially if you’re exerting yourself.


No matter what you use, you cannot eliminate all odor.

However, you can also mask odors using cover scents. Options include animal (fox, raccoon, skunk), vegetable (pine, cedar, apple, acorn, etc.) and mineral (earth).

Animal scents can be effective, especially something as strong as skunk odor, though you may not be too popular at home. Also, they tend to put deer on alert.

Earth scents smell like earth (but so does earth), though some tend to have a chemical odor to them.

Vegetable cover scents can work well, so long as you use an odor that is familiar to the area you hunt. Apple scent in a cedar swamp or sage brush on an oak ridge might not be a good idea.

Incidentally, food scents such as apple and acorn are not only cover scents, but may also act as attractants.

A couple other sources of human odor at least worth mentioning are gas and breath.

You can actually purchase scent-reducing gum for the latter. For the former, the best I can suggest is watching your diet. A plate of beans the night before a big hunt is probably not a good idea.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, Registered Maine Guide and a certified wildlife biologist who provides consultation to private landowners interested in improving wildlife habitat. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]