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Cover scents

 
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Deer season (bow season) starts in two days. The hunters in our area have been busy clear paths, setting up stands, practicing their shots...

The non-hunters in our neighborhood, myself included, are busy preparing the dinner menu for "Opening Day". We gather after the day's hunt to hear the stories, eat, drink and be merry. The hunters trickle in throughout the evening, some successful, others not and some returning to the gathering to organize tracking parties to search for animals that have managed to run far, usually due to a bad shot. There's excitement in the air.

What's not in the air? The scent of a human. (How's that for a segue?)  As I am also the one who makes the cover scents and deer have a keen sense of smell. Today I have been gathering materials for my concoctions.

I usually make Sasafrass/Grape cover scent. Last year, I started making Sasafrass/Spiceberry as well.

The crushed leaves and broken small twigs of the sasafrass along with fox grapes (I've bought Concord grape juice before in a pinch) are steeped in boiling water (I use creek water). Bring water and all ingredients to a boil, stirring and crushing to extract the juices from leaves and fruits. Leave til cool. I have in the past added a few handfulls of forest floor duff to the mix. I don't have a specific measurement for each ingredient, just gather what you can fit into a large stock pot leaving plenty enough room for the water  Strain mixture and use it liberally on all of your clothing. Put the strained solids in the compost. If pouring the liquid into a spray bottle, allow the mixture to sit and settle well first and don't disturb the sediment on the bottom, as even the very smallest particles can clog up a sprayer.

The Sasafrass/Spiceberry is made the same way, just replace the grapes with spiceberries and use some of the twigs from the spiceberry bush too.

Keep the juice you are using in the refrigerator. Freeze the rest. These juices freeze very well and retain their amazing smell for years. My work today gathering my supplies was minimal due to the fact that in 2014 I made a couple of huge batches of cover scents and I still have lots in the freezer. Today I just gathered sasafrass leaves and sticks.

I hang the hunting clothes in the sunshine for a day or two prior to opening day. It's amazing how fresh the sun can make clothes smell. The bag used to store the hunters clothes during the hunting season, I add crushed sasafrass leaves to the bag with the clothes and tie it up. I add a larger stick from the sasafrass bush to the bow case after roughing up the bark with a saw to expose more surface area and increase its smell.
 
pollinator
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Hi Karen,

Here's my formula for de-scenting:  I wash all my hunting cloths in a no-scent detergent and hang dry in a tree for a week. Then I hang them in a shed and use an ozone machine on them for one hour.  I then turn them inside out and spritz with my homemade scent killer (you can find the recipe on the internet, basically a little peroxide, detergent, water and baking soda.) and drop them two articles at a time in a tub with activated charcoal powder, take them out and hang them.  On the days I hunt, I shower with a scent killer shampoo and scrub every surface, I put the base layer or long johns on first and then the camo's. The charcoal powder gets everywhere and when I'm through I look like I've done a 12 hour shift in a coal mine, but since I've started this regimen, I get unbelievably close to deer.  I still hunt down wind, but even the ones that sneak up on my down side don't seem to notice me.  

I used to make a cedar cover scent, but for me, the no scent at all seems to trump the cover scent.  Although I do miss the fresh cedar smell.
 
pollinator
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I'm sure there's all kinds of research available online (deer hunting is big business), but how well does a cover scent even work?  A whitetail's greatest asset is its nose, which I believe is remarkably able to parse out different smells, so that even if one were doused in a "cover scent" the deer could still pick it apart and smell the human underneath.  Right?

Sometimes I'll break off cedar twigs while hunting, but really I think I'm just humoring myself.  That, and it smells good.

It's mostly all a mental exercise for me, anyway, as I don't bow hunt (yet), so distance is less of an issue, and there is basically only one spot in my woodlot where I can reasonably hunt from.

On a side note, I was walking through my woods yesterday, with my dog, moving a game camera.  I saw one deer get up and move off from about 20 yards away.  Then I spotted a squirrel, and told my dog to stay, and heard the deer move away a little further--apparently it was spooked just enough to move, but wasn't too concerned with us yet.  I took a shot at the squirrel with my .22 (I was doing double duty, moving the game cam and small game hunting), missed, then proceeded to trudge through the brush after it, talking rather loudly to my dog to keep her from chasing it off.  Then up bounds a young 4-point buck from probably 20 yards away, runs in front of me from my left to my right, stops for a few seconds, then decides he's not quite comfortable and runs deeper into the woods, though never exactly fleeing.  Sometimes you can get perfectly close to deer doing everything wrong!
 
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I never used cover scent and my very first deer I didn't get a clean shot and it ran a long ways. I had to go fetch it. Dad helped me dress it and we quartered it so I could pack it out (5 pieces actually). Yes, he literally watched me drag my deer out. Our rules... Warden wasn't the happiest when we made it to the truck and though my tag was properly attached... Gimme a break, I was 14 and about 5' and weighed about 105# fully dressed soaking wet. I can tell you I sure smelled when I got done though, but nothing a buck wanted to be near. I do remember washing clothes in borax only and hanging them outside for about a week to air, though. And a very long rinse with no soap in the basement shower rig (we won't go there, this was very primitive) for the humans.

I do hunter blessings. I made a chausible and stole of Mossy Oak, and a few have given me a light ribbing over it. Um I'll be glad to give you the pattern and you buy the fabric and make me one in whatever pattern you think I should be wearing. The garb isn't cheap even if you make your own. Some suggested I should dose the stuff with the scent stuff from a bottle. Nope. I have to keep those things in the closet, no thank you.

Thank you for the recipe, Karen D. I will pass it to a few I know here.
 
pollinator
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I have tried masking, but honestly it is nearly impossible in this heat, I stink by the time I get set up. One thing I do is spread scent all over the place (like walk all over the area after every rain) so there is some scent randomly dispersed. Some people will leave nasty socks in the woods, I haven't tried that yet but may this year.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Marcus, scent-free is also a fine option. It's incredible how "clean" some people smell when they go hunting. I think maybe they have gotten used to the smell of scented soaps and detergents, to the point that they no longer detect it themselves.

As a scent-free idea, I was wondering if lactobacillus serum (recipe here) could eliminate scent enough to use as a spray on clothing. I have a large supply of the serum and I use it as an order eliminator in the house. Works great  on dog odors. What would the deer smell if sprayed on hunting clothes?

Wes, a deers nose is very keen. It can get him in lots of trouble at times. There are some scents that will cause a deer to be curious enough to come closer. If you pee in the leaves or sometimes just scratch in the leaves, a deer will come investigate. Leave a deer on the ground to go get a helper to drag it and you're likely to see another deer has come in to check it out when you return.

As I write this, I see TJ has mentioned something along those lines. (I type slooow.) Thanks Tj.

Deb, we call being in the woods " going to church". A hunters prayer is appropriate and appreciated.

And, boy are camouflage clothes and material expensive.
 
Deb Rebel
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I bless for safe travails and returning to their loved ones. A cluster of 4x4's, ATV's, dogs, men and weaponry (unloaded THANK YOU). One of the ministers here got on my case and I explain I bless for the people and related to be safe and come home. Oh.

What blew me away as a teenager was finding that they sold (EXPENSIVE) rolls of camouflage toilet paper. Men got shot when wiping in the bush and someone mistook the swipe of white TP as a buck's tail flip and fired. It also blows me that deer can't see hunter orange. I guess if you're going to use the bush you better be in a lot of hunter orange.

I've heard that from others that have set up an area and blind, that they will go out there and meander and spread their scent on purpose but not wee near there. Unless you're a veggie your urine can carry a tinge of 'predator' which they don't like. The UNGLORIOUS needing a 5 gallon pail with a tight lid if you're not a he, so you don't smell up the place... female anatomy is a bit harder to accommodate in the field (though I had the rule if anyone else used my bucket (that means you fellers) THEY got to carry it back out). Last couple years I went out we had a blind so yes, I got used to dealing.

Karen, do you have sassafrass in the local flora? Here it might spook things as I don't think we have any.
 
Tj Jefferson
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 I was wondering if lactobacillus serum (recipe here) could eliminate scent enough to use as a spray on clothing.



You are right about scent association. I have tried using urine from us and the dog to try to dissaude them from certain areas, but it hasnt worked.  I think they don't associate it with predator of them, they bank it away as predator I don't have to worry about. So, there may be a role in fermentative smells as a distractor. I am out in the same woods when there is no hunting going on, so I am hoping they see me as just a background smell they encounter sometimes. I have a friend that puts down DEET in areas to funnel them toward him, they seem to associate that with other hunters! He wears no DEET himself. Not recommending just saying there are ways of using their smell against them... Dirty sock funnel play maybe.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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We have lots of sasafrass here. I would only select strong scented plants that the deer are used to smelling as candidates for cover scents.

Deer are funny animals, ones that I may not figure out in this life. I had one follow my dog almost up to our porch and another time when our dog followed a deer across the yard to an apple tree. The deer would stand on its hind legs getting apples and just glance at my dog only 5-6 yards away. Not scared at all.
 
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So a bow hunter covers up the scent, wears camouflage ... so what does the hunter do to keep the deer from hearing the crush of a dry leaf?  
 
Wes Hunter
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Anne Miller wrote:So a bow hunter covers up the scent, wears camouflage ... so what does the hunter do to keep the deer from hearing the crush of a dry leaf?  



Things make sounds in the woods all the time, so a crunching leaf means nothing in and of itself.  The giveaway is pattern--woods critters don't just walk through crunching leaves like (careless) humans do.  And don't step on sticks.  Snapping twigs isn't a normal woods sound, so it can easily raise alarm.

In my aforementioned story of a couple days ago, I was able to get within about 20 yards of two different deer without them knowing what I was.  They knew I was there, but they weren't spooked.  Leaves were crunching, and I was walking through brush, but I guess I was walking slowly enough to not raise alarm.  Heck, even the report from a .22 wasn't enough to cause immediate alarm.

As for the price of camouflage clothing, the stuff just seems like a racket to me.  People used to hunt quite successfully without a stitch of camouflage on.  I do.  My hunting outfits consist of earth tones, stuff I already wear anyway, and the requisite blaze orange hat and vest.  It's probably a little different, since I'm rifle hunting and thus don't need to get too close, but even so I've been plenty close.  Maybe camo is important if you're only interested in putting a B&C buck on the ground, but it's overkill (pun intended?) if your goal is venison.

Another story (because I like this stuff).  Last year, toward the end of season, I had a little button buck in my sights about 15 yards away.  Not having seen anything else to that point, I decided to take him.  Pulled the trigger, and he ran off.  I followed in the general direction, and saw ahead of me about 20-25 yards a deer moving around the back side of a large oak.  I thought, "Did I put that bad of a shot on him, that he's still running around?"  Then the deer moved a bit more and I saw it had antlers.  It walked behind a small cedar tree, I dropped to my knee, and when he came around the other side he was facing right at me, and I put a bullet through his chest.

I followed him, found him right away, and drug him to a convenient spot.  Then I went back to where I was when I shot the first deer, noted exactly where he was when I pulled the trigger, walked over there, found the blood trail, and followed it.  Turns out that first deer had run and had dropped more or less at the feet of the second deer, which prompted him to become curious and led to his demise as well.

Interestingly, I found a bullet in the second deer while field dressing him.  At first I thought it was mine, until I got him skinned and found the exit hole from my shot.  I'm guessing he got gut shot the year before, doing no major damage, and the shot was from far enough away that the bullet lacked the energy to exit, so it settled in his belly and was eventually worked out to rest between the skin and the fascia/musculature.
 
Marcus Billings
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Anne Miller wrote:So a bow hunter covers up the scent, wears camouflage ... so what does the hunter do to keep the deer from hearing the crush of a dry leaf?  


Hi Anne,

Most whitetail bow hunters in the US hunt from an elevated tree stand, so the crunching isn't as much of a factor.  The placement of the stand and incorporating it into the treeline is an art unto itself, but once you get into it, leaf crunching is what the "hunter" listens for, it means a deer may potentially be on the way.

Stalking is when you walk slowly through the woods looking for a deer.  Either method can be difficult when hunting with a bow because of the limited range, hence the need to be as scentless as possible and in some cases use cover scents.  Tree stands are nice because they can give you a little room for error when it comes to our smell.  By being high in the tree, your scent trail generally drifts farther from your position before reaching the ground where a deer could potentially smell you.  It also helps to have a good idea of the path the deer will take as they move through the area.  That way, you can set your stand up in an area that is down wind.
 
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