George Little: A deer's nose knows

George Little

It’s been said that the average deer hunter will never see a 140-inch buck in his or her hunting lifetime, let alone hang one over the fireplace.

There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is the woods are not full of them. Besides that, they can hear and see us, even when we think we’re being still –– and, most of all, they can smell us.

It’s been estimated that a deer’s sense of smell is 100 times greater than ours and nearly 1 1/3 times as sensitive as a dog’s. Tests indicate that deer can pick up human scent 10 days after someone has been in the area. Even the unseemly odors in the deer-cabin loft don’t hang around with the windows open.

According to, deer can smell approaching danger from several hundred yards away — long before they see or hear you. If you don’t believe hunting with your face into the wind makes a difference, think again.

There is a dizzying array of deer hunting products developed to block human scent, mask it or cover it up with a stronger scent. The goal is to keep Mr. Big from picking us out of the olfactory stimuli he receives every minute of every day. Many of those products work to some degree. Some manufacturers claim that if you follow their scent-elimination program to the letter, you can eliminate your scent entirely.

Cover scents, mixtures designed to cover up the human scent with a stronger scent, have gained popularity. Using some of his hunting buddies and setting up a complicated trial, Scott Bestul of Field & Stream magazine tested some of these products using a police dog to see how fast the dog could find someone wearing a cover scent.

Ike the K-9 cop found the person using no scent at all in six seconds. It took him a longer to find the person using the Pine and Earth cover scent. Ike nailed this person, who “smelled like a conifer forest,” in 25 seconds.

The two most effective cover scents, in terms of the amount of time it took Ike to find the person wearing them, were Acorn and Skunk. In each case, it took Ike just 45 seconds to find the “hunter” whose scent was supposedly hidden under those cover-ups.

This of course begs the question: How much do you really want a big deer? If you’ve ever been sprayed by a skunk — or worse yet, had one unload on your bird dog and then had to ride all the way home with your pungent pal in the back seat — the answer might be, “Not bad enough.”

Think about it this way. Is it worth it to have that skunky ambience following you around for several days when Mr. Big is going to figure it out in about 30 seconds anyway and hightail it in the other direction?

George Little can be reached at