Most whitetail hunters recognize that the single greatest obstacle in whitetail hunting is fooling a deer’s nose.
Like many, I rely heavily on the wind direction and well-planned entry and exit routes to try and not spook deer. However, this is not foolproof. The terrain in Georgia is highly conducive to swirling wind, and deer are often unpredictable and come from directions that hunters don’t expect. Furthermore, I’ve seen deer pick up on human scent even when it seemed like every condition was working in my favor.
Many hunters rely on lengthy systems and expensive products to give them an extra edge, and in my experience this effort is effective to an extent.
However, there is a cheap, easy method that I, and others, have found to work at least as well in keeping deer from detecting human scent—using smoke from a fire to “treat” your clothes and body.
The use of smoke to cover or eliminate human scent is by no means a new technique. In fact, it is one of the oldest. Native Americans were known to stand around fires and even rub ashes on themselves in an effort to go undetected by their quarry. Although prehistoric, this method of using smoke from a fire to mask human scent is all but outdated.
Each year, more and more hunters are using smoke as a means of reducing the likelihood of deer being alerted by their scent.
Smoke releases several chemicals that have anti-bacterial and anti-microbial effects, namely phenol and lignin.
According to the manufacturer of a popular scent smoking product, lignin is the sticky substance that causes smoke to stick to skin, clothes and hair. The phenol contained in lignin kills odor-causing bacteria and other microbes.
Additionally, another advantage of using smoke to mask human scent is that smoke can penetrate clothes and literally coat every square inch of a hunter, which is much more difficult and costly with a typical field spray.
The act of “smoking oneself” is fairly simple. I take leaves and twigs and use them to light a beehive smoker (just like what beekeepers use). Sometimes a piece of paper is required to get the fire started if leaves are slightly damp. I then spend 5 to 10 minutes thoroughly coating my hair, equipment and clothes with smoke. I put the beehive smoker inside of my clothes and blow smoke out until it seeps from every opening. Obviously, you will come out smelling like a campfire, but I have yet to see a deer have a negative reaction to this.
Personally, I have witnessed plenty of instances that seemed to reinforce the validity of this method of scent control. Throughout years of using every scent control product in the book, I had very few deer cross my entry path in a wooded area without picking up on my ground scent. However, I’ve had several deer cross my entry route since I began smoking myself that didn’t pick up on it.
The year before last, in a very calm wind, I was hunting roughly 10 feet off of the ground due to limited tree availability. Around 10 a.m. a nice Georgia 9-point moseyed in close to my entry route and stayed within 20 yards sucking up acorns for more than 20 minutes before I arrowed him at 10 yards.
I wholeheartedly believe that this buck would have picked up on my scent had I not smoked myself. He was very near the trail I walked in on, and the wind was calm enough that it shouldn’t have done much for carrying my scent. However, this buck spent 20 minutes right below me without even the slightest hint that he detected me.
The effectiveness of smoke is not limited to my experiences. Many other Georgia hunters have had success with this method of scent control. Perhaps most notably is Georgia hunting legend Curtis Singleton. I was introduced to this scent-control method by witnessing his spectacular 2015 deer season while using this method. Curtis was hunting from the ground when he killed a 147-inch Georgia 10-point that was following two does that crossed downwind of him 20 yards away without spooking. He then went on to arrow a giant Kansas 8-point that was 5 yards downwind of him while he was 12 feet up a tree. Even more notably, the four other guys that accompanied him all killed great bucks while using smoke as their primary scent control method.
Although I personally wouldn’t advise hunting with deer downwind of you, I believe that smoking oneself is very advantageous as a supplemental scent control system. Personally, I have found it to work slightly better than the “industry approach,” with several distinct advantages. It is cold-weather friendly, meaning that it is not necessary to get wet like you would if you took a scent-free shower or sprayed down. It is very cost efficient; a beehive smoker can be bought online for around $15 and will last no telling how long. Also, it is adaptable to more situations. A lease I had last year required primitive camping without running water, so I used smoke to aid in my scent control, since I had to go a couple days at a time without showering.
In conclusion, I have found that using smoke for scent control is a viable method that is at the very least competitive in terms of effectiveness with a thorough scent control system, such as using scent-free soap, clothing, deodorants, sprays, etc.
Personally, I’d still advise watching the wind, but smoking oneself is a great back-up plan. It is cheap, easy, effective and adaptable. Give it a try this deer season.