As hunters, we’re always looking for an easy and more efficient way to harvest deer. How can a hunter overcome a deer’s number-one defense, its nose? The answer is simple — hunt downwind.
I’m sure this is not new to even the most inexperienced hunter. But here’s an idea you’ve likely never thought about: Why not use a deer’s superior sense of smell against it?
Currently, there are over 20 commercial deer repellents on the market. What does this have to do with hunting? Everything! Work with me on this unorthodox hunting tactic.
Commercial deer repellents such as Bobbex (fishmeal, putrefied eggs, blood, and wintergreen oil) and Hinder (soap-based) have proven to be semi-effective in scientific tests.
Ro-Pel (bitter-tasting deterrent), Liquid Fence (putrescent eggs), and Espoma (dried blood) have also worked to repel deer. These repellents are only short-term solutions to a long-running problem of too many deer, or how to keep them away from backyard ornamental shrubs and flowers.
Research has proven that egg-based repellents work better then predator urine, blood-based products, soap, human hair, or hot sauce. Evidently, the sulfurous smell of rotten eggs makes deer think a predator may be in the immediate area.
Although commercial repellents are more effective than homemade mixtures, the common denominator is both must be reapplied on a biweekly basis, or after a rain event.
If you’re too cheap to purchase commercial deer repellents, homemade mixtures can have limited success. An example of a generic, homemade deer repellent includes mixing five eggs, five tablespoons of hot pepper sauce and/or ground cayenne peppers, and six cloves of garlic in a blender, and then adding this concoction to a gallon of water.
Now for the takeaway message: I’d highly suggest using a deer repellent within your hunting area! Before you blow this idea off, think about all your spots where you have to decide on one trail or another.
If the existing habitat won’t let you set up a stand in between trails, or the primary trail is outside your effective shooting range, why not try to block it off with a deer repellent?
For example, in every cornfield there are numerous points where deer enter and exit the field. If you follow these trails away from the cornfield, many will converge and come together.
Hunters can set up a stand next to the cornfield edge and be successful, if a deer travels beneath that stand. But more often than not, deer use a different entry point, or they don’t arrive until it’s too dark.
By setting up a stand away from the cornfield’s edge, or some other major food source, you’ll likely have a better chance at harvesting a deer during legal shooting hours. Additionally, you can help prevent deer from traveling on a secondary trail by spraying a deer repellent on that trail.
For example, whenever a major runway splits into two trails, try spraying deer repellent along one of the trails. The pungent, rotten egg-smelling repellent will help funnel deer toward your “scent-free” deer trail.
If you don’t have an apparent food source, you can also use the topography to your advantage. It’s not unusual for deer to have a primary trail that follows the top of a hill.
Almost always, there’s a secondary trail farther downhill that parallels the top trail. Depending on the wind direction, spraying deer repellent along the top or bottom trail can work like magic in guiding deer toward your treestand.
Another location to use deer repellent effectively is in urban environments. Many times the decision to hunt behind one house or another depends on various factors, some of which may be outside your control.
By spraying deer repellent along one side of a house, you can make your stand selection much easier. Obviously, careful handling of a plastic spray bottle of deer repellent is paramount!
Besides a deer’s keen sense of smell, their hearing is also important. A deer’s independently working ears are at least 2½ times larger than ours. But, can we assume a deer can hear two times better than humans?
Believe it or not, research has shown a deer’s hearing is somewhat similar to a human’s. In fact, humans can hear low to moderate frequencies as well as a deer can. If there are any differences, deer can detect high-frequency sounds slightly better than humans.
What does this mean in the deer woods? Since low-frequency sounds travel farther in the woods than higher frequencies, a hunter with a lower-tone grunt call may be more efficient than one using a high-pitched grunt call. If you have a couple grunt calls (don’t we all?), I’m willing to bet your lower-tone grunt calls are your favorites.
Many times, a hunter will use his grunt call like some kind of orchestra instrument. Although there are times when a grunt can go on for a couple seconds, a buck’s normal tending grunt is only .72 seconds long.
And although the grunt tube instructions say, “A series of three grunts is best,” no single grunt sequence is better than the other. Just like people, some bucks are more vocal than others. There have been times when I grunted for five straight minutes and effectively called-in a buck.
No matter how you use a grunt call, a deer’s ears can tell us whether a deer is going to exit the area, or remain calm. For example, if both ears are cupped toward me, chances are I’ve been busted. At this point I have nothing to lose, so I purposefully use a snort call, and blow it away from the deer.
There have been occasions when deer will circle downwind to investigate what just snorted, and in doing so, presented me with a shot opportunity. On the other hand, if both ears are moving in all directions, chances are you still have time to avoid detection and draw your bow.
Like many hunters, I love to move my stand prior to a rain event. This not only reduces my scent marker, but also keeps deer “uneducated” as to where my treestand is presently located.
If you’ve ever tried hunting a mature doe that regularly busts you, you know exactly what I mean! Moving your stand just a few yards can make a big difference in tipping over a deer — especially mature bucks, and those big, horsehead does.
C.J.’s Summary: There’s simply no way we can comprehend how well a deer can smell. It’s reported deer have over 297 million olfactory scent receptors. When you compare this with humans, who have five million, it’s no wonder deer bust us as often as they do. Do deer repellents have a place within our hunting arsenal? I sure think so! But, there’s still no substitute to smart hunting.
When I was a young man in the 1970s, Bowhunter Magazine quickly became my go-to publication. It’s a testament to the magazine that 45 years later, nothing has changed. The information I’ve gleaned from its pages are a tribute to all the talented writers and columnists who have earned my utmost respect.
As I think back on all the critters that have fallen to my bow, I realize these animals are a reflection of my inner soul and true identity. Because of Bowhunter Magazine, the manifestation of this bowhunter’s pursuit of all things wild still burns as brightly as it did when I was a young man.
Who would have thought that for the past 20 years I would be living out my dream hunts through the pages of Bowhunter? We can all take pride that bowhunters and Bowhunter Magazine are like two old friends that nothing can separate.