April 10, 2023
By Brian Strickland
His deep bugle echoed across the canyon like a fast-moving ripple giving up his location. With several days of this cat-and-mouse game already in the books and not much to show for it except sore feet and frustration, it looked as though everything was set up perfectly. The wind was right — at least for now — as was the cover I had to work with to get in close. All I had to do was dodge a dozen or so sets of eyes as they moved to bed for the day and hope my luck would change. So far it was elk five and me zero.
For the next hour or so I trailed the bull as he pushed his girls to bed, only getting a glimpse of his ivory-tipped rack moving through the broken timber. Each time I thought he was out of my life, he would sound off with another bellowing bugle giving me hope that I was still in the game.
Heading to the same patch of timber they had bedded in the previous morning, I made a mad dash to get in front of them. A light crosswind provided the perfect opportunity to slip in. Waiting in the middle of a thick cluster of pinions, I could hear the sound of tumbling rocks cascading down the slope as they eased closer. The lead cow was the first to move through the skinny opening just 23 yards away, and she was followed by a young calf. Although I knew the bull was close, I still couldn’t see him through the heavy brush. However, when he answered a challenge bugle of another bull that was slipping in his direction and began raking his heavy antlers in hear-shot, I froze. I thought I was going to come unglued as he ripped the flesh off the pinion, and when he followed it up with a bugle that I could literally feel, my knees buckled.
I could see the tree shake with each thrash of his head and hear his angry breathing, clearly letting the approaching interloper that he wasn’t happy. Admittedly, I didn’t know what to do. He seemed too close to make a move on, even though he was barely 20 yards away and distracted, and the cows also posed a problem. One move and they would surely alert him to my stalking presence. Calling seemed foolish as well. Something about sending out a challenge bugle to a bull that was already in the mood to fight didn’t seem like the wisest move at the moment. Being prudent, I did what every good bowhunter does when they really don't want to screw something up, I waited on him to make the next move.
It seemed like eons waiting for him to move through the small opening so I could shoot, and just when it was about to come together I realized once again that learning curves can be as steep as the mountains you’re hunting at times. As the capricious mountain breeze hit the back of my neck, the sound of a rutting bull elk was replaced with scampering hooves.
If there is one constant when hunting out west, it would be to realize that nothing is constant, especially the wind. Countless times my plans have been foiled by fickle winds and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you can fool their eyes at times and even their ears, but fooling their nose is a whole other issue. Fact is, fickle winds are just one of the gambles western hunters face, and although playing the wind should be your top concern when getting close to game, having something effective at your six can be that ace in your pocket in a pinch.
Whether you’re hunting the back 40 for whitetails or planning a DIY western excursion, having a solid scent control regiment is always a good idea. Admittedly, that is much easier when you’re staying close to home and have the ability to shower, store your duds in scent-killing containers and be vigilant with every aspect of eliminating your funk. But that’s completely different when you’re miles from camp trying to lose the crowds on some no-name ridge out west. Fact is, it would be nearly impossible in these scenarios, regardless of how many odor-killing wet wipes, soaps, gels and sprays you haul into the backcountry. Sure, those tools do help “reduce” odor-causing bacteria and are good elements to carry if pack space allows it, but that's not always the best option.
However, thinking outside the western bowhunter’s box would have to be Ozonics when it comes to scent management. Truth be told, I was a little late to the Ozone technology game when it launched over a decade ago. I thought it was just another gimmick to get some extra greenbacks from my wallet. But once I witnessed firsthand just how effective it was, I quickly climbed on board. More than once deer clearly got downwind, only to walk through my scent trail with barely a notice. The longer I implemented its effectiveness in the whitetail woods, I realized it had a place in situations where I lived out west as well.
Obviously, using its benefits in treestand situations is the go-to method. But unlike hunting whitetails in middle America when wind direction tends to be more stable, mountain breezes often switch on a dime so being keenly aware of those subtle changes is key. Ideally, you want to set up where the terrain and time of day are most likely to move your scent away from desired shot opportunities, but as the opening example proved, it’s not always that simple. Plus, western game does not always follow the script so having Ozone technology for those subtle and sudden changes can provide those extra few seconds you might need to release an arrow.
Bowhunting black bears and whitetails from a treestand is where Ozonics technology first proved itself out west for me. Whether I was guarding a bait barrel on a spring bear hunt or a travel route during a late-season whitetail hunt in the Pacific Northwest, my Ozonics paid off when the wind shifted. Honestly, it was an easy jump in those situations since I had been utilizing one already. I was also able to incorporate its benefits when hunting a water hole for elk a few years back as well. Although the bull gave me the slip, a handful of his cows did slip in from a direction I wasn’t planning and they never suspected I was there.
Another scenario I’ve had the opportunity to put Ozonics to the test was in a ground blind while chasing pronghorns. Although their eyes and speed are their claim to fame, they also have a pretty good snout, and aren’t afraid to use it. I keenly remember one particular P&Y candidate in my pre-Ozonics seasons that slipped in downwind that quickly put it into high gear the moment he cut my scent trail. Needless to say, when guarding a well-used water hole a lonely buck can come from any direction and often do, so having Ozonics takes away that worry. Generally, winds stay steady in pronghorn country making the setup fool proof.
Lastly would be using Ozonics while on the move. It would seem counterintuitive since we tend to use them in stationary situations, but having the ability to deploy one at a moment's notice is relatively easy, especially if it’s at the top of your pack. Also, with Ozonics’ new Smart Arm Tree Strap, it’s much quicker and quieter to mount, making it ideal for those situations when you’re moving from setup to setup trying to bugle in a bull elk, or setting up on the ground in a high percentage travel route. Admittedly, it takes a little time when bouncing from setup to setup to deploy one, but with opportunities often slim in the elk woods it would certainly be worth the effort if the wind begins to shift.
Although I have never done this, I had a buddy strap a unit to the top of his pack so the Ozone blew over his head. He turned it on while traveling in iffy wind situations, and always flipped the switch when calling in case a bull slipped in downwind, as they often do. I thought it was genius at the time, then a few years later the folks at Ozonics had the same clever idea and developed their Kinetic Pack which took mobility to the next level.
As for weight, which western guys tend to put at the top of their list, the Ozonics HR500 ($599) comes in at just over a pound, and with the extra mounting accessories it's not much over two, so it’s not a heavyweight by any means. With the advancements in battery technology, the unit can operate for up to 10 hours on a single charge. Plus, with today’s portable solar charging technologies, juicing one battery at camp while the other one is in use is an option for longer trips.
As I have incorporated Ozonics in several western hunting trips over the past several years, its benefits certainly have outweighed the extra weight in my pack. Although it’s not an ideal option in every situation, it has offered a scent-killing solution on many adventures.