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The importance of scent in hunting of big game animals can never be understated.  Bears have an almost mystical power of smell and is one of the reasons why baiting bears is so incredibly effective.  As of this writing, Washington State still does not allow baiting for bears.  Deer can be bedded a mile away and if the wind is right, they will bolt away from the smell of a human or other scent which alerts them to danger.  In the same vein, if the wind is right, deer can almost walk on top of a hunter if they do not smell them.  Deer, Bear, and Elk all heavily rely on their sense of smell to keep them from danger, arguably scent is their strongest sense.  This page is dedicated to the importance and information needed for the big game hunter in consideration of scent in hunting.



  • The number one way to hunt animals successfully is to never let them smell you.  Period.

  • Deer, Bear, and Elk typically feed into the wind. When you spot them, it is a fair bet that they are facing in the direction of the wind.

  • When hunting hilly draws and mountainous regions…  Thermal winds typically rise in the morning and fall in the evening. Big game usually bed high during the day so that they can catch scents coming uphill where most predators come from, by moving down hill in the evening they move into thermal winds that are still rising. Game animals often bed in low areas during the night where they catch any falling scent with the thermal wind change. When they move uphill in to their beds in the morning, the animals move into wind thermals that are still falling. When you are scouting and observing, and see trails, tracks, droppings, rubs, scrapes and beds in certain areas, and understand how the animals react to thermal currents, you are better able to use this information to locate animals. 

  • Rainy weather usually helps mute smells in the woods.  In addition, snow is a great advantage in keeping smells contained.

  • Windy weather will play havoc on a deer’s sense of smell.  Really windy weather makes deer and elk nervous.  Look for them in more open areas as they will switch to relying more on their eyesight than their sense of smell.

  • Burning tobacco products are generally a good sign to a deer that humans are in the vicinity.  If you need nicotine, turn to use a patch to get your fix.  Burning material in the woods is generally a bad idea, anyway.

  • Wear boots that have a full rubber or vibram sole.  Tennis shoes and porous footwear tend to leave more scent in areas that you walk in.

  • When approaching an area you are going to hunt or where you have a tree stand, stay off of the game trails and the travel corridors into the area.  Come in to the area through the thickets or through an area that game do not travel. 

  • Gather some vegetation from the area you plan to hunt. Store all of your hunting clothes in garbage bags with the vegetation. Even your underwear, pack, etc. This is the best scent mask I have found. (tip: courtesy Jeff D)

  • Travel through the woods like you are being chased by blood hounds and that your scent trail should not be followed.  Rocky areas do not hold scents, stream beds wash away scent, high grasses and bushes hold scents.

  • Don't use chewing tobacco, every spit broadcasts your presence for hundreds of yards around.

  • Store your portable treestand in the offseason with cut boughs from branches from trees in your hunting area.  This is a sure way to mask any scents you might pick up from the storage area.  (courtesy Tim T, Yakima)

  • Try to keep your sweating down to a minimum.  Layer your clothes and add and remove the layers dependent on how cold or warm you are.  Polypropylene makes for great backpacking clothes, but, once you get body odor (sweat, oil, you name it) the polypro now becomes a huge human scent bag.  Try  smartwool, or any other new fabric which repels your sweat. (courtesy R Johnson)

  • Strip down completely prior to each hunt and wipe yourself down with unscented baby wipes (cheap Wal-Mart brand will do) to remove human odor.  Then dress in hunting garb and spray each layer with your favorite cover scent. (Anonymous)

  • You can purchase very expensive scent masking clothes.  If you decide to use these items, ensure to follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter. Otherwise, the money you put into these devices will be wasted.

  • If hunting from a stand, take along a urine bottle.  Peeing off your stand will broadcast your scent for miles in every direction. The same thing applies to human feces.  If nature calls, leave your stand and find an area well away from the area you intend to actively hunt.  Dig a big hole.  Do your business.  Fill in the hole completely.  Then cover the mound with rocks, logs, bark, hubris etc. 


 Cover/Masking scents: 

  • The cheapest and quickest way to help mask your scent is to get in the habit of continually rubbing the leaves and plants in your hunting area against your clothes.  Continually reach over, pluck some leaves grind them into your boots, pants, shirt, and hat.  Pine, Cedar, Fir, and Sage give off a very pungent odor which will help mute your own scent.

  • Wash your clothes separate from your household clothes in commercially available scent elimination soap, baking soda, or other “soup”.  Store your hunting clothes in a bag or plastic tub away from everyday items.  Place cedar shavings, pine needles, sage cuttings, and the like in with the clothes to soak up those smells.

  • Make scent “soup” by making a soup of tree needles, sage leaves, or of whatever pungent plant material that will be in your hunting area.  Fill a pot with the material and let it cook and reduce in volume, the more it evaporates, the stronger your soup will be.  Strain off the plant material and pour the remaining soup into a bottle and spray on your clothes.

  • When coming across fresh deer or elk droppings, get in the habit of rubbing the droppings into the tops of your boots.  If you see fresh scrapes or fresh urine marks, rub the soaked dirt into your pants.  The smell may be a bit strong, but, this is a very effective way to smell like a local deer.

  • When hunting in cattle country, do not be afraid to smell like a cow using the same advice as denoted above.  The animals in the area are used to the smells and usually will not spook to those smells.

  • Commercially available scents of other animals and things (Fox, Skunk, Raccoon, Dirt, Cedar, Apple, etc) are very convenient ways to smell like something other than a human.

  • Purchase scent elimination soap, deodorant, and spray.  Most hygiene products are packed with smells that are not conducive to productive hunting.

  • Camp fire smoke can be a great way to mask your own smell if camp fires or forest fires have been common in the area.  Smoke saturates clothing and easily masks your scent. 

  • Fill a cloth bag with foliage and plants from the area you are going to hunt.  Wet the bag and throw it in the clothes dryer with your hunting clothes.  Great way to get the smell to "bake" into your clothes.  Just don't tell your spouse what you did though!

  • When hunting in apple country, slice a bunch of apples into your clothes bag to have the apple smell permeate your hunting clothes. (courtesy rokdog13)




  • At this time, it is illegal in Washington State to use any attractant when pursuing bears.

  • Estrus urine products are sold under the belief that the urine of estrus does and cows have a particular scent when they are in heat.  Little evidence shows that the actual urine of the female is any different  during estrus or non estrus.  The estrus scents usually come from vaginal secretions or glands located on the legs and feet.  Females will typically urinate on these glands to make them more pungent.  This, accompanied by the vaginal secretions, will signal a buck that the female is in heat.   Use the tarsal glands from a previous year’s doe/cow and spread the commercially available urine on the harvested glands to make for a very effective doe/cow in heat smell.

  • When harvesting your deer or elk, bring along a syringe and a sealable bottle or baggie.  Before removing the bladder, extract the urine first and place in the container for next year’s hunt.

  • Remove the tarsal glands of the previous year’s animal (male or female) and freeze them.  Pull it out for the next year’s hunt.  You can attach them to your pack, clothes or whatever.  The glands are a great way to smell like another animal.


Far fetched, but, interesting ideas regarding scents

  • Some people have suggested using Vanilla as an attractant scent.  Further field tests are necessary…

  • Washing or soaking clothes in a heavy brine (salt) solution has been suggested as a number of animals can smell and are attracted to salts in the air.  Further field tests are necessary.

  • Some hunters stop eating meat during the hunting season as they believe that if they do eat meat during the season their odor becomes one like a predator and can easily spook game animals.




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