Homemade masking scents work well for deer hunters

KEITH SUTTON Contributing Writer Published December 25, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
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— Since man first started hunting deer centuries ago, he has asked himself, “How can I defeat the deer’s keen sense of smell?”

To do so, he developed masking scents that obscure human odors and make it less likely that the quarry will flee before the hunter can shoot.

A wide variety of excellent commercial scent products are available today, but enterprising deer hunters also might want to try lesser-known masking scents free for the taking or easy to make at home. Some simple, yet effective, methods have been around for generations. Arkansas whitetail enthusiasts should find these methods very beneficial.

For example, hunters have long used pine needles to conceal human odors. Pick a handful of fresh needles from a live pine tree, break and rub them between your palms, and then wipe the juice on your hunting clothes. Leaves from cedar trees and other evergreens also work, but hunters should always use types found in the area where they will hunt.

One experienced Arkansas whitetail hunter with whom I hunted decades ago went a step further in his use of pine as a masking scent. He would stuff a jar with fresh needles, add denatured alcohol to cover and then seal the jar and allow the needles to steep several weeks.When the resulting concoction was applied to skin or clothing, the veteran deer man said, the alcohol would quickly evaporate, leaving only the pungent smell of pine. I can’t testify to the effectiveness of his home-brewed scent, but the woodsman used it every time he hunted deer and killed many trophy bucks.

Another masking scent long-used in piney-woods country is turpentine, a pure product distilled from pine resin. Turpentine oil or essence, available from some aromatherapy companies, can also be used. Just a few drops on your boots, pants and other clothing should do the job. Be careful not to use too much, though. Turpentine has a strong odor, and overuse could make deer cautious.

A medicinal plant called rabbit tobacco (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) was used by early Arkansas settlers and Native Americans as early as the 18th century. A handful of the plant’s aromatic leaves and flowers was gathered, crushed and wadded into a tight ball placed in clothing or beneath a hat band. Rabbit tobacco grows from Manitoba to Nova Scotia and south to Texas and Florida, including in proper habitat throughout Arkansas. Deer within the rabbit tobacco’s range are accustomed to its sweet, fragrant smell. Look for the plant in dry, open areas such as old fields, logging roads and abandoned home sites. The plant stands 1 to 3 feet high and has narrow leaves that are dark green on top and silvery-gray beneath. Rabbit tobacco also goes by the names sweet balsam, cudweed, featherweed, sweet everlasting and poverty weed.

When hunting areas where apple trees are common, some hunters mask scent by cutting an apple in half and rubbing the juicy side on their clothing. Another method is spritzing your clothes and the area around your stand with a squirt bottle full of apple cider.

Using plants and plant products isn’t the only way to mask scent. In years past, Arkansas hunters often smoked their clothes and equipment over campfires to destroy human odor. When hunting around cattle farms, some hunters impart the familiar scent of livestock to clothing by hanging their garments in a barn overnight.

Many hunters use deer urine as well. It’s not only an excellent masking scent, but a good lure to use during the rut, especially when hunting scrapes. A supply is easily obtained by removing a deer’s bladder when field-dressing the animal, being careful not to spill the contents on the meat, and emptying the urine into a freezer bag or jar. The urine stores well in a freezer between hunting trips, but be sure to mark the container clearly so the contents won’t be mistaken for soup stock!

To cover your scent when walking to your stand or stalking, put some urine in an empty medicine bottle that has a squeeze applicator and squeeze a few drops on your boots and pants bottoms. This will do an excellent job of covering your scent when you’re moving through the woods.

Remember, no matter how effective your masking scent may be, you still must hunt with the wind in your favor. Even the best cover scent won’t hide all human odors.

Also, understand that masking scents are an aid to hunting success, not a shortcut. You still must use other skills and proven techniques.

Nevertheless, using masking scents will help you operate in a deer’s territory while reducing the chance that its radar-like nose will detect you. And when pitting ourselves against animals whose senses are much keener than ours, we need every bit of help we can get.

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