Scent - human or not?

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Sam Ubl
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Scent - human or not?

Unread postby Sam Ubl » Sat Mar 13, 2010 4:28 am

I think about this all the time, so let's debate.

A deer smells a foreign scent, but how can he relate it to human unless he recognizes the framiliar scent to a past memory of visually seeing the human that produced the scent? Under this circumstance, one would have to assume this was a negative meeting between deer and human, right? What about a hiker who passes by a deer that has seen humans many times in "the park - assume this is a non-hunting park?

If I wore a cologne in the woods while hunting, how would the deer know it was coming from a person? Most likely it wouldn't recognize it as a "person", rather an unframiliar odor that it "knows" to stay away from. . . But there are many animals in the woods that deer do not shy away from and they all have an odor. . . What is it about humans presence OR odor that steers deer clear?

Understandably, deer are weary prey in that they are always aware of their surroundings and fearing for their safety, thus unframiliar smells may be a beacon signal saying, "GTFO of Dodge", but I have to wonder, what is about a common smell to deer in a park like setting, where human scent is always in the air?? Why then, if I were to sneak into the parkway in the dark of morning and a deer were to cross my scent stream downwind, would it become alert and flee the scene? These deer are not pressured by "anyone", except rare poachers.

I hunt by a cow pasture, deer walk its fence line daily - should I step in cow #@!* and rub my clothes on a cow before entering the woods? Would that work? Why or why not?

Let's talk...


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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby nilefritz » Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:21 am

Good topic Sam...I'd like people's thoughts on what makes a deer bolt from so called Human Scent, yet come IN to other scents like Anise and Vanilla. What makes them curiosity scents and the others alarming, and yet other scents that deer don't even react to?

I know they aren't spooked by every unfamiliar scent...or they'd be running constantly!!!
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby huntinnurse » Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:49 am

I have heard it said that humans as meat eaters(as well as all other meat eating predators) have a smell that "reads" predator to deer and other prey, like hogs,squireels and even other meat eating predators like coyotes, and that is the smell that alarms them. However, in a park-like setting, urban and other no-hunting areas, there are human odors around and we all know they are not all vegetarians. I think that deer associate the human odor (meat eaters, and other meat eating predators) in their setting(the deer woods) as a danger, but quickly learn or are taught by momma that those same scents in non hunting areas are not as dangerous.
I know alot of people that roll in leaves, grass and dirt from their hunting area, so I would suppose the "cow pie rub" could work well, too. Let us know if you do it and how it worked.
Other thoughts in this matter? Very interesting.
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby MOBIGBUCKS » Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:59 am

nilefritz wrote:Good topic Sam...I'd like people's thoughts on what makes a deer bolt from so called Human Scent, yet come IN to other scents like Anise and Vanilla. What makes them curiosity scents and the others alarming, and yet other scents that deer don't even react to?

I know they aren't spooked by every unfamiliar scent...or they'd be running constantly!!!


I think the Anise and Vanilla appeal to the hunger side of the deer; This is probably why they are more curious than alarmed. I think any foreign smell outside of food based, they treat with extreme caution.

A side topic...People are now "smoking" there clothes to reduce human scent and smell like burning wood smoke. The smoke is known to contain lignin which kills bacteria on contact and also has residual antibacterial effects. However, once a deer in that area starts correlating wood smoke scent with human danger it will be a total different ballgame. Personally, I try to stay scent free but don't go over board because it really is impossible to eliminate all human scent outside of living in a bubble..LOL It really is hard to tell why some scents spook deer but it probably has to do more with how an individual deer reacts; I think they all react differently.
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby Hodag Hunter » Sat Mar 13, 2010 6:06 am

I have heard about the "meat eating predator human stink" don't know if it's true or not.

Believe it or not one of my brothers is a vegatarian, almost like tree hugger status, well I've been trying to get him hunting again just to see if deer react differant to his scent or not. He's been a non meat eater for about 10 years.

By the way, during Christmas at the folks, bro doesn't like it it when I bring out old pictures of him shooting red squirrels and chippys when we were kids....his tree hugger grilfriends can't belive he was "that way" when younger. :lol:
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby Sneaky » Sat Mar 13, 2010 6:31 am

I have come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter. No amount of clothing or spray is going to kill my human scent, so why bother? Our scent spooks them, and we are constantly putting it out there. The only way to consistently beat their nose is to stay downwind of them.
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby magicman54494 » Sat Mar 13, 2010 7:34 am

How a deer reacts to scent is a learned behavior. From birth on deer are subjected to scents and the results of that scent. It's the results of that scent that determine how deer will react to that scent in the future.
I believe they catagorize scents into catagories such as good and bad. If they smell something and have a bad encounter they will associate that smell with danger. If the result was good they will react accordingly in the future.
What about city deer? They smell people all the time but yet they seem to be able to know your hunting them. My guess: It's not the human scent it's the human scent when it's not supposed to be there. When you slip into stand in the dark and hope to get them coming into their bedding area they probably never smelled a human there at that time of day. An example in human terms: Let's say your wife is gone for the weekend but you catch a strong wiff of her perfume in the house. Her perfume doesn't normally alarm you but because it shouldn't be there at that time you will be on alert.
To address non human odors further. Your wifes perfume is not a human odor but you will always associate that scent with "human". I believe deer do the same.
Odors that are new to deer. I believe that deer will always be on alert when they smell something new. How they react will most likely be the result of how past encounters went when encountering new odors. Pressured deer will probably react negatively until they encounter that scent again and again without negative results.
I read somewhere that deer can distinguish up to 7 different scents at the same time!
To further muddy the waters:
I believe scents at certain locations can have opposite reactions. Example: A deer may never come to a corn pile during the light of day at your stand site but may eat corn freely during the day in someones back yard. This tells me they not only associate scents as good or bad but also where they smell it.
As far as rubbing your boots in cow crap I beilive it can't hurt if they are used to cows in that area. If they smell your human scent you are still in trouble.
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby PLB » Sat Mar 13, 2010 7:57 am

I hunted with two guys last november who did the smoke up thing before each hunt! :shock: :lol: They would take oak leaves and burn them in a fire pit and get er amokin and then consume themselves in it :shock: I laughed my off but they always saw deer and one shot a good buck and the other one wounded one he never found. These guys were hunting the same stands over and over all week and it wasn't that big of an area. They didn't play the wind either. Funny *&%$ though!
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Sam Ubl
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby Sam Ubl » Sat Mar 13, 2010 8:09 am

Great input Magic!

PLB - funny!
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby dan » Sat Mar 13, 2010 1:59 pm

I really key in on deer behavior relating to scent.... I believe there nose is there primary sense. They "see" with there nose. They could live and survive without eyes, but not without a nose. I have observed on many occasions, deer that see me, see my human shape, and rather than bolt, they just get alert, go down wind and check me out with there nose... Then bolt. They trust there nose over everything.

I used to hunt a farm that had a long straight dirt road that went out from the back of the farm. On one side of the road was fields of crops and vegetables. On the other side of the road was an over grown cow pasture that had not been used for 20 years and was now choked with tall weeds.
I would often hunt near the end of the dirt road to cut off some of the buck bedding areas at the woods transition. From the stand positions I could see all the way down this dirt road and would often see good bucks come out of the tall weeds and head into the fields near last light.
I would always take the dirt road to access my stand. On many occasions I would observe dog walkers, the farmers family members, and other hunters access the same way... The deer would cross this dirt road and pay little to no attention to the human scent left on the dirt road. But, on a few occasions, I would stop where I had seen a big buck cross the day before and wander off the dirt road a few paces to look at the track, or for an ambush. Same deer would freak out and run off snorting after smelling my scent off of the dirt road that day...

I have also noticed that deer will tolerate more scent around fields, or night time hang outs. But take a walk near there bedroom, and they move to a new one when they smell you were there..

My personal feeling is that they don't fear gasoline, perfume, etc.. Unless they have learned to associate it with humans. I do believe they instinctively fear human scent and can tell the smell of a predator.

I hunt by a cow pasture, deer walk its fence line daily - should I step in cow #@!* and rub my clothes on a cow before entering the woods? Would that work? Why or why not?
Wouldn't help you... You would smell like a human predator and cow sh@% ;)
You can't mask human scent...
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby Mike » Sat Mar 13, 2010 3:40 pm

This doesn't answer any specific questions but I do find it interesting that it seems native americans practiced scent control

From a paragraph entitled Ishi's method of hunting:

"Having decided these and other questions,
he prepared for the hunt. He would eat no
fish the day before the hunt, and smoke no
tobacco, for these odors are detected a great
way off. He rose early, bathed in the creek,
rubbed himself with the aromatic leaves of
yerba buena, washed out his mouth, drank
water, but ate no food. Dressed in a loin
cloth, but without shirt, leggings or moccasins,
he set out, bow and quiver at his side. He
said that clothing made too much noise in the
brush, and naturally one is more cautious in
his movements when reminded by his sensitive
hide that he is touching a sharp twig."

Full text at:
http://escholarship.org/uc/item/02r6j5s0
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby nilefritz » Sat Mar 13, 2010 3:43 pm

Interesting post Mike. I like it.
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby Singing Bridge » Sat Mar 13, 2010 3:49 pm

Great stuff on scent. Deer can smell parts per million in gaseous forms. I also believe that deer have an instinctive fear of human and predator scent, to go along with their "learned" responses to negative and positive odors. The L-serine and other amino acids we exude from our skin is an alarm ringer for the whitetail, among other triggers. If you walk through a cow pie, a whitetail's downwind nose will say, "There’s a human over there that walked through a cow Pie." What alarm level that triggers is different between individual deer, the older they are the more alarm it seems to cause. A lot of hunters, like a friend, fall back on the, "I shot a ton of bucks downwind while smoking"- which he did. But they were shot during the peak of the rut, many times behind a hot doe or at least scent tracking one. There are so many variables that it makes it fun to hypothesize.

The preceding is strictly a matter of my opinion, and in no way reflects the ideologies of fellow Beasts.
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby magicman54494 » Sat Mar 13, 2010 4:38 pm

Singing Bridge wrote: There are so many variables that it makes it fun to hypothesize.

The preceding is strictly a matter of my opinion, and in no way reflects the ideologies of fellow Beasts.


I agree. I would also like to add that this is a unique site because everyone is allowed to voice their opinions without fights breaking out like on other sites. I don't always agree with everything but that doesn't make me right. We all experience different things in the woods and it's fun to learn from everyones experiences.
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Re: Scent - human or not?

Unread postby PLB » Sat Mar 13, 2010 7:01 pm

You are right Magic! I love this site because no one fights with one another! Just for kicks I'll go on other forums to read the posts and its unreal! :shock: People calling other people names etc etc etc!!!!!!! I would want no part of that! I'm not scared to voice my opinion here and there are so many familiar people that i've talked to for 2 years now that we pretty much know how one another thinks!
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