Deer and Scent: The Strongest Memory


deer and scent

Scent control, scent production, scent anything is big industry for deer and scent. The debate over whether scent control matters, whether carbon works, and even what deer scent might attract a buck, is an ongoing topic. With the series ‘The Science of Fear’ we want to concern ourselves with how Whitetails become fear conditioned in association with scent and how that can be different from location to location.

In the past two articles, ‘The Theory of Fluid Motion’ and ‘Flight Distances’, we dove deep into conditioned behavior of both rural and suburban Whitetails. As I quote from the original article “A truly fascinating aspect of deer psychology, covered in ‘The Science of Fear’, is that deer have different variations of learned behaviors from the same stimuli over different locations, from as far as states away to as close as within a mile.”

What that means is a scent that may cause a specific reaction (whether positive or negative) in one location can be completely different elsewhere. This is something to truly keep in mind when listening to other peoples experiences, because all though we may disagree with what they say it could very well be true for their personal experience.

Whitetails need to be exposed to a scent to begin to associate an experience with them. In rural woods the human scent is by default a sure indication of danger. In suburban America it becomes far more complicated. If deer ran in panic at every human scent then they would have nowhere left to run in urban America. This has forced them to create very complex views of humans and scents associated with them.

A single deer could feel differently about the same scent in different locations. For example, if a Whitetail smells cologne on a walking trail they will most likely dismiss it and only become alert, with or without the human present. Take that same cologne scent and move it 100 yards off the trail and we will most likely cause mass panic in the same deer.

The debate then truly continues of whether scent control more than ever is relevant in suburban America. I think the answer is its still applicable but with very different rules. If we intend to still hunt walking trails such crazy tactics as using perfume and cologne may pose an advantage to a clever hunter. Whitetails have most likely never had a negative experience associated with these scents making the deer more relaxed.

On the contrary such classic mainstream hunting scents, like earth scent, could actually have a negatively reinforced association with your local deer and scent association. What this article gets down to is two major points. One, we should not fear trying strange new techniques associated with scent. Two, we should always seek to dissect how our own local deer populations interpret human scent as it can be different within the shortest distances.

I will not dismiss scent control as an effective Whitetail hunting method. Personally I practice scent control in all ways cutting into ‘Slay’ Odor Neutralizer, Pro-line Kit for the season. Ultimately what we are doing is adding our own relevant and local knowledge to what ‘scent control’ actually means to deer and scent. That gasoline on our boots from the gas station may not be a deal breaker after all.

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Last modified: September 10, 2016

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