The Science of Fear: The Strongest Memory

Written by SUBURBAN DEER BEHAVIOR

deer and scent

The Science of Fear series focuses on how whitetails become conditioned to fear humans. The way deer respond to the same stimuli over different locations varies widely, even within a mile from one another. Sometimes this stimuli is a behavior. Other times, it could be a scent. So what kinds of scents are whitetails conditioned to fear—and what scents attract them?

A scent that causes a specific reaction in one location could have a completely different effect in another. You must keep this in mind when hearing about other people’s experiences. Although you may have never had the same experience with a deer, they very well could have somewhere else.

Whitetails first need to be exposed to a scent in order to associate a certain experience with it. In rural woods, the human scent is a sure indication of danger. In suburban America, the smell of humans elicits a far more complicated response. If deer ran in panic at every human scent in the suburbs, there would be nowhere left to run. This forces them to create complex interpretations of the stimuli of human scents. If a whitetail smells cologne on a walking trail, they will most likely dismiss it but become alert. If you take that same cologne scent and move it a hundred yards off the trail, you will cause utter panic in the same deer.

Hunters can argue about the importance of controlling their scents while hunting in rural woods. But is scent control relevant in suburban America?

I think that scent control is applicable, but comes with very different rules. If you intend to still hunt walking trails, using perfume and cologne may be an advantage to a clever hunter. Suburban whitetail do not likely associate negative experiences with these scents. Using these scents may make them more relaxed. On the other hand, classic mainstream hunting scents like earth scent could possess a negative association with your local deer.

The ability to dissect how a local deer population interprets human scent is essential, especially since it can vary within short distances. I cannot dismiss scent control as a whitetail hunting method. To be honest, I practice scent control in a lot of ways. Sometimes, I even use ‘Slay’ Odor Neutralizer during the season.

We should not fear new techniques that use scent even if they sound strange. That gasoline on our boots from the gas station may not be a deal breaker after all.

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Last modified: September 25, 2018

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