Threat Level Based On Scent Potency

21 Jul

I had this crazy idea pop in my head before I went to bed last night. I hope it makes sense and doesn’t make me sound like a jackass who is trying to sound smarter than they really are.

Over the past 10 years I have seen deer do some amazing things with their nose. I have been busted without using scent elimination products and I have been busted using scent elimination products. In my opinion you will never be able to 100% beat a whitetails nose. You may be able to confuse them or reduce your scent profile, but you will never EVER be scent free.

Aside from the rut, they very rarely question the information their nose provides them. I imagine deer use their nose like we use stoplights. If you run that red light, there is a risk that you could get double-lunged by a Kenworth. From what science tells us they have the ability to analyze several odors simultaneously through their nose and the vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouth. So, deer basically have two noses.

So here is the crazy idea…

I feel that through the potency of a particular scent deer can determine if that scent is a threat. This means that if a deer walks by my tree stand and I am still in it, the potency of my scent will be enough to alert the deer causing a negative reaction. On the other hand, if the same deer walks by the same stand that I was in 4 hours previous, they will still smell human scent but not be threatened by it because the potency of that scent is much lower and they realize threat is no longer there. So in theory, that has no scientific backing, deer are able to tell some form of time based on the potency of a scent. Scent decay or particle half-life are more scientific terms, but it all comes down to the amount of time it takes for a scent to dissipate.

Example: One of my roomates in college had the worst farts. They were so bad it would clear a room. Over time the smell would weaken and we could then go back in the room. Hope that connection worked for you. 

One of the reasons I believe this is proof from trail cameras. I don’t practice any kind of scent control when I check my trail cameras, so technically the area is contaminated with my scent. The image below shows a mature buck caught on camera that was over a scrape that was only checked a couple hours previously. There is no way that my scent was completely out of the area by the time this picture was taken. My scent was there, the buck was there, so that tells me he was comfortable with the amount of scent that was there.


This trail camera was checked only a couple hours before this shooter showed up.

This trail camera was checked only a couple hours before this shooter showed up.


I used to think that deer made there decisions on a strictly binary level. However, this leads me to believe that there is some form of decision making or thought process that is made. I feel that there is a “greater than” or “less than” point, similar to binary, that equals a yes or no in whatever decision they are making. If the scent is weak, the answer is yes. If the scent is strong, the answer is no. Where the flipping point is… could have several factors. Individual personality and time of year are the first two that come to mind.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this idea. Share them on the Facebook post or in the comments section below.

Thank you for reading,
Dan (DFW)



18 Responses to “Threat Level Based On Scent Potency”

  1. Matt Fralen July 21, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

    I agree, I have had deer walk in my footsteps almost (15 minutes after i walked into my stand) and get a little spooky but deer who walk the same trail 2 hours later may hold up for a second and check the area and then continue on in. Its all based on individual deer too. Ones that have less contact with humans are less likely to spook but a wary public land buck might need a couple more hours before he deems your receding scent as safe.

  2. Nate July 21, 2015 at 10:41 pm #

    I have never thought about it this way but can completely see it as a possibility. Interesting concept.

  3. Peter North July 22, 2015 at 2:59 am #

    Hi Dan,

    I have experienced the same type of findings as you mentioned in the post above. many of my trail camera pictures show Matue deer at my camera after my scent has been in the area. I am willing to bet a percentage of the time the mature buck has had a view of me checking the camera and the like, no proof of this, but it may hold water. A lot of my trail cameras are located in common areas shared by deer, farmers both walking and tractors, and some of my locations have a lot of summer kayakers drifting by my points in the river. I believe deer have a comfortableness with some level of intrusion and will not bust until the last 20 to 30 feet if they feel confident and secure with their bed. I have experienced standing 30 feet away of a bedded buck ( estimated 4.5 year old 140 8 point) while tracking a buck I shot into a river point with thick cover. I was in this location for twenty minutes talking to another hunter ( he also was tracking a buck) and as he went one way, I went the other and bumped the buck from his bed. The deer had to of heard us… The deer was healthy. It was also November 3rd. So that may play into the deer behavior.
    funny… I have also experienced the same FART experience in a work truck with cloth seats… We could only role down the windows, but the next day if one patted the drivers seat a few times…the unpleasant smell would return .. Albeit at a tolerable level!

  4. Mark Kenyon July 22, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

    I think you’re spot-on Dan, and I do think there’s some precedent and/or science behind this as well. Have read about this before (somewhere, dont know when/where), so definitely not a crazy theory.

  5. Ryan Mead July 23, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

    Hey Dan, Nice article! I wonder when you say you use no scent control when you check your cameras. Do you where your scent free hunting boots at least? I also have thought about this theory and other variations. I always wonder if by practicing a strict scent control regimen, when a deer does smell you does you lessened odor due to your scent control give the impression that you where there at an earlier time and have since moved on? Or would the deer possibly get the impression from your lessened odor that the origin of the scent is further up wind that what you actually are but still an active threat? Got to admit thinking about all these kinds of ideas and different aspects of Bowhunting is why I love it so much. Thanks for being such a good source of information combined with entertainment.

    • Dan Johnson July 24, 2015 at 11:37 am #

      Thanks for the kind words Ryan. Nope, no scent control when checking trail cameras.

      • Adam Parr July 27, 2015 at 12:18 am #

        I agree. You can never be scent free no matter how extreme you go with scent elimination but I do believe you can reduce your odor. I believe a lot of it has to do with the perception of potency in relation to distance of the immediate threat.
        For example: A person who does not practice scent control will get busted by a deer 200 yards away downwind versus a person who does practice scent control will get busted only 50 yards down wind. The yardages are theoretic but you get the picture. Deer obviously know human odor is a threat but what determines if he runs or stays is the concentration of that scent. He knows he smelled a human but if he thinks you are further away because of less concentration of scent due to scent control or time elapsed since you were there, he does not feel threatened enough to run.

  6. Jeff Robbins August 3, 2015 at 5:17 pm #

    I agree with Adam 100% also! There’s no such thing as scent free. That being said, my next purchase for gear will be an Ozonics! I can’t think of a better way to get rid of $400!

  7. scott clarke August 3, 2015 at 11:25 pm #

    From my first hand experience I think you maybe right. I have another thought though. I hunt farm land where people are in and out of the woods all the time. I feel in areas like these deer react less to human odor since they are accustomed to it. Just my 2 cents.

  8. scott clarke August 3, 2015 at 11:26 pm #

    And I don’t worry about acent control when checking cameras either.

  9. Phil Owen August 7, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

    So glad you wrote this. This is how I make the argument for scent control to people that don’t do it because they think deer either smell you or they don’t. My dad is like that, but I always explain it like any other sense that an animal has. For example, with hearing we think of noise in terms of volume. While you’re sleeping, I if I were to take a speaker and put it up against your ear playing death metal at full volume, youd punch me in the face. But if your wife whispers something to you in your sleep, well, you’d have a different reaction. Same with everything else. deer just have far more sensitivity to scent. So “scent whispers” are harder to pull off.

    • Dan Johnson August 10, 2015 at 11:32 am #

      Makes perfect sense! Good luck this season!

  10. Cole Barnett August 16, 2015 at 3:28 am #

    Great post, Dan.

    I have a question for you. If big deer are not disturbed by scent that is a few hours old, why have we preached over and over to not over hunt one tree stand? I’ve heard very wise hunters say that after 3-4 days of sitting in the same spot (whether you see big bucks or not) the success rate of killing a big buck is more than cut in half.

    Any credence to that in your opinion?


    • Dan Johnson August 19, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

      I guess it depends a lot on where you hunt and the pressure that is put on your deer herd throughout the year and if the access to any particular stand is invasive. With that said, I feel most deer have a threshold when it comes to scent, meaning they won’t avoid low potency scent the first time they come in contact with it, but over a period of 3-4 days that comfort level goes away before they begin to avoid the area. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  11. Nick Johnson October 22, 2015 at 11:51 pm #

    So, if your theory is true why wouldn’t everyone use as much scent control as possible while on stand? By reducing your scent to make it less invasive wouldn’t you get away with more while actually hunting in the area? Consider the scent control to be fart spray from you’re example above. It would lessen the threat and make the deer more likely to commit to a spot or area that the hunter is in, even though said hunter is still there.

Leave a Reply