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What Can Deer Smell? (How To Avoid Detection)

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Whether you are hunting for deer in the woods, observing them in the wild, or simply want to keep them away from your flower gardens, knowing what they can smell can help you.

Deer can smell perfume, cigarette smoke, human breath, propane heaters, thermacell, salt blocks, corn, period blood, and body odor. However, deer can’t smell coffee, scent-free detergents, and activated carbon.

The easiest steps to take to avoid detection by deer is to take a bath with scent-free products right before going hunting, use scent-free detergents to wash your clothes, line clothing with activated carbon, and wear rubber boots.

For most hunters, this laundry detergent is the best option for removing scents from clothes. It also cleans very well. You may also want to pick up some of these dryer sheets as well.

The rest of the article will inform you about how far deer can smell, how a deer’s sense of smell compares to a dog’s, and ways that you can keep deer from smelling your presence. I will also offer insights on attracting deer during different seasons.

What Deer Can and Cannot Smell

One of the first things to understand about deer is what they can smell. Deer possess extremely powerful noses, which allow them to sense and avoid danger.

A deer uses its sense of smell to:

  • Detect food sources from far away. The ability to detect food from a distance is an important survival strategy for deer; it allows them to pinpoint the source quickly and take the appropriate precautions to avoid predators as they move towards the food source.
  • Detect predators and danger. This sense is also highly beneficial when it comes to avoiding danger. By smelling a predator from a distance, deer can take measures to protect themselves, such as hiding or running away.
  • Track other animals. Since deer have such an acute sense of smell, they can easily track other animals’ movements. This is especially helpful in the wild when deer are trying to find food.

In a nutshell, here’s a table of the things a deer can and cannot smell:

Things Deer Can SmellThings Deer Cannot Smell
PerfumeCoffee
Cigarette smokeScent-free detergents
Human breathActivated carbon      
Propane heaters
Thermacell
Salt blocks
Corn
Period blood
Body odor
Man Hunter With Gun Over Shoulder Smoking a Cigarette
Think twice before you light up while hunting.

How Far Can Deer Smell Food?

Deer use their sense of smell to find food and water, but they can smell much more than just something edible. They could smell the difference between a live deer and a dead one, other animals that could harm them, predators coming their way, or even if hunters are nearby.

It is estimated that deer can smell food from as far as 1/4 of a mile away (0.4 km). They will keep moving closer and closer to their food source until they can figure out if it’s something that they should eat or not.

This also plays into how deer follow certain paths: they use their sense of smell to tell them which way is the best way to move towards potential food.

You may notice that there are trails in the woods where deer seem to take the same path over and over again – it’s because they can smell that this is a good place for food, so they will always go back here. This makes it a great place for hunters to hang out and wait for their next deer kill.

How Do You Keep Deer from Smelling? 

Thankfully, there are ways that you can keep deer from detecting your presence. Hunters do it all the time, and there are various ways to do so.

Here’s how to keep deer from smelling:

  1. Wear clothing lined with activated carbon
  2. Take a bath before going hunting
  3. Wear rubber boots
  4. Use scent-free detergents when cleaning hunting gear
  5. Use field spray on your hunting gear
  6. Use natural scents (such as cedar chips)

Here’s a rundown of how these measures will help you avoid detection when hunting deer:

1. Wear Clothing Lined With Activated Carbon

Many hunters will line the inside of their hunting clothing with activated carbon, a substance that absorbs odors and keeps them from escaping.

Deer use their sense of smell to detect your scent first before they even notice any other signs that you’re there, so wearing clothes lined with activated carbon can help inhibit deer from smelling you.

2. Take a Bath Before Going Hunting

Deer can smell something as simple as soap on your skin and hair, so take a shower and wash thoroughly before going hunting.

Be sure to use scent-free products and avoid strong-smelling soaps, shampoos, and detergents.

3. Wear Rubber Boots

Deer can smell leather boots, so it is better to wear rubber ones instead.

This advice stems from the fact that deer have an acute sense of smell and will most likely avoid any area you’re walking through if they believe someone else also had been there first!

4. Use Scent-Free Detergents When Cleaning Hunting Gear

Commercial detergents or household soaps will have strong smells that a deer can easily detect from far away.

It is important you use scent-free products to wash your hunting clothes, as well as those used to clean any other equipment you might be using for the hunt. Here is the brand that I recommend, found on Amazon. They make dryer sheets also.

5. Use Field Spray on Your Hunting Gear

Field sprays are designed to eliminate any human odor on your hunting gear, such as clothing and boots.

This can be useful if you were already wearing rubber boots but you forgot to take a shower before leaving for your hunting trip. 

Remember, it is never too late for deer to smell something they are suspicious about!

6. Use Natural Scents

Another great way to mask human odors is by using natural scents such as cedar chips.

The smells of nature will always be more natural than any manufactured substance, so using scents you can find in your local camping goods store can make you much more difficult to detect.

Hunting Clothes Hanging on the Clothesline
Using specially designed scent-free detergents is a good idea.

Deer Sense of Smell vs. Dog

One of the fascinating things about deer is their sense of smell.

It is estimated that a deer’s sense of smell is up to 1/3 greater than a dog’s because they have 297 million olfactory cells while a dog has 220 million.

What does this mean for hunters?

This simply means that it is even more important for hunters to avoid detection when hunting deer – dogs might not be as sensitive to certain scents as deer are.

Will Deer Come Back After They Smell You?

Deer have an acute sense of smell and can remember smells for a long time.

This means that if a deer smells you once, there is a good chance it will remember your scent the next time it comes around.

As a form of self-preservation, deer will not come back after they smell you. Instead, they will avoid areas where they have previously detected a human scent.

Therefore, it is important hunters take precautions to avoid detection.

How Long Does Human Scent Last in the Woods?

Hunter in Camo Walking Through the Woods With a Gun and a Backpack
Deer know you’ve been there long after you leave.

It is estimated that human scent lasts in the woods for 2-3 days. However, air circulation and weather can increase or decrease this time frame. Notably, rain will wash away the scent while cold air makes it linger.

Further, warm air will elevate your scent into the air, making it fade away faster than it would in cold weather.

Does Rain Wash Away Human Scent?

As I mentioned, weather conditions play a big role in how long human scent lasts in the woods.

Rain washes away human scent in the woods, making it harder for deer to detect. Therefore, if it is known that it might rain, hunters should take advantage of this weather condition to help mask any human odor.

Generally, it’s easier to hunt deer during heavy downpours or winds. This is because deer tend to move when they hear what’s going on.

Notably, heavy downpours accompanied by winds will make them stay in the same spot and be easy to catch.

That said, here are some tips that will come in handy when hunting whitetail deer in the rain:

  • Wear camouflage clothing: This will help you blend in with your surroundings, making it harder for deer to see you.
  • Stay calm and avoid movement: Since deer are skittish, any sudden movements will scare them off. Try to stay calm and still when waiting for them to come closer.
  • Use a ground blind: A ground blind can help you stay hidden from deer while you’re waiting for the perfect shot.

Does Human Urine Spook Deer?

Human urine does not spook deer. Unless humans leave their scents in the woods, deer cannot link human urine with humans.

Therefore, suppose you need to respond to the call of nature while hunting. In that case, feel free to do so without fear of scaring off nearby deer.

However, ensure you follow these tips:

  • Do it away from hunting grounds: Ensure you relieve yourself at least 1/4 miles (400 meters) away from where you are hunting. This way, deer will not be able to detect your scent.
  • Pee into a container: If you cannot relieve yourself outside, pee into a container and take it with you when you leave. Disperse the urine away from your hunting grounds.
  • Be quiet: Once you are finished relieving yourself, make sure you stay quiet. This means no talking, clapping, or snapping branches. Try to avoid scaring deer off with unnecessary noise.

What Scent Attracts Deer the Most?

The scent that attracts deer the most is doe urine. This is because doe urine smells like a deer’s natural excretion. As a result, deer are more likely to feel comfortable and investigate this scent than other scents.

That said, you will need different scent types for the early, middle, and late hunting seasons. This is to ensure you use the scents that deer are most likely to respond to at that particular time.

For the early season, I recommend using ordinary doe urine. This scent will attract deer in the early season and won’t spook them.

For the mid-season, I recommend using estrus doe urine. This scent will attract deer in the middle of the rutting season since it contains the highest estrogen levels, which will attract bucks more easily since it creates the impression that a doe on heat is nearby.

For the late season, I recommend using ordinary doe urine. This type of scent will attract deer during the late season when they are most focused on finding food.

That being said, if you’re in the market for doe urine, I recommend this Code Blue Whitetail Doe Urine from Amazon.com. It’s ideal for use throughout all seasons and produces a fresh scent that attracts deer, making hunting easier. 

In addition to scents, here are other ways to attract deer:

  • Feed them: Deer love to eat, especially in the late season. As a result, let deer know that food is available by putting out corn feeders near your hunting grounds. This will attract deer to come closer and make it easier for you to take a shot at them from a safe distance.
  • Use decoys: Although deer can’t see too well, they rely on their senses of smell and hearing. Use decoys that will attract them with their sound and scent. For example, you can attach a scent to a decoy to attract deer.
  • Use calls: Deer calls imitate the sounds deer make to communicate. This can help bring deer closer to you as they try to determine where the sound is coming from. For example, you could use rattling antlers to imitate the sound of two bucks fighting. This can help bring deer closer to you as they try to determine where the sound is coming from and what’s happening nearby.

Here’s a video that describes how to attract deer:

Tip: You can also use trail cameras. Although they may require batteries and card space, they are a great way to see deer movement in your hunting grounds. By monitoring the deer’s movement, you can better predict when and where they will appear.

Bottom Line

To summarize, deer have an acute sense of smell that makes them pick up on human scents easily. Deer will avoid a hunting ground if they smell human scent. To avoid detection, ensure you follow these tips:

  • Take a shower before going hunting
  • Stay calm and stay still when hiding in blinds or behind cover.
  • Make sure you wear camouflage clothing to blend in with your surroundings. 
  • Use scents that attract deer, such as doe urine 

I hope this article will help you avoid being detected by deer while out in the woods! Stay safe, and good luck hunting!

For more, check out The Best Hunting Laundry Detergent (So Deer Don’t Smell You).

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