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Morken: Trying to master scent control

Scent control is top of mind for a lot of deer hunters. (Eric Morken \ Echo Press)

Serious deer hunters tend to pay attention to every detail in preparation of the hunt. Perhaps no place is this more evident than when it comes to scent control.

I remember getting my start in hunting when dad would take me to the stand with him on opening morning of firearms season in Minnesota. I always say I was 5 years old when he first let me join him. That seems pretty young. Maybe it was more like 6 or 7, but I remember bundling up in blaze orange in the kitchen with about five layers of clothes. Wide and orange as a pumpkin, I climbed into the car with all my clothes on and dreamt of what might come our way that morning as we made the five mile drive to the hunting land.

Times have changed a bit. I still daydream of what might happen every time I enter the woods, but no more do I wear any of my hunting gear in the vehicle. All my clothing is contained in totes. Regardless of weather conditions, I'm getting dressed in the field.

For years, I have wrestled with how far I need to go when it comes to scent control. The old adage of just playing the wind works well when the deer cooperate. They often don't. Only a couple of the stands I hunt really have the land features that assure me a deer won't come in downwind of me. The others? It's a crapshoot. They can come from so many directions.

It seems easier to get away with more when it comes to hunting flat terrains. Hunting hill country is a different game, where swirling winds have blown my cover even when taking all the precautions of not hunting a stand without the perfect wind.

That's caused me to think long and hard about scent control over the last few years. After hunting all of last year, and now the early portion of this season, I might have figured out a decent formula that doesn't break the bank.

I wash all my hunting gear in the Scent Killer detergents. I line dry them when at all possible, but one change I made last fall was introducing leaves into the equation. This is obviously not unique to me. Others do it and have for years, but it seems to at least help me.

I wait for the leaves to drop in our yard and give them a day in the sun to make sure they are dry. I'll then fill my totes with them - one for my boots and another for my clothes, safety harness and pack. Everything smells like the forest floor when I pull them out.

Anecdotally, it seems to be helping. I swear I was scented less by deer last year than I have been in a long time. I had a doe and a fawn directly downwind of me on a hunt earlier this year. They were 15 yards from my stand and had no idea I was there.

Another thing that coincided with my use of leaves has been a switch to hunting in Sitka Gear. Even in early season, I wear base layers just because I believe it helps trap in body odors.

Sitka has Polygiene Odor Control Technology that claims to neutralize odor by stopping the growth of odor-causing bacteria. It's hard to find a hunting clothing line that doesn't claim to have some sort of way to neutralize odor, so believe what you will of how well that works.

One thing I do love about Sitka is how form fitting it sits on the body. There are no loose ends. My base layers and jackets conform comfortably around my waist, neck and wrists. Same with my pants around my boots, which leads me to believe it does a good job of trapping in that odor we inevitably get on hikes to the stand.

I still take the prior precautions like showering in Scent Killer products, using Scent Killer deodorant, etc. Those seem to be standard procedure for most hunters, but I have stopped relying so much on the Scent Killer sprays right before going into the field.

None of this is foolproof. I know I'll get busted by an old doe or a big buck again sometime, but I am hunting with more confidence right now in terms of what I feel like I can get away with if a deer does get downwind.

For those who have the money to spend, a company called Scent Crusher is becoming a popular option among hunters through the use of ozone technology. The company offers everything from totes and bags to full closets. Simply put all your gear in there - bows, boots, clothes - and turn it on. Half an hour later, the ozone is said to kill the odor-causing bacteria to make things scent free again.

I have already bought a new Hoyt bow this off-season and gone on an elk hunt to Colorado. I'm not in a position to spend more money right now, but I have actually heard pretty good things about Scent Crusher products.

That might be in my future. Until then, I'll take a few precautions with the help of Mother Nature.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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