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Dollars and Scents

Posted: September 25, 2017

It’s that time of year. Your mailman is getting a workout from the landfall of hunting catalogs filling your mailbox.
More often than not, deer know they're on candid camera! (click for larger image)

More often than not, deer know they're on candid camera! (click for larger image)

[Comments in brackets are from Jeannine!]

Mysteriously, many of mine have gone straight from the mailbox to the recycle bin, unbeknownst to me.  I have managed to catch a few enroute to their second life as a tissue. And I still get the emails...the catalog Nazi can’t intercept them! 

What can I say, I like to browse.  And that’s all I can really do anyway.  There is way more stuff to buy than I can afford [Maybe you should buy a lottery ticket!].  

A large and popular section in these catalogs and emails this time of year is “scent reduction.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a skeptic at heart. I have never purchased a lottery ticket because I know the expected return on my $1 investment is a net loss.  [Way to dream, Duane...]

But I digress. 

I have owned bird dogs for over 20 years, and my better half has always had a golden retriever. I’ve watched these dogs sniff out grouse, woodcock, rotting carcasses, and tiny deposits of greasy black feces in which to roll (if they didn't eat them first!).

The speed and accuracy of these detections makes it seem like they placed them there themselves.  I don’t understand how they do it [truly one of life's great mysteries].  But make no mistake, they are experts.  Especially in the poop-rolling-location department.

When we were living in Georgia, I left to go deer hunting one afternoon. About a half hour after I left, that golden tracked me over a half mile on a very, very dry day in late October right to where I was sitting. I watched her follow my path until she was wagging her tail sitting next to me. As a result, we both enjoyed the late afternoon watching squirrels and birds…but no deer. 

Last week I took our dogs for a walk up in the pasture. My young English setter was flying along the edge of the field then suddenly did a 180 to sniff the game camera I deployed 3 days before!

The best story is from a colleague whose Drahthaar got sprayed by a skunk (a full facial event!).  The dog vomited repeatedly but then proceeded to point woodcock all day long!

But I’m still digressing.

Given what I have seen my dogs do, I have to wonder how well scent-adsorbing clothing works. Can deer really not smell you when you wear this technology? Is it at least more difficult for them to smell you?  Or is it all a bunch of hype?

Did I mention I’m a skeptic? [More like killjoy]

In the scientific literature, the only paper I am aware of that tested scent-adsorbing clothing found the clothing to be useless in preventing a trained search dog from finding a person. The author designed a study with 42 trials where a human was hiding under 1 of 10 randomly-selected cardboard boxes for 10 minutes. There were 21 treatment experiments (human was wearing a scent-adsorbing suit) and 21 control experiments (human was wearing regular clothing).

The author could find no evidence that the scent-adsorbing suits reduced the ability of dogs to find the human - or even increase the amount of time it took to find them.  Maybe that’s because dogs have 220 million olfactory receptors!  

This has implications for wildlife research as well.  Wildlife researchers study a lot of things that might be influenced by human scent. 

For example, to study nest predation researchers will place dummy nests and study how many get predated in different habitats.  Or game cameras are used to monitor the presence of species. 

Smart predators might learn to follow the human scent trail to find the free meal (eggs!).  In the case of the dummy nests, using a scent-neutralizing agent had no effect on predation rates.

However, when researchers used scent-masking technology to deploy and check game cameras, they found some evidence of increased white-tailed deer detection. But this was only true at one of their two study sites.

So what do I conclude from all this? Save your dollars (and cents) – because no amount of them will cover your scent from a deer!

Only the nose knows – us lowly humans cannot comprehend what our canid partners smell, let alone that of a white-tailed deer whose nose has up to 297 million olfactory receptors!  

Like a good friend of mine once asked, “When someone uses the bathroom and then sprays air freshener, what does it smell like?” 

Another friend replied, “It smells like someone used the bathroom and sprayed air freshener.”  And we only need our meager 5 million olfactory receptors to determine this. [Indeed]

So how can we expect scent-adsorbing clothing to suddenly make us undetectable to deer?  

-Duane Diefenbach

P.S.  The nose of a bear has up to 500 million olfactory receptors.  There is no hiding from that giant nose! 

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