My sons and I eventually discovered keeping from being identified by smell by bucks 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age (and other deer) and avoiding the likely consequences is a lot more complicated than we originally envisioned. Today, I believe a whitetail’s nose is its most important organ for survival, its eyes and ears merely providing second opinions. Via a whitetail’s sense of smell, it can accurately determine how far away an unseen wolf or hunter is, generally ignoring them while 200 yards or more away. Via airborne scents it can determine whether a wolf or human is moving left or right, toward it, away from it or not moving at all (Viola, that long unmoving human I smell is a “stand hunter”). From downwind, a whitetail’s nose can determine whether or not it is safe to enter a feeding area or bedding area. When pursued by a wolf or hunter, a whitetail can use its nose to avoid ambushers ahead. When trailed by a slow-moving pursuer such as a human hunter, by turning downwind it can use its nose to keep track of the pursuer’s progress and maintain a safe distance ahead of it. When caught between standers and drivers during a drive, a mature buck can use its nose to find a safe hideaway between oncoming drivers. The only problem with depending on their sense of smell to survive is, whitetails can only detect odors of wolves or hunters drifting toward them from upwind. They cannot detect danger moving toward them or waiting in ambush from crosswind or downwind. They must then depend on their vision and hearing, senses a knowledgeable and skillful hunter can fool and take advantage of.
Whitetails make daily use of another source of identifying scents, namely trail scents. Unlike airborne scents which can be fleeting, such as those of a passing hunter, or limited in breadth, distance and direction by changing winds, whitetails can smell a full complement of odors emitted by wolves and hunters along their recently used paths whatever the wind direction. This is made possible by falling odoriferous molecules that stick to foliage and the ground, such as the potent smell of rubber boot soles. These odors remain identifiable by whitetails four or more days (unless if it rains or snows meanwhile). In one day a still-hunter can lay down an invisible tapestry of trail scents than can taint all whitetail home ranges within an entire square mile, forcing a mass abandonment by all 15 or more deer living in that square mile for 4–14 days, sometimes longer. Trail scents can be that ruinous to subsequent deer hunting. Moreover, as recent tests with K9 dogs have proven, nothing available today can eliminate trail scents. Having noses estimated to be 10,000-times more sensitive than human noses, whitetails can not only readily detect trail scents made by hunters, but they can even determine which direction a hunter has traveled by recognizing differences in intensity of scents from track to track (a feat shared by bloodhounds).
Limiting the spread of human trail scent like my hunting partners and I do it during hunting seasons (see “Trails Used by Mature Bucks – Part IV) can do wonders for your hunting success, not only by helping to keep whitetails from abandoning their home ranges and enabling them to maintain normal, predictable, exploitable habits, but by dramatically reducing the likelihood of range abandonment following the detection of airborne scents emitted by stand hunters (unless strong and unusual).
Today, mature whitetails practically everywhere recognize when a human hunter is stand hunting – remaining in one place for an extended period of time. Though they also realize stand hunters are potentially dangerous (not universally true of fawns and yearlings), they generally react to discoveries of stand hunters much differently than discoveries of humans hunting on foot. If not shot at, following the discovery of a stand hunter they merely keep a safe distance away from where the stand hunter was discovered for days, weeks and sometimes even a lifetime, while maintaining normal habits elsewhere within their ranges. Mature whitetails are apparently convinced stand hunters that spend long periods in one spot, perhaps resting, are harmless elsewhere in their ranges. Unlike hunters that hunt on foot, stand hunters are not pursuers, trackers, stalkers or likely to suddenly appear short distances away at any moment of the day, Experienced whitetails are therefore inclined share their ranges and trails with stand hunters, like they share their ranges and trails with wolves that do not regularly appear to be hunting. Being accustomed to finding mostly predictable, mostly harmless, though sometimes dangerous stand hunters within their ranges during limited periods each year, like prey animals the world over that have learned to live normal lives among lions, tigers, bears and wolves, our whitetails have learned to live normal lives among us stand hunters.