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Whitetail Sense of Smell Explained

Whitetail Sense of Smell Explained
April 18, 2022

By: Dylan Hayward

If you have spent any time hunting whitetail deer, you have more than likely heard hundreds of times about how great their sense of smell is. You’ve probably spent countless hours doing research about how to fool the nose of a whitetail deer, what scent blockers to use, how the wind affects hunters, etc.

But how much do we really know about a whitetail deer’s sense of smell?

I’m not going to lie, I have tried every redneck trick in the book, without even fully understanding the way they smell.

I’ve tried leaving my hunting clothes outside, I’ve tried countless ozone products, there was one year that I would even keep my hunting clothes in a tote of corn(weird, I know), just to be extra cautious.

I would say a few years ago I gained a better understanding of how their sense of smell works and how they utilize it, which led me to saying goodbye to the cheap tricks, and finding a solid, rational method.


Anatomy of the Whitetail Deer Nose

We all know that a whitetail deer’s best defense is their ability to smell you. But how great can their smell possibly be?

Researchers at Mississippi State University found that a whitetail deer’s sense of smell is upwards of 1,000 times more acute than that of a human.

To put that into a more impressive number, we as humans have roughly 5 million scent receptors in our nose, while whitetail deer have about 300 million, and each one is more specialized than humans.

Another fascinating find was done by Penn State University and the University of Georgia, about just how powerful their vomeronasal organ (jacobson’s organ) was.

This organ is located on the roof of their mouth and almost adds a sixth sense for whitetail deer.

It’s likely that you’ve seen deer use this organ when bucks are doing what is usually referred to as a “lip curl”. With this organ they can smell and analyze chemical properties of air particles, while inhaling through their mouth. It was commonly believed that this was only useful for bucks to detect certain sex pheromones from the urine of does.

However, through recent studies, scientists have found that this aids deer in detecting threats as well, such as humans.


How to Combat Their Senses

With everything I mentioned before, it might seem like the odds are completely stacked against us as hunters.

And that there is no way we will ever be able to remain undetected from deer, especially with all of the evolutionary advancements they have in their noses.

However, there are still ways we can gain the upper hand, as long as we prepare correctly.

Scent control plays a massive role in staying undetected by deer. This includes washing all of your hunting clothes in scent killer, always bringing field spray with you on your hunts. I like to spray down before I start walking into the woods, and even a quick spray when I get in my treestand. Whatever you can use to minimize human odor, will have a big impact on your hunts.

Hunting the wind is another important factor when outsmarting deer.

Deer rely on the wind to give them signals on any threats nearby, and that includes humans. Ideally, wherever you’re hunting, you’ll want to have a good idea on where the deer are coming from and where they are headed to.

This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but if you have a rough idea of a bedding area, and you have targeted the primary food source, you should be able to find a good spot to set up that won’t be in the direct wind path of the deer.

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