Deer hunters who didn't score a whitetail Saturday when the 2012 Minnesota season opened perhaps can credit bad luck for their poor showing. Or too few skills. Or marginal effort.
It's also possible that they didn't shoot a deer because they stunk the place up.
The woods, that is.
Or at least that's what the multi-million-dollar deer-hunting scent business would have you believe.
Perhaps it's even true.
White-tailed deer, after all, have extremely good noses -- better, even, than most people can imagine. Together with their ability to flee on fast legs, leap high fences and other obstacles, and in general make themselves nearly invisible by moving almost exclusively at night, deer count their scenting ability as a primary defense.
A hunter unaware of this often doesn't see deer because his (or her) odor gives him away before visual contact can be made.
At which point an alerted deer tiptoes (or trots or runs) to safer areas.
That said: Can it really be true that deer hunters today must buy the wide array of available scent products just to bag a deer?
Maybe, maybe not.
Either way, here's a snapshot of what's available in the scent department:
Odor "eliminators'': These come in spray bottles and are marketed under many names. Manufacturers say that when sprayed on clothes or boots, they eliminate human and other scent. Do they work? Probably, to some degree. At least I hope so. Price: $10, give or take.
Deer attractants: Marketed for many different purposes, these liquids can mimic -- so the story goes -- a doe in estrus or a buck in rut (the latter idea being to attract a dominant buck to fight, at which time the hunter instead shoots the incoming animal). Once sold only in small bottles, these products now also come in aerosol "bombs'' and gels. Do they work? My bet: Sometimes, sometimes not, depending on the circumstances. I've watched, for instance, bucks and does totally ignore scent I've placed around a stand. But at other times, I've seen bucks spend what appeared to be extra time at a scrape I salted with doe urine. Price: $10-$40 a bottle.
Mock scrape attractants: These are relatively new on the market, and hunters are well advised to test them in areas deer frequent to determine effectiveness. Trail cameras are a big help here and will tell the story, one way or the other. My experience: I've set up scent drippers in active scrapes that continued to be visited, and in mock scrapes beneath stands that also attracted bucks and does. Expect to drip-drop another $15-$20 to test these yourself.
Cover scents: I'm not big on these -- though, given my record of killing deer, perhaps I should be. It just seems difficult, at best, to accept that I will pick a cover scent such as raccoon, fox, "pine,'' cedar or "earth,'' that won't raise a red flag to a wayward whitetail. Even if -- as the theory goes -- the fox or other scent covers up my scent, how do I know a deer won't find the new scent just as suspect, and head in another direction? $10.
Clothes-cleaning products: Right or wrong, I'm big into these. I buy scentless laundry detergent by a deer-product manufacturer. And this year I also bought drier sheets designed to keep everything even more scentless while being dried. None of these is cheap. Expect to spend another $10. Or more.
Shampoo and other personal products: These make sense to me, as well. Obviously, showering before a hunt isn't always possible. What's more, a lot of bucks are shot by hunters who hole up in shacks where bacon and other smelly stuff are cooked up every morning, saturating hunters' clothes. But it's probably also true that an unknown number of deer are not killed by the same hunters because they are too easily detected by odor-savvy deer. In addition to shampoo, hunters can buy scentless deodorant, mouth spray, even foot deodorizer. Buy a sampling of this stuff and expect to drop at least $20.
Super duper clothes that claim to hide a hunter's scent: Having no firsthand knowledge whether these (at times controversial) products actually work, I can't recommend or argue against them. If you've got $200 to $400 lying around and want to give a new set of outerwear a try, go for it. I'm just not that comfortable spending that much -- in part because I think I can make up for my lack of high-tech clothing by a) properly placing my stand, b) exercising reasonably smart hunting methods and c) depending on dumb luck.
Which brings us to a summary point:
Lots of deer -- perhaps most -- are killed by hunters who buy none of the products described here.
That's because successful whitetail hunting, over time, requires -- most of all -- an experienced-based understanding of the task at hand.
Which is something that can't be bottled, sprayed ...