Of all the white-tailed deer’s senses, its nose often gets the most attention, and for good reason. A white-tailed deer’s nose is apparently its biggest feature, so it gets the most pressure.
The average deer has about 290 million — give or take a million — olfactory receptors. The sense of smell is the deer’s most superior power, surpassing even its hearing and sight. Although these large ears give them an advantage in picking up sound, deer’s hearing range is similar to that of humans. Therefore, it is nowhere near as strong as their sense of smell. Estimates show that white-tailed deer can smell humans for up to 10 days after they leave.
What makes a deer’s sense of smell so elite? First, consider the inside of the deer’s nose. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of nerve cells. In fact, there are probably thousands of groups of cells in the nose, and each group can detect an odor. This means that a deer has a group of cells in its nose that can detect acorns, while others can detect clover, corn, certain branches, dead leaves, and dogs. Other deer, human deodorant, gasoline in gloves, etc. there are nerve cells dedicated to detection.
You name a scent, and a small area of a deer’s nose has a group of cells that can sense that scent.
Once this odor hits those receptor cells, it activates an area of the deer’s brain. For example, when a deer smells acorns, it activates the acorn nerve cells in the nose, which then sends a message to a part of the brain that triggers a behavioral pattern. Here’s the key to how deer will get you. If a young deer has a bad experience with a dog, a pattern of behavior is formed in that deer’s brain. The next time a deer smells a dog, the deer runs away. But if this deer grows up in a park where there is no hunting, and people walk their dogs on leashes all the time, then dog odor probably won’t cause the same negative reaction.
Let’s take a look at this path that many of us can relate to. If the deer grows up in an urban environment, the odors from people will not cause a negative reaction. But if that deer is smelling a human for the first time in the wild, and the first encounter was negative, as soon as the deer smells the same human scent again, it falls for the scent.
Let’s put it in perspective. Just as rabbit hunters know how well a dog can smell and what it can smell, this can help us get an idea of what we’re dealing with with a white-tailed deer nose and a deer’s sense of smell. The reason this information is important is because you need to understand that a white-tailed deer’s sense of smell is about one-third that of a dog or hound.
Smell is a dog’s dominant sense, so we can consider a white-tailed deer’s sense of smell to be a dominant sense as well. So much so that a large part of his brain is devoted to analyzing smells. Dogs and white-tailed deer have two giant olfactory bulbs attached to their brains, and they decode every scent they encounter. The bulbs weigh about 60 grams, which is four times more than human olfactory bulbs. Considering that a dog’s brain is 1/10 the size of a human’s, that means a dog’s brain devotes 40 times more of its brain to smell than ours, and a white-tailed deer’s sense of smell is much greater than that.
No wonder a dog’s sense of smell is far superior to a human’s. In tests, dogs were able to pick up chemical solutions of one or two parts per trillion. That’s the equivalent of one bad apple in two billion barrels. This is relative to the whitetail deer’s sense of smell, as some hunters believe they can cover human scent with scents.
If a white-tailed deer can smell better than a dog, even a dog can pick out different scents from the same region by two parts per trillion. I don’t mean to hurt any whitetail producer’s feelings, but you can’t cover human scent from a whitetail deer, but you can try to control it.
The source of the dog and white-tailed deer’s exceptional sense of smell is its wet nose. The moist skin surface of the nose acts like a velcro, capturing even the tiniest odor molecules, then dissolving them so that the dog’s inner, olfactory receptor cells can properly analyze them. To keep his nose moist, the dog must expel a constant supply of mucus through the nasal passages. Scientists believe that an average dog produces a liter of this mucus every day, and a whitetail produces more.
Dogs can really smell fear. If a dog enters a room where a frightened dog has just exited, it appears anxious and agitated. This is not some sort of ESP type response as many claim. A scent produced by the anal glands of frightened dogs is caused by an excitatory pheromone.
We understand that the nose of a white-tailed deer is so large that the animal can smell emotions. So if there’s ever a white-tailed deer that doesn’t see you, you’re high in the air, not moving, and then suddenly the deer looks right at you as if it has a sixth sense. It is very possible that a white-tailed deer can smell your emotions to some extent. Laugh all you want, but we have a lot to learn about the white-tailed deer’s sense of smell.
Dogs can detect scents up to 40 feet underground, so deer can detect them even deeper than that. They were used to detect leaking gas pipes. They can also smell insects buried in soil or woodwork. In the United States, dogs are used to sniff out termite infestations. Dogs can smell even the weakest of other animals.
Dogs can sense one-week-old human fingerprints. If dogs can do this, you should know that a white-tailed deer’s ability to smell humans must be much greater. Therefore, you can’t always check game cameras or wander around your hunting grounds out of curiosity. Estimates show that white-tailed deer can smell humans for up to 10 days after they leave.
Dogs’ noses are so sensitive that they can even smell electricity. When the researcher conducted an experiment, he determined which of the two compartments the dog felt was the electric current. He concluded that this resulted in the release of small amounts of ozone that the dog could detect. Now we can also hypothesize that if a white-tailed deer’s sense of smell is more advanced than a dog’s, that white-tailed deer can smell objects like electricity. When you try to figure out how great a deer’s sense of smell really is, do you begin to understand what you’re up against?
Dogs and white-tailed deer can tell if a cow is in estrus or heat by the smell of her urine. Farmers train the dogs to know the best time to herd the bulls.
Dogs react differently to different smells. In tests, for example, it has been found that dogs relax when surrounded by the scent of lavender. Chamomile also calms dogs. Maybe someday whitetail hunting will figure out what scents calm whitetail deer so we can hunt them more easily. Rosemary and peppermint are even more exciting for dogs.
When it comes to dogs and white-tailed deer, all humans have a unique scent. They can pick people out by their body and other scents they project. Scientists believe that the only way a dog could tell two people apart is if they were identical twins on the same diet. The twins had to keep quiet too.
So think about it. The deer you’re hunting probably knows the difference between the smell of a farmer working in a field that isn’t a threat to them, and you, a hunter out to kill them. So often when I’m hunting a place with cattle, I’ll intentionally walk into a big nasty fresh cow pie.
Let’s go a little further with white-tailed deer’s sense of smell. If you’re a hunter who uses cover scents, be aware that white-tailed deer probably associate your cover scents with those of prey.
As a result, dogs can track human scents over long distances. Scientists think they can learn the difference in scents from different footprints to find out which direction their prey is headed. Although the footprints are a second apart, they can do so 20 minutes after a person passes by. If this is true, then white-tailed deer, which have a keener sense of smell, can sense which way you are going and avoid you by going the other way. Laugh all you want, but this kind of knowledge puts a trophy deer on the wall. You need to understand the whitetail deer’s sense of smell.
To be honest, it is impossible to reduce human odor 100%. In the mirage of products that don’t really help whitetail deer hunters, it’s hard to figure out what deer hunters can do to prevent whitetail deer odor. After all the smoke clears, there are really only four tools available to minimize detection of whitetail deer thanks to their keen sense of smell. We’ll talk about four to help you win a trophy. These include silver ion clothing technology, wind play, stand heights and products that help you stay clean so you can stack the odds in your favor. A whitetail deer’s sense of smell is keen and must be approached honestly and openly.
The best way to avoid white-tailed deer’s sense of smell “play with the wind.” In short, the hunter always hunts and approaches the hunting ground from a direction where the wind does not pick up the human scent and believes that the deer are located.
Don’t fish if the wind is wrong, even by a few degrees. It’s tempting to take every opportunity to get away from work and hunt, but resist the temptation to go anyway. All it takes is a good enough close-range sniff, and a mature buck will abandon not only its movement pattern, but its immediate surroundings, perhaps for the entire season.
Deer use their noses to survive every day, 24/7/365. As hunters, we spend very little time in the whitetail world. Hunt the wind when trying to snipe a deer, whether it’s an adult fawn or an older bird. Use the wind to your advantage, don’t push it. If the wind is not correct, change the configuration. None of us want to blow up and see that white flag flying away.