Scent of a Hunter - How good is a Deer's Sense of Smell?

How good is a Deer’s sense of smell?

There have been a couple of occasions this week when the acute sense of smell that deer possess has been brought to my attention.

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The first incident was when, perhaps tired of watching me either tossing handfuls of dry grass into the air, or more irritatingly maybe to discourage my ‘huffing’ my morning breath into the cold air only for it to be wafted back into his face, a regular client of mine kindly gifted me a ‘Primos Wind Checker’.

This little gadget is basically a small bottle with a flip top spout that when squeezed sends a fine mist of white powder into the air, thereby indicating even the most subtle of wind directions.

The second occasion occurred just yesterday, when stalking some woodland for Roe Buck. An inquisitive yearling Doe displayed beautifully, if not too wisely, classic scenting behaviour. Clearly aware that something unusual was stood stock still in her territory, she approached carefully with frequent licks of her nose.

With her head bobbing up and down to try and get a whiff of the strange new object, but unable to do so, she then proceeded to skirt around us and downwind of our position before bounding off as though scolded. Perhaps she too had caught a waft of my morning breath!

When hunting deer, Deer Stalkers should remind themselves of the world in which deer live. Unlike we humans, deer’s senses are not confined to sight and noise but instead Deer exist and communicate in a world that revolves around scent and smell.

Scientists measure the ability to smell by the number of Olfactory Receptors. It is estimated that whilst we humans have just 5 million receptors, deer possess in the region of 250 million! Added to which their wet noses enhance their sense of smell still further. In fact it is estimated that a typical species of deer will possess an ability to smell that is 1000 x greater than our own and as such are capable of smelling a human at distances in excess of one mile!

As well as using smell to identify predators, Deer also use scent between themselves in their daily lives to communicate. Numerous scent glands can be found in all deer species and include glands such as the suborbital gland in the corner of the eye, the metatarsal gland outside the hocks, and the interdigital glands between the cleaves, as well as glands around the pedicles of the buck or stag.

These scent glands can secrete scented pheromones that are capable of communicating detailed messages to other deer, such as territorial markings, mating rights, or even if a predator is in the vicinity.  

So how does this help us when out Deer Stalking? Well here’s a few things I have found to be true.  

Firstly does it matter if you smell like a teenage boy who has just discovered his Dad’s aftershave? Or that you are puffing away on a gigantuous Cohiba Esplendido? Well no, I don’t think it does. To deer the most offensive smell is......well, us!

It simply doesn’t matter if you smell like you have just come out of a Havana Brothel. If they can smell the Cigar or the after shave, they can smell you, and all that means is you are approaching from the wrong direction. The deer will be off and away no matter the aroma. So be acutely aware of wind direction.

Secondly don’t tramp down their well trodden trails, deer use these routes because they think they are safe and familiar, if you also tramp your smelly boots down it every day, purely because it is the quickest route from ‘A’ to ‘B’, don’t expect them to be doing likewise.  

Finally be aware of Eddy! Eddy or ‘eddies’ as they are known are those nasty shifts in wind direction that will follow the topography of the ground, a steady breeze that shifts as you skirt the corner of a wood or descend into a valley. So Know your ground and try and avoid them, plan your route and never underestimate  the ability of those little wet noses! 

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