Scent control hunting is an absolute must. Elk can smell so well that they can reportedly pick up a molecule or two of odor carried hundreds of yards away. The distance depends on the conditions. Just assume they can smell a mouse fart in a whirlwind and you’ll get the picture.
The problem is the mouse gas wouldn’t bother them. But a few molecules of body odor, smells from your truck seat, the bacon aroma from camp, the smell of your wife’s strawberry/banana lip balm left on you from a morning kiss… Well, scent control can get pretty crazy, if taken to extremes.
The first priority of scent control hunting is not what you smell like or absence of smell, it’s wind management. If the wind is blowing from the elk to you, they will not smell you. End of problem. In fact, you’ll probably smell them.
I often check wind direction when I smell elk to find out what direction the smell is coming from, then stalk in that direction. However, it’s not always possible to keep the direction of scent movement in your favor, so we’ll get back to that below.
First, respect the wind. Remember this, even if there is no perceivable breeze, there is one. Your scent is being taken somewhere. Also, no matter what you do to correct for your own smell, there is one (or many). Complete “scent elimination” from your body and equipment is not possible, but the phrase is thrown around often.
If you don’t use a scent free wind indicator powder, you can’t know exactly which way a light breeze is blowing. The powder is cheap and very helpful for scent control hunting. Apply a light, continuous pressure on the bottle, away from your body (so you don’t block the prevailing breeze) and you can watch which way the stuff is blown for several seconds.
If it is blowing in the general direction of the elk, relocate to fix the problem. Experience tells me that elk 200 yards away are usually not going to smell you, except under ideal conditions (for them). The odors get diluted as they move downwind with more and more distance. However, if I’m not ready to take an immediate shot, and there seems to be a direct breeze toward them, I’ll still correct the situation.
Scent control hunting with a bow becomes much more critical, since close up action is required. However, in thicker timber when you have to move closer to get a clear window to shoot through, the same problem arises.
If the wind isn’t right, look for a way to relocate yourself to make it right. Better they hear you moving than smell you. If an elk (or deer) sees you, they may not bolt. If they hear you moving, they may not pay it any mind, or they might stare at you. If they smell you, game’s over!
As you look for a way to correct the wind, you still need to pick a route that will not allow them to see you moving. The quieter, the better. There are ways to make acceptable walking noises that sound non-human. (See “stalking elk” coming soon.)
Moving might mean you have to guess which way they are going to move while you are relocating. If you’ve patterned the local elk well, you might be able to make an educated guess as to which way they will move, if they are moving at all. As you circle around, give them wide birth and then move in carefully from your new location. Look for "elk parts" instead of whole elk as you move closer to relocate them.
I’ve heard a few guys say they don’t bother trying to minimize their own scent, because they just work the wind. The problem with that is no one can completely avoid unpredictable and changing breezes. Also, you sometimes get pinned down real close to elk so you can't move. I’ve had them walk around me many times.
It’s a good idea to take some reasonable measures for personal scent control. What we’re really talking about is minimizing the scent you carry with you. Again, “scent elimination” is actually quite impossible, but the term is used freely among manufacturers of scent control hunting products.
There is a scent control hunting scientist that participates on some of the forums on the Internet who calls himself the Scent Professor. We will summarize some of his shared knowledge about scent control hunting on these two links that you can click on when you're ready to consider the topics:
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