As bucks go, it wasn’t a record-setter, but it was a good one — a real good one.
Adrenaline surged through the hunter’s body. A few more steps and the deer would be in the angled just right to launch an arrow.
Then it was like the animal hit an invisible wall. Its body stiffened momentarily, and then it tore off, blowing in alarm.
The last thing the hunter saw was its white flag tail disappearing into the woods.
What happened — what, what?
Sammy Romano said that the hunter stunk. Literally.
Romano should know. Deer hunting is what he does.
The confirmed bowhunter hunts every free moment during the season and spends the other eight months preparing his property for deer.
He manages nearly 500 acres of upland hardwoods owned by his family south of Vicksburg, Miss. He’s also a shareholder in 1,200 acres of bottomland hardwood north of that Mississippi Delta town.
To pay for his deer habit, what does he do? What else: He teaches deer hunters.
He’s the manager and bow technician for Chag’s Sporting Goods in Metairie, La, the largest full-line archery supplier in Southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi.
“Deer relay on smell, sight and hearing,” Romano said. “A deer can see you and not run off; he may keep looking at you. He may hear you and, depending on what’s going on — proximity and loudness of noise — he may still not run off.
“But if he smells you, he will immediately leave the area. The scent of man triggers an immediate alarm response.”
That said, it might be surprising that Romano isn’t out to completely rid himself of scent.
“When it comes to scent, most people think of scent elimination rather than scent management. Realistically, I feel elimination is impossible,” he explained. “Scent management is not any one thing, but rather a series of things, including personal hygiene, equipment maintenance, cover scents and attractants, field tactics, and scent containment.”
Romano talked about them one at a time.
“It’s no secret that humans have an odor,” Romano chuckled. “The first step is to try to reduce odor from the body.”
Romano showers immediately before hunting to wash off bacteria and skin particles, in an attempt to minimize exfoliation.
He recommends using some sort of scent-free soap and reminds hunters to brush their teeth, which he calls a huge source of odor.
“We have to do some of this on faith,” Romano said with a grin. “We can’t go ask a deer if it works.”
As for urinating from a stand?
“I’ve seen research that deer can be attracted to human urine,” Romano said. “Personally, I never urinate near a stand. It might not hurt to do so, but it probably doesn’t help.
“It’s not that it scares or attracts; it alters deer behavior. That’s true for all deer hunting, but especially for bow hunting with the animal best within 40 yards. A deer on alert behaves differently than a relaxed animal and will react quicker to the sound of the shot. Sound travels faster than arrows.”
Romano always hunts with rubber knee boots to minimize sent transfer. And he keeps his clothes in sealed plastic totes, even in the offseason.
If cooking is taking place at the camp, he hangs his hunting clothes outside.
He washes his clothes on the washer’s antibacterial cycle after running an empty cycle with a hunting-specific detergent that is also non-UV.
Then he line-dries the clothes — except for carbon suits, which have to be recharged by running them in a dryer on its highest setting with unscented hunter dryer sheets
“I work hard at my hunting,” he said. “No one knows what a deer is thinking. We can only theorize.”
The same care Romano puts into his body and clothes goes into his equipment.
He leaves his stands covered outside several weeks before using them.
He washes his safety harness and backpack the same way he washes his clothing.
And he never stores his equipment in environments that have household smells: Bow strings and grips can retain scent.
“I’ve had hunters bring bows into the store that smelled like ash trays,” Romano said. “That smell may not hurt, but sure it doesn’t help.”
Cover scents and attractants
Cover scents are designed to cover human scent rather than reduce it. Romano puts very little faith in cover scents.
“Research I have read indicates that a deer can process many smells at one time — differentiate between them and react to them individually,” he said. “If we walk into a house where someone is cooking soup, we smell soup. A deer smells corn, peas, potatoes, and carrots. A drug dog can detect a tiny amount of cocaine in a tanker of gasoline.
“If gasoline can’t hide scent, then fox urine can’t cover our scent.”
Attractants are made to lure deer into position for a good shot.
“They work well at times,” Romano said. “During the rut, bucks are more susceptible. I do occasionally use a drag rag to lay down a scent line to bring bucks in.
“But most people do it incorrectly. Don’t put doe urine on a rag and then walk to your stand. I learned that the hard way. A buck did what I programmed him to do: He tracked the scent line back in the direction of the ATV. Deer, like dogs, track scent from where it is weakest to where it is strongest.
“The correct way is to apply it to a rag at the stand and walk away from the stand; then remove the rag and carry it to the stand to hang it.”
Of course, there are a lot of choices in attractants, and Romano said it’s important to know which ones to choose.
“Don’t use ‘doe in heat’ when deer are weeks away from the rut,” Romano said.
But this hunter said he really doesn’t hang his hat on these scents.
“I don’t use a lot of attractants; rather, I locate my stands based on normal deer behavior, reading terrain features such as funnels, pinch points and signs of deer activity like rubs, trails, and scrapes,” Romano said. “Attractants can alter that behavior — sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
“The exception is during the rut. Then there are no rules. Bucks no longer follow their routine. The rut is the best time to use attractants.”
Romano’s favorite — when he uses it — is Conquest EverCalm Deer Herd Scent. It comes in a stick form, like human deodorant, and he applies it to his boots prior to a hunt.
“Apparently, it makes deer behave more at ease,” he said.
Romano includes scent-elimination sprays in the cover scents and attractants category. Typically these are sprayed on boots, clothes and backpacks, but not on bows because they leave too much moisture.
“I don’t know if it helps, but it doesn’t hurt,” he said.
This is simply keeping the hunter’s scent from reaching the deer’s nose and involves more modern technology, according to Romano.
“The Achilles heel and, at the same time, a deer’s greatest strength is its trust in its nose,” he said.
Several brands of scent containment clothes are sold today. Some are anti-microbial; others trap odor and hold it until you release it.
“Like a roach motel, they check in but they don’t check out,” Romano said with a laugh. “I love carbon clothing. They are lined with carbon fiber that captures and holds scent molecules on the carbon’s surface.
“Two that I prefer are Scent Blocker and ScentLok. At $200 to $400, they are expensive, but they work exceptionally well.
He said this specialized clothing has been instrumental to his success.
“I’ve hunted here from 1990 to 2009 and only taken one exceptional buck with a bow, although I’ve killed a million does and small bucks,” Romano said while sitting in his camp. “The first year I had a carbon suit, I killed two big bucks and shot at three more.
“And the two I killed came from straight downwind. I didn’t just miraculously become a better hunter in one year.”
As much as Romano likes carbon clothing, recent advances threaten to make them old-fashioned.
Scent Blocker’s new technology — called “Trinity” — uses man-made polymers that are more fabric friendly than carbon to trap odor.
Scent Blocker National Sales Manager Corey Waller said that, because Trinity is man-made, its scent-trapping pores are uniformly the right size to capture scent molecules.
Carbon in carbon suits (which Scent Blocker also makes), on the other hand is a natural product with widely varying pore sizes.
Besides being fabric-friendly and more efficient at trapping scent, the new material breathes better than carbon and doesn’t absorb water like carbon does.
The other thing in Romano’s scent-containment toolbox is what he calls his “magic bullet” — an Ozonics in-field ozone generator he mounts on the tree immediately over his head in the stand.
He is sold on it — big time.
“If you told me I could only have one thing for scent control and give up everything else, Ozonics is what I would keep,” Romano said.
He cited a 2013 hunt as an example of its effectiveness.
“I had 22 deer on a food plot, and six of them were rack bucks. All but two of them came from straight downwind,” Romano said. “That’s a good feeling, when you beat the best noses in the business.”
Oxygen, as it exists most commonly in nature, is a molecule of two oxygen atoms bound together. Ozone, a much rarer oxygen molecule is made up of three bound atoms, is chemically highly reactive.
According to Romano, ozone bonds with human scent molecules, making it unrecognizable to deer and other scent-savy animals.
One of the inventors of the device, a dentist named Scott Elrod, used ozone to sterilize his instruments and as an odor mitigator after noticing ozone knocked out the nauseating smell of cauterizing flesh.
Together with one of his patients, Dennis Fink, who had a background in research and development for a chemical company, they created an ozone generator suitable for field use by hunters.
Romano said an Ozonics unit costs about $400 and uses rechargeable batteries that last four to six hours. It must be mounted over the hunter’s head and must face downwind.
“Some people say, ‘That’s a lot of trouble,’” Romano said. “I say, ‘What the heck? You’re sitting on a stand. What else are you going to do?’
“Others complain about the price. These are the same people who own a $7,000 ATV, a $1,500 bow and pay for a lease.”
He said the unit is worth every dime and all the hassle.
“It’s the only thing I know that can dramatically increase the number of deer seen,” Romano said. “If I go to a stand and find out I forgot it, I’ll go back and get it.
“It’s the one thing I won’t hunt without!”
“It’s all about the wind,” Romano said. “If you have a steady wind and the deer is upwind, you have him beat. But, contrary to some belief, deer don’t always work upwind. If they did, they would all winter in Canada.”
And wind direction is a moving target, anyway.
“... (Y)ou can’t anticipate wind direction to locate stands,” Romano said. “And you can’t climb a new tree every day; sometimes there are no climbable trees where you want one. I have 40 stands on 500 acres to take advantage of wind direction on any given day. Hence the need for scent management.”
“The valley-like hollows on my property south of Vicksburg do strange things to scent: The wind swirls in them. The hills of Mississippi, like those of North Louisiana, have made me even more aware of the need for scent management.”
This issue is even more important today, since deer herds have largely grown.
“The fly in the ointment is that, in modern times with good management, deer are everywhere,” he said. “You might be located right for that buck you want, but a wandering doe can react to your scent and spook him.
“In some ways, it used to be easier to kill one of the two deer on a plot than one of the 50 deer there now — too many noses; too many eyes.”
Romano also feels stand height helps minimize scent dispersal. In general, he prefers a stand to be at least 15 feet high, but he cautioned that elevated stands are not always the solution.
“I firmly believe that, in some areas, years of hunter predation from heights has conditioned deer to look upward for danger,” he said. “The new hub-style ground blinds are an option that offers both concealment and scent containment.”
He also said there are more considerations when choosing a stand site than if deer are nearby.
“The No. 1 concern I have when I pick a location for a stand is access and entry,” Romano said. “Can I get into and out of the stand without the deer knowing I was there? You have to be able to access the stand without crossing trails.
“Once a deer realizes that it is being hunted, it changes the balance of power. It goes to the deer.”
Finally, Romano cautioned hunters not to wear out a stand or mess it up.
The first hunt in a stand is the best hunt. Just by sitting and exfoliating in it, a hunter changes it. A stand can be “messed up” by hunting in it at the wrong time.
“Go to another stand,” Romano said, “even though the trail camera tells you that a big buck is at the first stand.”