It is far more complex than upwind or downwind. That just is not how wind works. A deer can be 50-yards upwind of you with the wind blowing directly away from that deer and the deer can smell you. That same deer can be directly downwind of you with the wind blowing directly toward it and it may not smell you. Wind and breezes and thermals all travel in what I like to call “tendrils”. Think of wind as a plate of pasta noodles thrown in the air. The gob stays together but there are always errant noodles. The same is true of scent. It goes where it wants, not where the “bulk” of the wind goes. It may be over or around a deer or directly toward or away from it.
Let’s take it one step further. Scent detection also involves humidity and moisture content. On some days, a deer standing in a specific spot may smell you immediately. On the next, under the same wind conditions, it may not smell you at all.
Now add in conditioning. We “condition” deer to avoid us…sometimes. And sometimes, deer are conditioned to more or less, ignore us. Deer that see humans every day, are far less wary of man. Until, that is, he becomes man the predator. I could write 1,000 words on that alone. Suffice it to say, by the time a doe is 5.5-years old, she can become unkillable if we have conditioned her. A conditioned doe will nail you 10X faster than a buck of the same age. No, I do not know why. I can only suspect. A conditioned doe does not need to smell you. They, as it is with me, only have to suspect. And, there is not one thing you can do about it other than try to kill her. I hunted one, specific doe for three years before I finally killed her at 125-yards with a rifle. And guess what? Her daughters were even worse. So spooking deer isn’t always a scent problem.
There are a myriad of factors involved in supposed scent control from fecal gas to breath, to rubber boots to not eating asparagus. Ask yourself this. “Why do I hunt?” Why am in the woods? Is it not because you enjoy it? Does killing something mean the difference between enjoyment and misery? Do I have to worry all the time or can I just relax and enjoy?
In short, there is only so much we can do about scent control. Be clean, wear clean clothes, use the wind to some extent, understand thermals and the vagaries of wind. Sure, all that matters. But the bottom line is simple. If the deer is in the right place, at the right time, they will smell us no matter what we do or how much we spend. So relax. You are not going to starve to death for lack of meat.
Wouldn't count on it.
I try to keep unnatural scents and ManStink to a minimum, but it'd be pretty stupid of me to wear a full-on chemical warfare suit and then sling a leather backquiver over my shoulder and expect not to get busted. Lions have to get within pretty fair bow range, though, and they seem to be eating pretty well.
I've always wondered, though...
If I rub sage on myself as a cover scent and then an Elk winds me up in the Black Timber, do they put it together that the sage is out of place? Or if I'm hunting near a lone apple tree and a deer gets wind of me after my scented has drifted around on a path like one of the kids from The Family Circus comic strip... will the deer put together the scent of the apples and know that I'm over by the apple tree, or will they "think" that my position is simply "up-wind" of wherever they happen to be? And how do they decide which direction is "up-wind"? Do they go by feel? Or maybe they know the landscape so well that a bull can get one whiff of me and process the information that a human has just taken a leak on the big ant-hill that's next to that little trickle of water where it cuts across the old logging road about 300 yards down-hill of that clearing where that bull that kicked my ass last week was rubbing a young spruce at about daybreak this morning...
BOY, would I like to have some clue about what they really know!
Scent control is without doubt one of if not the most exploited areas of ignorance in the world of hunting today. About 18 years ago I made a absolute all out maximum effort to reduce my scent on all levels by sitting down and developing a plan to reduce my scent to the lowest level I felt possible with in my financial means. This included the fallowing. #1-Covering every area of my truck I might contact while driving to my hunting area in plastic that had been de-scented. #2-Buying 5 sets of transport cloths to wear for the drive out to my area then for the walk to a pre-arranged spot about 100 yards from my stand where I would (regardless of temp) undress to being nude and donning all my hunting cloths that I kept in a scent proof container on the walk with me. #3-Including boots, have 5 complete sets of hunting cloths so I could go 5 hunts between wearing the same cloths twice.#4-Have three strap release aids for scent control. #4-Keep EVERY single piece of hunting clothes and boots stored in a garbage bag then in a descented rubbermade tote. #5-Were rubber gloves and a PVC rain suit to hang and take down my clothes from line drying.#6-First spray to the point of sateration my clothes washer with scent killing spray, pre-wash the same load of transport clothes 3x to hopefully descent my washer then wash my hunting clothes#6-Before season remove any branch or weed I might contact on the way to my stand so that the only thing than contacted ANYTHING on my walk to my stand were the soles of my rubber boots. #7-Spray my boots and pants legs with scent killer prior to every walk to my stand. #8-Buy fresh deer pee from a local deer farm to use as cover scent.#8Never hunt a stand unless the wind was as near perfect as it could be, and unless I had a compelling reason never hunt any stand more than tow days in a row. Now it's been quite some time since I was doing this so I'm sure I have forgot a step or two, but the bottom line about my scent control system was I still got winded, not that often, but still I still was getting picked off. I kept this system up for 2 and a half bow seasons and about half way through the third it just hit me that doing all this in the name of scent control had literally taken all the fun out of hunting for me and a stark realization slammed home that my hunting had become not like work but actually was work and most of the enjoyment had been replaced by boring utterly un-fun and exhausting effort at scent control that in the end I had to admit that while I was convinced it did help me see more deer, it wasn't fool proof and at the end of the day my scent was still getting me busted.
So I returned to keeping my self, my equipment and clothes as scent free as is practical and do my best to hunt with the wind is most favorable, and I once again was enjoying the sport I love so much. Over the years I learned that the overwhelming majority of factors that control how your scent gets to a deer in terms of wind direction, humidity, thermal currents, topography, and so on and so on are COMPLETELY and UTTERLY out our control and the sooner you accept these facts the better off you will be.
I place my stands facing where I believe the deer most likely will come from.
I will hunt that stand when the wind is in my face...
Sometimes I win, sometimes the deer win..and I'm good with that.