Scent Control: Worth The Effort?

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

I need new rubber boots.

This is a fact that became chillingly obvious over the past month or so. It's shed hunting season, and while I happen to live in a state where finding an antlered buck after nearly 1 million hunters pound every woodlot and field with multiple buck tags to fill is akin to scratching off a lottery ticket worth more than $5, I still enjoy going out and searching.

It's been an unusually mild winter here in Michigan, and that's made for a lot of wet conditions in the woods. Thus when searching about for antlers, I've chosen to wear the popular knee-high rubber boots in an effort to keep the mud and water at bay. The first pair I wore apparently had developed a crack and the first puddle encountered revealed the flaw. Mild winter or not, that water was still cold. Thus the next time I went, I chose a different pair of rubber boots. They also leaked.

This weekend, I headed out for what will likely be a final shed hunting effort and wore a third (and final) pair of rubber boots. Those also leaked.

So, yeah, time for some new boots. Which got me thinking: Should I be buying rubber boots at all?

Like most of you, I started wearing the classic LaCrosse knee-highs after watching folks like Will Primos on TV. Until that point, I'd never even seen boots like that other than in a dairy barn. The big selling points for me were that the boots were "scent-free" and would keep deer from smelling where I'd walked in.

I was sold and wore them religiously until the last couple of years when I started to realize that those rubber ovens weren't all that comfortable in colder climates. So I've been wearing more leather hunting-style boots in recent years and opting for thicker pac-style boots in the winter.

But I worried that deer would smell where I had walked in.

Honestly, I can't think of a time when deer definitely smelled where I had walked. Of course, I tend not to walk in on deer paths or the direction from which I expect deer to come from.

But this boot-buying process has gotten me thinking about the scent-control craze in general. I admit that I try to use every product I can that claims to reduce human scent. From carbon-lined clothing to sprays to ozone-generating units, I'll use it. Does it all work? I think it does. I don't think it completely eliminates human scent, but every little bit helps, and I do feel that I've gotten away with more than I have before in terms of wind direction.

But what about rubber boots? I read an interesting report in Field and Stream a few years ago that essentially states that rubber boots are no more effective at stopping human odor than any other type of boot. They used tracking dogs to prove it.

Here's the deal. Rubber boots do have an odor. They smell like rubber boots. It didn't surprise me in the least that a tracking dog could follow them. But was it tracking human scent or was it tracking the scent of rubber boots? That's a distinction that must be made I think.

Will the scent of rubber boots spook deer? Well, I suppose if they come to correlate that scent with danger, then sure. Does the scent of other deer spook deer? No. But deer definitely have an odor, right? And a tracking dog would certainly be able to track a deer, right?

Deer do spook at the scent of humans. That's a given. To me, all the sniff dog test proved is that rubber boots have an odor that can be tracked. I'd argue that it's the rubber scent those dogs are tracking, not human scent. So if those rubber boots stop human scent from being left on the ground -- even if it's replaced with another scent -- does that make them worthwhile?

And what about carbon-infused clothing? Ever smelled fresh, clean carbon suits? They have an odor that's very distinct. But it doesn't smell like a person. So maybe that's better than the alternative? Those ozone units spew forth air that smells like, well, ozone. But is that better than smelling like a human?

What do you think? How much stock do you put in rubber boots, carbon suits and other scent-control measures?