7 Fascinating Facts About Whitetail Noses

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When it comes to a buck’s sense of smell, do you really understand what you’re up against?

(Ryan Orndorff illustration)

Scent control is a multi-million-dollar industry, and it’s not hard to understand why deer hunters might want the extra help. Whitetail hunting is dominated by rules that revolve around your scent: Hunt the wind, pay attention to thermals, walk into the breeze, find access routes that don’t blow your scent into bedding cover, and so on. That’s because there’s not much that can beat a buck’s nose.

So we know whitetail noses are good, but just how good?

A deer that sees something suspicious or hears a strange noise will usually hang around until another sense confirms the danger and determines it’s time to go. But a buck or doe that smells danger (like you) is out of there.

Humans live with a decidedly poor sense of smell. We make up for it with sharp eyesight, which is our primary sense for detecting danger. Sure, we can be walking in the street and pass an open kitchen where something good is cooking on the stovetop and know that something is bacon. But can we smell a person 500 yards away? Or scent water from a mile, like a whitetail can? Or catch some human molecule on the breeze and know from a hundred yards out whether they ate a Pop-Tart or a donut for breakfast and just how much pee dribbled on their britches in the pre-dawn hours?

A better understanding of what makes the whitetail's nose so powerful will help you respect its capabilities even more by 1) giving you increased consideration to the wind and 2) helping you consider enhancing your scent control. Carbon-technology hunting clothes such as those from ScentLok certainly help, but nothing trumps hunting with the wind in your face.

Fact No. 1: Deer Have Large Nostrils

Next time you have the opportunity for a close-up look, study a whitetail’s nostrils. They're huge, which lets a lot of air in. They expand and flare (note the side slots, which let even more air in), and they’re elongated to funnel all that air in even better. There's also no nostril hair, either, which would impede airflow. More corralled air means more scent captured.

Fact No. 2: They Have Long Whiskers

The next time you have a whitetail on the ground, take another minute to examine the length of the elegant whiskers on its snout and around its nose. They’re exceptionally long and cone in toward the nostrils. Why? To help funnel air into the old sniffer.

Fact No. 3: They Don’t Lick ‘Em for the Taste

Ever wonder why a wary deer will intently and busily lick its nose? They do this regularly to keep them wet, but the behavior intensifies in tense situations. A damp surface does an infinitely better job of snagging scent molecules on the breeze.

The takeaway? Keep the wind in your face and hunts will go much smoother. (Shutterstock / Jim Cumming photo)

Fact No. 4: The Nose is Long

How long is your nose? Two, maybe 3, inches? Next time you shoot a mature buck, run a tape measure from between the eyes to the tip of snout. My bet is you’ll get 6 to 9 inches. And an old doe? Just look at the length of that thing. Good luck fooling her. A bigger nose simply holds more sensitive tissue to single out odors of danger.

Fact No. 5: There are Massive Amounts of Scenting Tissue in There

Within that elongated nose resides more than 100 square inches of sensitive scenting tissue. How can so much fit? It's folded and wrinkled – not flat like a human’s – so its surface area increases exponentially, along with its ability to capture scent.

Fact No. 6: The Brain Drives it All

An exceptionally large proportion of the whitetail's brain – and the most highly developed section – devotes itself exclusively to smelling and scent discrimination. Consider this: A human brain has about 5 million scent receptors that accept, analyze and sort smells. A bloodhound has about 220 million. But a whitetail possesses more than 300 million. That’s astonishing.

A bloodhound has about 220 million. But a whitetail possesses more than 300 million. That tells the story. (Shutterstock / P. Umidol photo credit)

Fact. No 7: Their Nose is 100 Times Better than Yours – Maybe More

The fact that a whitetail will trust its nose alone, without corroboration from any other sense, tells you the animal's olfactory capabilities are highly developed and incredibly reliable. The whitetail’s nose has been described as 100 times more sensitive than a human’s, but that’s hard to quantify. The whitetail nose’s acuteness, effectiveness and efficiency are almost certainly beyond our comprehension. But quantifying their noses doesn’t matter when their capabilities speak for themselves – like watching a buck strike your hours-old tracks and spook back into the woods.

The Takeaway?

A whitetail may not be able to reason, but it can see with its nose, trusting its magnificent smelling sensitivity beyond any other sense. So, keep the wind in your face, my friend.

Don't Miss: Things to Know About a Deer’s Sense of Smell

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