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Bob Frye: Consider wind when hunting whitetails

Bob Frye
| Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, 6:38 p.m.
White-tail deer graze in a field in Boyce Park on Monday October 14, 2013.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
White-tail deer graze in a field in Boyce Park on Monday October 14, 2013.

Ignore the wind at your own peril.

Pennsylvania's firearms deer season — the busiest two weeks of the hunting year, still, as has been the case for decades — is just about here. It runs Nov. 27 to Dec. 9.

As many as 700,000 or more hunters will take to the woods looking for a whitetail.

Whether they fill their tag can depend on smell.

Meaning, your stand can be on a hot spot. You can be practiced and competent with your rifle. You can be dressed for the weather, ready to sit all day if need be.

But if a deer — especially a cagey old buck that's already survived a few seasons — smells you, it's all over.

“You cannot kill them unless you're hunting where they're at. But you can't kill them if the wind is wrong,” said Mike Stroff, host of Savage Outdoors TV and operator of Southern Outdoor Experience Hunts, a Texas-based guiding service.

There's no denying how well deer can smell, said Duane Diefenbach, leader of Pennsylvania's cooperative fish and wildlife research unit at Penn State.

In a post on the unit's deer-forest study site, he points out humans have about five million olfactory receptors enabling them to smell. Whitetails have 297 million.

Given that, Diefenbach — an admitted skeptic — said it's unlikely cover scents or scent-absorbing clothing hide you from deer.

They perhaps can minimize your scent footprint, Stroff said.

“But is it the tell-all, be-all? Because I sprayed it on my clothes are the deer not going to be able to wind me? No,” he said.

Don't bank on attractant scents that can smell like anything from acorns to corn to apples, either, said Tom Richardson, a hunting guide from Carson City, Mich.

He believes that, if anything, they might give hunters away, especially at certain times. He compares spraying them in a deer's home area to pumping the smell of coffee into his house.

That's a common scent, but only in the morning, not late afternoon, he said. If he smells it then, something's up.

“That's a red flag,” Richardson said.

The key to staying hidden from deer, scent-wise, is to play the wind, Stroff said.

When he's on a really hot spot, he often will hang multiple stands around it, he said. Which one he hunts — if any — is determined by which way the wind is blowing.

There's more to it than just that, though. He stresses thinking of wind not just as something that moves horizontally but as something that rises and falls, too.

“In the mountains, the big thing is you've got to think about thermals when you're thinking about wind direction,” Stroff said. “Wind direction is not the only player. Thermals play just as big a role when you're on stand.”

Cold air sinks, warm air rises.

That's why it's usually best to hunt high on a slope early in the day, when warming temperatures carry thermals uphill, and lower later in the day, as cold air carries scent downhill. Forget any of that, and you're probably going to get busted.

“Here's the deal,” Stroff said. “It's hard to beat the deer's nose.”

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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