Volume: 16 | Back to issueSubscribe Now
column By: Gordy J. Krahn | July, 18
We were under no delusion this rankest of cover scents would render us “invisible” to a coyote or foxes’ nose but believed it might give them pause, providing that extra second or two that might mean the difference between getting a shot off or sending an educated predator on a sprint for home. I’ve seen enough of them turn inside out when they hit my scent stream to know every second gained can provide an edge.
Cover scent is one part of a three-step, scent-control regimen that can make hunters more effective at fooling a predator’s nose. A canine’s sense of smell is its first line of defense, and getting past it should be every hunter’s primary objective. Doing so means using cover scents, scent-elimination products and in some cases, lures to trick that incredible olfactory system – if only for a few seconds.
Coyotes and other canines detect and analyze scent using short inhalations and exhalations. Air is forced into the nasal cavity and through the turbinates – bones situated along the sidewalls of the nose, covered by a mucous membrane – which warm and humidify air. The mucus membrane traps and dissolves scent molecules and passes them over scent receptor cells for analysis. Canines have up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about 6 million in humans. The part of their brain devoted to analyzing various smells they encounter is 40 times greater than ours. Scent molecules move across receptors imbedded in every part of the nasal cavity, including the sinuses, while accumulating enough for recognition and then firing off an electrical signal to different parts of the brain for evaluation. Once detection is complete, analysis takes place in the brain, letting the coyote know what it’s dealing with – and how it should react.
It’s the second part of this olfactory process that should make a predator hunter’s ears perk up. If it’s possible to alter a coyote’s perception of what its nose is detecting, then it might be possible to sell it on a false, or altered, reality. By manipulating that reality it’s possible to buy time, or even lure the coyote in closer, through the use of scent-reduction products, cover scent and attractant lures.
I won’t say that I practice stringent scent control for every predator-hunting application, or even for most of them. If hunting open country where I’m sitting up high and have open shooting lanes downwind, I usually don’t bother. I figure that by the time a critter gets downwind and picks up my scent stream I’ll have had time to shoot. If hunting tight terrain or hunting at night, I know using a scent control regime might be the difference between success and going home empty handed.
On one such night during the dead of winter in Wisconsin, a hunting buddy and I made several unsuccessful setups. Only when I went back the following day to do a little detective work did I understand why. Tracks in the snow clearly showed that we had called in several coyotes – and a bobcat – that had circled downwind, caught our scent and disappeared without us knowing they were there.
For those times when it’s prudent to exercise scent control, a one, two, three punch for getting by a predator’s No. 1 defense can be delivered – scent elimination, cover scent and the use of scent attractants. First off, consider scent elimination, which is really a misnomer. The best a hunter can really hope for is scent reduction, maybe enough to give a canine pause and provide a few seconds of confusion.
Scent reduction begins in the laundry room. There are a great number of detergent products available designed to effectively kill the bacteria that produces offensive odors. There is also no shortage of dryer-activated, scent-reduction clothing that reduces the amount of scent hunters take with them to the field. Pick one or the other and follow the manufacturer’s directions. After treatment, clothes should be kept in a sealed, scent-free container until ready for field use. Scent-reduction sprays can also be used on site to spray down boots, backpacks, caps and any other items that didn’t go through the laundry.
Okay, your clothes are “scent free,” but what about your stinky, bacteria-producing body? The solution lies in the shower, where several products can use used to minimize human odors.
The second punch is the use of an effective cover scent – often called masking scents – such as the skunk essence mentioned. Obviously, masking scent is going to cover only that area downwind of the hunter, and I always try to have open shooting lanes downwind. If hunting with a partner I might position him downwind to pick up those circling critters. When hunting alone try to utilize some type of barrier on the downwind side, such as a river, steep bank or swamp, which will funnel called critters into forward-facing shooting lanes. When this is not feasible, use a cover scent to gain a precious few seconds of confusion when a critter hits the combination of the cover scent and a faint – because scent minimizing products were used – scent stream.
Cover scents such as skunk essence and coyote, raccoon and fox urine are perennial favorites. These naturally occurring, pungent odors work both as a confidence booster and a curiosity lure. In fact, in the case of coyotes, the presence of fox or raccoon urine might attract their attention, and they might even follow the tantalizing odor to your setup in hopes of encountering the source of the smell and maybe steal a meal from a smaller predator. Just be aware that the opposite is true when using coyote urine as a cover scent; forget about calling up any foxes or bobcats that get downwind.
To dispense masking scent, use any of the absorbent wicks marketed for dispersing various attractant lures and cover scents. Dip them in the cover scent and hang them 20 yards or so downwind of your setup. Often I use three; one directly downwind and the other two fanned out to either side. If a coyote circles downwind and catches one of the scents to the side, it might just follow the tantalizing smell toward my position and never get far enough downwind to smell me. In this case the masking scent serves a dual purpose – not only does it help cover my scent if a coyote makes it downwind, but it doubles as a curiosity lure. When done with the setup, place the wicks in a baggie, seal it and move on to the next setup.
Here’s the knockout punch: Use attractant scents to lure predators into closer proximity. Fur trappers are masters at this. They use visual and scent-based lures, and their knowledge of animal behavior and travel patterns to entice a critter to step on a three-inch trap pan! This might be a feather hanging from a monofilament fishing line or various types of scents. Luckily, fur hunters need only get that animal within the range of a rifle, shotgun or bow, but they can benefit from using the same lure strategies trappers use, such as positioning dispensers so the scent travels the wind currents to known corridors that animals follow. Or they use a strong musk scent to lure the critter into the proximity of the setup, and a food-based scent to seal the deal.
Attractant lures generally fall into one or more of three categories: Social (animal urine and gland lures), food (fish oil, meat-based) and curiosity (Anise essence, urine, or vanilla extract). Gland/urine lures are typically specific to the target animal; coyote glands or urine would be used to attract other coyotes. Food-based lures appeal to the animal’s need to feed. Curiosity lures, sometimes referred to as “call lures,” are attention grabbers formulated to bring a critter in to investigate a setup. (Skunk essence works as a curiosity lure as well as a masking scent. It doesn’t appeal to an instinct. It simply tells the predator something is going on at a particular location, and it approaches to investigate.) I use this same dispersal method for attractant scents as I use for cover scents, applying them to catch the attention of critters circling downwind, drawing them out in the open before they hit my scent stream.
Predator hunters should not fool themselves into believing they can completely outwit the canine nose. The best they can hope for is creating enough confusion to buy a little time. Canines live and die by their nose, and judging by the proliferation of coyotes across the country, it seems to be working out pretty well. Calling success hinges on getting by this formidable defense and avoiding detection. Taking a three-pronged approach to scent control can help the savvy fur hunter do just that. If the inside of your truck smells like a dead skunk in the process, you’re probably on the right track.