Feb 2, 2015

Hunting the Wind for White-tailed Deer: Seven Tips to Smelling Silent

Most hunters will only be successful a small percentage of the time if they ignore the direction of the wind. As a hunter, it is essential to know what direction the wind is blowing. White-tailed deer, coyote, fox, elk, especially bear and even birds can easily detect a hunter’s scent, especially when they are downwind.

Detecting human scent, bucks flee!
Detecting human scent, bucks flee!
The following blog post contains techniques on how to avoid being detected by the game animals you are hunting. While this blog post is applicable to all game animals, I will be focusing on white-tailed deer in particular.

1. Hunt the wind! Determining the direction of the wind is the first thing you should do in the morning before you begin hunting. You want to be sure that you can hunt in your spot without the wind blowing your scent towards the animals you are hunting.

If you pay close attention, many times you will notice that the wind is moving in a distinct direction. If you cannot easily determine the direction of the wind, there are other means of figuring out what direction the wind is blowing. For example, I usually carry a small feather with me, tethered to my bow by a thread. Or, if it is cold enough, simply watch what direction your breath moves through the air. Lastly, simply checking the weather channel will provide you with what direction the wind will be traveling.
Figure A. Upwind (Windward) vs. Downwind (Leeward)
Now that you know how to determine the direction of the wind, use it to your advantage! Travel to your hunting spot from a direction that allows you to approach it from a downwind (leeward) direction. In other words, walk to your hunting spot so that the wind is blowing your scent away from the location you will be hunting. For example, assuming you are walking bearing towards your hunting spot this usually means the wind should be blowing into your face or pass one of your sides but definitely NOT onto your back towards your spot.

Think of the wind as a spray gun pushing the scent away from your body. If you walk the side of a field and allow your scent to be blown across it as you go. The whole field will be filled with your scent and animals may easily detect your presence and become startled.

With the wind they go, with nothing to see or show.
~ Hunter Proverb

Even in conditions where there’s no wind, your scent permeates the air around you. Your scent may not travel in one particular direction but it will still infiltrate the air around your location. Second by second, the amount of scent you leave behind increases, making your precise location more and more detectable from further distances. While hunting, this type of scenario may be worse than if there was a slight breeze.

Without any wind, your precise location becomes very apparent to white-tailed deer and they can quickly and easily detect your location by simply sniffing the air. In contrast, a slight wind in one direction will push your scent away. Even though a white-tailed deer downwind from you will still be able to detect your scent, a white-tailed deer upwind of you will find it more difficult to smell you and will be less likely to locate you. This can and should be used to your advantage.

The night before or the morning of, I always look up the weather online or listen for a forecast on the radio before I go hunting. Wind direction is about as basic as most weather predictions and usually the local forecast is relatively accurate. My handheld Midland GMRS/FRS radio picks up the local weather service channels and they are usually the most accurate forecasts.

When you are scouting prior to the hunting season and looking for hunting spots, bring a compass so you know which direction your hunting spots are oriented in relation to the direction you will be traveling from. Before you head to your spot, you should check the direction of the wind so that you will know what direction you should approach it from. You can park your vehicle in a different spot if need be. Most of my hunting spots have at least two different access points to them and different parking locations so I can best hunt the wind and use it to my advantage!

Keep in mind, judging approximate wind direction is an art in of itself. I use any means available to give a best guess estimate. No method is perfect but a good estimation comes with an increased chance of seeing white-tailed deer.

Sometimes watching the weather channel is better than using a feather and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you can easily misjudge the overall direction of the wind by using a feather. On the other hand, wind direction can change throughout the day. Not to mention, the weather channel does not account your precise location in terms of wind direction. Will you be on a hill, next to trees or in a valley? There are drafts everywhere, especially when the wind strikes a stationary surface. Use your best judgment! Your judgment will get better over time and you will learn by experience which conditions white-tailed deer are more likely to pick up your scent and when they won’t.

2. Reduce and suppress your scent. Although, it can seem daunting to try and remove your scent, something that you yourself cannot completely detect most of the time (unless it’s been a few days between showers), scent removal does indeed lower your profile and makes it harder for white-tailed deer to detect you.

Many hunters do not make any effort to reduce their scents and leave it all up to hunting the wind because they feel it is a lost cause or a waste of time. For these hunters, I use the “Waste Basket” analogy. For the most part, unless trash is overflowing from the waste basket in your kitchen, you don’t notice the smell of the garbage from another part of your house. The only time you start to notice the smell is when you get within three or four feet of the waste basket.

Now, a dumpster. Even from 40 feet away, the smell of a dumpster is pretty distinct: a faint, lingering aura of rancid-ness and unique compilation of decaying gar-bage. The closer you get to the dumpster, the stronger its odors become, permeating the air surrounding it. Walking by the dumpster, you may walk a bit more hastily and hold your breath until you’re past it.

Finally, imagine you’re driving down a county highway, 55 mph, on a mid-summer afternoon. Even with the windows rolled up and the AC on, you start to notice a horrendous odor infiltrating your car. You glance around and see nothing but corn fields and alfalfa slightly swaying. Then, a couple seconds later, you pass a muddy pasture of grazing cows. Even though you’re probably a few hundred yards away, you can still smell the cow pies.

Stink like the waste basket! Even though a hunter will never be able to completely remove his scent, it is still in his best interest to try and stink less like the cow pasture or the dumpster and a little more or less like the waste basket.

I can smell someone smoking a cigarette upwind of me from over 100 yards away. Imagine how far away a white-tailed deer can smell that cigarette. When you smoke a cigarette, wear smelly/dirty clothes or are perspiring alcohol, you stink like the cow pasture. Now, if you’ve washed your hunting clothes in scent removal laundry detergent, keep your hunting gear in scent-free containers, a white-tailed deer may still be able to smell your deodorant or the bacon and eggs your wife made you for breakfast, but your chances are still pretty good of smelling more like a waste basket.

3. Go where the wind takes you! If the wind direction is not in your favor or other conditions (e.g., rain and temperature) become adverse, be willing to relocate. It's foolish to keep hunting in the same spot if you no longer have an advantage. Don’t stop hunting but, perhaps, consider other options. Be willing to move to a more strategic spot, one that may be more advantageous to you (e.g., the other side of a field or even a different area all together).

White-tailed deer detects scent and becomes wary!
White-tailed deer detects scent and
becomes wary!
Just a little after sunrise, I silently waited as rays of sunlight pierced the horizon, warming the nearby trees. A slight fog rested over the valley I had snuck into an hour earlier. With a small subdivision to my back, I patiently waited, lifting my binoculars every now and then in the direction I could expect a white-tailed deer to walk pass. It was opening morning of bow hunting season and all I had to do was be patient and sit quietly and still until a deer was in range. As the sun started to rise overhead, a steady breeze began blowing at my back. I could feel the warm breeze whisking my scent off the back of my ears, neck and hands. No doubt my scent was spreading throughout the field in front of me. My heart began to smolder, disappoint etched in my face. I knew my chances of getting a deer this morning were pretty low, considering the wind was not in my favor. Sighing, I considered Plan B. My other hunting spot was a mere 30 minute drive away but it would be late morning/early afternoon by the time I got there. With resignation, I gathered my gear and made for the truck, hastily leaving my warm sunlit but breezy valley for another morning.

There is no point in being stubborn. If you know white-tailed deer show up from a certain direction around a certain time and the wind is blowing your scent right to them, you might as well wait until the conditions change in your favor. I'll admit, it took many years to get around my stubbornness and realize that I was much better off relocating, even if it was only 100 yards away from my original spot.

4. Walk in from a good direction that does not cross the path of the white-tailed deer you are hunting. This is an easily overlooked mistake made by many hunters. White-tailed deer can pick up your scent almost immediately as they are walking over your path. Furthermore, your scent can linger in the surrounding area, alarming white-tailed deer for days after you’ve been there.

Good scouting can take care of this issue. When you go scouting for white-tailed deer, keep track of which direction the white-tailed deer are traveling in relation to where your hunting spot is. This will require that you follow footprints and even spend some mornings sitting and simply watching the white-tailed deer’s movements before the hunting season begins. This way you will know how to get to your spot without crossing their paths. It’s also worth mentioning that this is also why you should NOT travel on a white-tailed deer trail you are hunting. If a white-tailed deer picks up your scent, he may switch where he roams and you won’t likely see him again.

5. Use a tree stand. I know it’s cliché but nothing seems to give a hunter a better advantage than using a tree stand. Tree stands give you three basic advantages while hunting.
  1. You are out of the deer’s line of sight.
  2. You can see much further, giving you more time and better shot placement.
  3. Probably the most overlooked advantage of a tree stand is that being up in a tree seems to dissipate your scent, making it harder for a deer to smell you. If you’re in a tree stand, more often than not, a white-tailed deer will approach closer to your location and be less leery.
A tree stand stifles your scent because less of your scent particulates are reaching the ground and the scent that does reach the ground travels a greater distance from you by the time it can be detected by a deer. This dissipates your scent into a greater mass of air and inevitably throws a deer’s ability to detect your scent (and location) off by quite a bit. In contrast, many times while using hunting ground blinds, I’ve had deer wheeze at me long before they approached within shooting range and usually before I get a chance to see them. It’s because they picked up my scent and knew approximately where I was. This is much less likely to happen while hunting from a tree stand.

6. Use natural barriers. Hills, trees, valleys and land formations can create barriers and reduce the distance and amount your scent travels. These types of physical land features are good for concealing yourself as well as gaining vantage points to spotting white-tailed deer.

Bowhunting the crest or side of a hill
Figure B. Bowhunting the crest or upwind and side or downwind direction of a hill.
For example, approaching leeward (into the wind) to a hill and setting up your hunting area to overlook the upwind direction or on top of the hill's crest (Position 1.) can be as advantageous as being up in a tree stand. You’ll be able to see further and being up on a hill, your scent will get dissipated the same as if you were in a tree stand.

When the wind is blowing in a steady direction, you can even hunt the leeward side of a hill with the hill to your back and the ridge/crest above you (Position 2.). When you sit on the bottom on the hill with it to your back, as the wind blows over the crest or ridge of the hill, you will be out of the wind. A white-tailed deer may approach you unknowingly. This area of the hill should remain relatively calm from wind and can throw a white-tailed deer off from detecting your scent. Ultimately, your scent is not being pushed into the wind with all the other scents in the area.

Another land mark to consider hunting is small ditches or low areas. Your scent tends to fall down with gravity and linger in the bottom of these low areas. A ditch can actually trap and prevent your scent from traveling. It also keeps your body out of the path of any drafts or wind that would push your scent around. Keep in mind the tricky part of hunting from a ditch is really setting up a shot from a low vantage point without being seen by a deer.

Sometimes valleys, degrades in the land or dense woods can allow wind to pass far overhead and create large areas of forest relatively calm and free of wind. White-tailed deer may stay active in these areas even when the wind is blowing elsewhere.

7. Bad wind = Quality Downtime. Wind dictates how far, fast, which direction and where your scent spreads. Sporadic or heavy wind can make detecting your scent very difficult. It also makes distracting noises and causes foliage to move, making it more difficult for white-tailed deer to detect predator movement. Heavy winds, usually greater than 12-15mph, will slow if not stop most white-tailed deer movement. They become too leery to travel or move as they may inadvertently travel too close to or expose themselves to predators.

If you can't figure out what direction the wind is moving, you might as well keep hunting. Use windy days for hunting as well as scouting future hunting spots and locations. Hunting in a 20 mph wind is actually a solid prospect if you know approximate locations of where white-tailed deer tend to take cover and, of course, have the prowess to move through the woods undetected. Many times white-tailed deer will be alarmed when they smell your scent but they may also have a hard time locating you because of sporadic air movement. This has worked to my advantage many times. Even if the wind is unpredictable, after you start hunting, many times, the wind will pick up or settle down with the beginning of a sunrise or sunset.

It should go without saying that it is probably not a good idea to stalk your best hunting stands or blinds on windy days. You don’t want to lose any advantage you have at these locations by scaring white-tailed deer off. Use the time to discover new locations and spots. And if you are lucky, you might just step on a nice white-tailed deer that may have been hiding during the day.


Johnson, G. (2003). Tracking Dog: Theory & Methods (5th ed.). Mechanicsburg, PA: Barkleigh Productions.


  1. Thank's sharing for 7 tips. excellent review. Everything is looking good. It is real posting and i will share with you. I will also trying visit this site.

    1. Sorry for the delay, but yes... I try to keep it real.

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