Wildlife Photography – Learn the Art of Camouflage – Part 2 – Human Scent Control

Wildlife Photography – Learn the Art of Camouflage – Part 2 - Human Scent Control

Welcome to Part 2 of Learn the Art of Camouflage.  In part one of this series, we looked at the topic of how to properly utilize camouflage clothing to optimize your visual concealment and help blend into the environment better for your wildlife photography endeavors. In this episode, we’ll explore some ways to smell invisible using tactics developed for scent control for hunting. You’ll learn how to camouflage your human scent, which in most cases, is even more important than being visually camouflaged.

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Smelling Invisible

Along with visually minimizing your presence while on a wildlife photography shoot with the use of camouflage or earth-toned clothing, another important matter to consider is that of smelling invisible. The first and most powerful line of defense for many wild animals is that of their nose. Consider the fact that a whitetail deer has a nose as good as a bloodhound dog, and that a brown bear’s sense of smell is five times stronger than that! Needless to say, if an animal with such olfactory superpower gets a whiff of you, which it can do from literally a mile away, your chances of photographing it are next to none.

What is “Human Scent?”

Keep in mind that “human scent” isn’t just a matter of controlling your bodily odor such as bacteria from your sweat or your breath. Human scent is also comprised of any odor that is associated with humans, such as deodorant, laundry detergent scents, toothpaste or gum, shampoo, as well as food and beverages that we humans commonly use or consume every day. These kinds of scents will give away your presence to a wild animal just as easily and just as alarmingly as the smell of a stinky armpit or horribly bad breath. Proper scent control is about minimizing both your natural bodily odor and any odors that come from things commonly associated with humans.

The level of intensity that you apply to your scent control efforts will largely depend on the animal you’re trying to capture images of. Again, if you’ll be attempting to photograph an animal with a powerful sense of smell, then minimizing your human scent as much as possible will be a top priority. However, if the animal you’re after doesn’t have such a great sense of smell, then this won’t be nearly as important of an issue.

Scent Control Soaps and Detergents

Minimizing your human scent can be done in a number of ways, and it all starts with the naked body. Before heading out for a wildlife photography shoot, make sure you’re as clean as possible by first taking a shower with either unscented or “scent destroying” soap and shampoo. Many popular personal care companies make scent-free, antibacterial versions of their soaps, shampoos, and deodorants that work great for getting squeaky clean without all the added perfumes. There is also a wide variety of more specialized scent destroying products that are generally made for hunters. You can buy these products at most outdoor stores or online. I also have some available here.

After getting your body as scent-free as possible, the next step is to make sure that your clothing is free of any human-related scent, and that it’s also free of things like UV brighteners. Again, this can be achieved by using some of the generic scent-free laundry detergents that are out there, but much more so with the specialized detergents that are designed for hunting garments and outdoor gear. As a side note, a popular alternative to all the high-tech soaps and scent-free detergents is good old-fashioned baking soda, which has been used as a tried and true “scent killing” ingredient for generations.

As an example of a scent-free clothing regimen, I typically wash my in-the-field clothing with scent-free detergent, store them in an air-tight, scent-free bag or container of one kind or another, and then change into those clothes when I get out to my photography destination. Along with that, I also wash the clothes that I’ll be wearing while traveling to my destination with scent-free detergent. In fact, I usually wash all my clothes with scent-free detergents year-round just to make things easier. To top it off, I try to keep my vehicle clean and free of any strong odors, and as a final precaution, I also eat an apple right before heading out to the woods. Your mouth is one of the most potent sources of human scent of all and the chlorophyll in apples acts as a natural bad breath killer while giving you a healthy energy boost at the same time.

Cover Scents

Along with utilizing personal care and laundry products that are intended to destroy human odor, an additional option is the use of cover scents. This is a tactic that both man and beast alike have used since the most primitive of times. Predatory animals such as wolves as well as hunters of both ancient and modern eras apply the scent of other animals or strong-smelling items from nature to mask their scent in order to get closer to their prey. In fact, many otherwise domesticated dogs and cats, like my Golden Retriever Yukon, will still instinctually roll around in not so pleasant-smelling things for this same reason.

Commercially produced cover scents commonly come in the form of a naturally scented liquid spray that you can apply to your clothing or gear. You can buy cover scents that smell like a variety of trees or other aromatic natural elements, and they’re also available in not-so-great smelling products that mimic a variety of animal bodily fluids. In the same manner as picking out color and contrast appropriate camouflage clothing as we covered in part one of this video series, you should also make sure you choose an appropriate cover scent. For example, if you apply a pine scent to your jacket in an area that only has cedar trees, the wildlife will know that something is greatly out of place and will be on red alert, or, they’ll avoid the area completely.

An alternative to store-bought cover scents, which I personally prefer, and feel is more productive, is to apply a cover scent in the field using natural materials from the immediate area. Simply rubbing aromatic tree branches, leaves, dirt, nuts, fruit, etc., on your clothing, or even rolling around on the ground and getting covered with the scent of the earth, can be a very effective method for applying natural cover scent, just be sure you are not rolling around in rash inducing plants, insect nests, or something worse!

Another important practice to get in the habit of regarding your in-the-field clothing, as I mentioned earlier, is to keep it stored separately from your normal, casual clothing, especially if you’ll be camping out for several days on a photoshoot. What I often do is either hang my photography field clothes away from camp in some nearby brush, or again, simply keep them in a separate air-tight bag or container filled with tree branches, leaves, and natural cover scent items. The point is to keep human-related scents, such as excess body odor, food, hygiene products, smoke, etc., away from your field clothing as much as possible.

Watch the Wind!

 While implementing a good camouflage and scent control regimen is a highly effective strategy for a successful wildlife photo-shoot, the most important thing of all is to watch the wind at all times! All the scent control products and practices can certainly give you an edge at becoming invisible to an animal’s nose, and they can certainly be a big help with getting some great photos, but keep in mind that they’re not magic. I’ve had occasions where I utilized every conceivable odor killing and cover scent tactic there is, and still had wildlife detect me when the wind switched. The best, and most important piece of scent control gear that you can invest in (or make) is a small “wind checking” device, which is basically a small plastic bottle with some unscented talcum powder in it. Simply puff a little powder in the air, and bingo, you instantly know exactly which way the wind is blowing, even when things seem dead calm. Paying attention to the primary wind direction, and then setting up for your photo shoot accordingly, is hands-down the most productive things you can do, so I can’t stress enough how important and effective this simple little wind checking device can be.

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