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Deer and human scent

Jason Kirchhoff and Sam Sullivan
Ecology class, BIO 342, Biology Department, DePauw University
Fall semester 2016

We investigated the effects of human scent on detection of mammals with trail cameras in the DePauw Nature Park.

We hypothesized that there would be more photos of deer at trail cameras without human scent compared to trail cameras with human scent. 

We set up four cameras near deer trails in forested areas of the park.  Two cameras were “scented” and two cameras were “unscented.”  At the unscented cameras, we used rubber gloves, avoided direct skin contact, and sprayed scent-a-way on the camera and in the general vicinity.  At the scented cameras, we didn’t use gloves or spray, urinated at the base of the tree, and released as much human scent as possible.  We placed two to three pounds of cracked corn in front of each camera to attract deer.  We checked the cameras for photos three times in November and December 2016.  We added more corn and reapplied the spray and scent each time we checked the cameras.

The cameras took 203 photos of deer; 161 photos were does and 42 photos were bucks.  Bucks were photographed significantly more often at the scented than the unscented cameras.  There was no difference in the number of photos of does between scented and unscented cameras. 

Our presence may have affected the activity of deer at both the scented and unscented cameras.  In addition, deer are used to the presence of humans and do not perceive humans as a threat in the DePauw Nature Park.  We recommend that future research be conducted to see if similar patterns occur outside of a protected park, such as on public or private land where deer hunting is not prohibited.  We also recommend using more cameras spread over a wider area.