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Deer and human scent

Mitch Strobl and Vanessa Fox
Independent Research, BIO 490, Biology Department, DePauw University
Spring semester 2012

Deer hunting is a popular activity.  In Indiana during 2006, a total of 272,000 hunters spent 4.8 million days and $223 million on hunting.  A typical hunter sets up and regularly visits a deer stand in the woods and inadvertently leaves a scent trail.  Do deer avoid walking past the deer stand due to the presence of human scent?  Conventional wisdom says yes, leading to a booming market for scent control products.  Are these scent control products effective?  Another conventional wisdom is that hunters see females more often than males.  Male deer (bucks) are more cryptic, using the cover of darkness for travel during the hunting season.  Is this conventional wisdom regarding sex and travel patterns true?

Research Questions
The goal of our study was to address these questions:  What is the effect of time of day on deer movement?  What is the effect of human scent on deer movement?  Are there differences between male and female deer (bucks and does)?

We set up ten infrared motion-sensitive cameras along active deer trails in the DePauw Nature Park.  Five cameras were “unscented” and five cameras were “scented.” The cameras were set up from September 2011 to January 2012.  “Unscented” cameras were set up and checked using carbon-lined clothing, scent-eliminating spray, and rubber gloves.  We counted the number of observations of male and female deer by time of day and between scented and unscented cameras. 

Human scent and time of day affected movement of bucks and does.  Bucks avoided areas with human scent during the day, but were more likely to visit scented areas at night.  Does were more active during the day in both scented and unscented areas. 

Activity of bucks was affected by human scent and time of day.  Our results suggest that scent control products are effective at encouraging activity of bucks during the day.  Does are less sensitive to human scent.  Does tend to remain in groups as a source of safety and may be more willing to move during the day regardless of human scent in an area.