It was said once here, and then ignored, but in all reality no matter how much some may dispute the "Hunting" aspect of wildlife, it exists and will more than likely not go away. Hunters have been hunting since the dawn of time, and I suspect will continue till the end of time.
Ok, with that out of the way, why not do as the hunters do, are we not actually hunting as well? We as wildlife photographer we hunt, (to pursue with intent to capture).
So, what does a modern Bowhunter or Black Powder hunter do? Well as an avid Hunter (Bow & Black Powder) and Photographer, I have a couple of tips I would like to throw out on the table. These are ideas, opinions and tips are from the past decade of my hunting experiences and outfitting here in Colorado. Hunting is what actually got me into photography 5 years ago. As a point of reference, these tips have worked to the extreme that I have been able to get with in 9 yards of a Mountain Lion, as well as many other wild animals.
First and foremost, it takes two senses, and only two, to spook most wildlife (this is the majority of the rule, there are always exceptions). What does that mean, exactly? If an Elk only sees you, he will more then likely investigate and not run. If he only smells you, he will more than likely investigate and not run. If he hears you, he will more than likely investigate and not run. Put any two of these together, and poof... He’s gone!
So let’s look at these three "controllable" variables. (Scent, Sight & Sound) Scent; with today’s technology there are a number of products available out there to help in this area. First, do your best to use the wind in your favor. Remember that heat rises and cold falls. As the sun is coming up in the morning, and the temperature is rising, heat rises from the valleys to the ridges. If you are in the bottom of the valley, your scent will rise with the heat. Likewise when the temperature drops, if you are on top of the valley in the evening when the sun is going down, your scent will go down into the valleys with it.
Make yourself a wind-checker. Get a box of powdered corn starch from the grocery store and put it into a small plastic bottle. Squeeze the bottle and watch the direction of the puffed powder. (Corn starch is non-scented) Use this to keep the wind in your face.
As for scent elimination, there is no possible way to eliminate or cover the human scent 100%. However, you can change the intensity of your scent, thus "fooling" wildlife to think you are farther away than you actually are. Wildlife, when by design uses scent as a warning mechanism, knows from experience, how close a human is by the intensity of this scent. A wild black bear in Colorado can smell food from up to 40 miles away (source: Colorado Division of Wildlife). By changing the amount of scent dispersed from your body or equipment, and wildlife does catch your scent, their brain will assume you are farther away, at safe distance, and generally not spook. In some cases, I have seen Elk, Deer, Bear and Mountain Lion actually come in closer to investigate! Yes, using non-scented soaps is good, but not good enough. They don’t add any additional scent to your clothes or body, but they also don’t remove any of your existing human scent. Today’s bio-technology is invaluable! Robinson Labs makes a few products that I won’t go into the woods without. The Scent Shield (Hunter’s Bodyguard) product line contains non-scented soaps, but also has micro-biological enzymes that “eat” the human bacteria that cause human odors. Sounds gross, but it actually works.
Next, is the Scent Blocker line of clothing; these are carbon lined clothes that “absorb” human scent. Again changing the intensity of the scent your body gives off. The other benefits of these clothes, is that they come in different camouflage patterns to match your environment. The idea behind the patterns are to “break-up” your human form to an unrecognizable form. These are also made with super-soft materials to help soften the sounds that walking and moving can make, the quieter the better. Blinds and Decoys are also good tactics.
So, now you have changed the intensity of your scent, broken-up your natural form, are as quiet as possible and the wind is in your face; are you ready for the shot? Well, yes and no? You are if the wildlife happens to be grazing in your direction, or if you have spent months “pattering” the animal’s habits. Or, you can drop into one of the many free outdoor calling seminars, pick up a DVD or ask a hunter to show you haw to “talk” to wildlife. Learn some very basic communication skills for the species that you are going after. Calling, be it Elk, Ducks, Turkeys, Fox, Rabbits or Coyotes, is easy with a little practice. Mostly you want to learn what to “say” not necessarily how to say it. For instance, learning a Lost Calf call will get a Cow Elk to investigate most every time. I have actually had Elk here in Colorado come up to me to smell me to try to figure out what I am!
The catch, oh yeah, there is always a catch, is what I mentioned in the beginning. Getting the shot off with out the wildlife putting two of the variable together is not as easy as it may sound. If your smell intensity is minimized, and you don’t move, and they can’t hear you (typically) a wild animal will actually walk right up to you. I will caution you on this with the note that when you do move (and you will) and/or you make a sound (and you will) the wild in wildlife will come out and they will more than likely panic. Just don’t be in the escape route!
This is enough for now, if this post doesn’t torque anybody off, and you guys want Part II (using the above techniques to get the shot), let me know and I’ll post here in this thread.