Trouble in Toy Land

by Ben Long

Scent-Lok clothing manufacturers long claimed their product blocks human scent from reaching the sensitive noses of big game – but a judge recently ruled the claims smelled fishy.

The case implicated some of the leading outdoor retailers in consumer fraud. But even more, the case speaks volumes about the state of hunting ethics.

Here's the background: Scent-Lok is name-brand fabric inlaid with charcoal marketed primarily to whitetail deer hunters. The manufacturers claim the layer of charcoal in the fabric absorbs human scent. For about a decade, Scent- Lok sales have brisk, to the tune of $100 million gross sales a year.

Hunters have always known the nose is the ultimate defensive sense organ for deer and elk. It's hard for humans to even imagine how sensitive the noses of big game animals are – or how animals interpret their world by waves of microscopic particles wafting through the air.

Hunters, myself included, are suckers for new gadgets. We seem always to be looking for something to give us an edge over the literally superhuman senses of big game. And the "outdoor industry" is happy to exploit this tendency by offering an array of products claiming to be the only thing between you and a trophy bull or buck.

A judge ruled that Scent-Lok crossed the line. Promoters claimed that the fabric stopped human scent, all the time. The claims were beyond the pale. Scientists found that trailing dogs could find people who wore charcoal fabric about as readily as they found people who wore regular clothing.

A group of Minnesota hunters sued for fraud and the judge ruled in their favor. It was shocking if only because it was the first time in living memory a gear retailer was called on his own BS.

I've never owned a piece of Scent- Lok clothing. I prefer wool to charcoal to keep me comfortable in bad weather and keep hypothermia at bay.

I do worry about the wind. I own gadgets that help me cope with the vagaries of the breeze. One is a squeeze bottle of talcum powder. It cost 99 cents. I also have a piece of frayed thread tied around my rifle barrel. These allow me to plan my sneaks and stalks so the wind is in my face.

No other practice has so increased the amount of game I see in a given day than learning to hunt into the wind. The best hunters I know develop a sixth sense for keeping track of the wind. That's also why predators like cougars and bobcats have those long whiskers – so they always have the wind in their favor.

To me, that's what hunting is all about: Learning about Nature, then finding ways to use the subtle ways of Nature in my favor in a level playing field. To me, that is where the satisfaction of the hunt comes from.

When we reach for technology to "beat" nature simply to provide a short cut to a kill, there is a different kind of fraud involved. We are defrauding ourselves.

About Caitlin Thompson