When it comes to gadgets for beating a buck's nose, I'm a skeptic. A whitetail's sniffer contains 297 million olfactory receptors, and in 30 years of bowhunting, I haven't seen them deceived by many things other than the wind and the rut. That said, I try to hunt as "scent-free" as possible.
Recently, I've heard some old-school whitetail hunters rave about a company called Ozonics that makes portable ozone-generating machines touted to mitigate human scent before it reaches a deer's nose. Because it's my job to test these things, I lugged an HR-200 model to various stands last season to see how well it would do against whitetails in a hunting situation. More about those results in a bit, but first, here are some facts about ozone, its uses, and caveats.
What is ozone?
Ozone (O3) is a gas molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms. Ozone is found in the Earth's stratosphere and prevents certain harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching us. At ground level, ozone is an atmospheric pollutant.
Ozone forms in nature when oxygen atoms are electrically charged via lightning storms or when they contact 185-nanometer ultraviolet light waves. (Some people believe that "clean" smell after a thunderstorm is ozone.)
In the mid-1850s scientists learned how to artificially produce ozone by forcing ambient air (containing oxygen) through electrically charged metal plates called coronas. Ozone can also be created by exposing air to 185nm ultraviolet light.
In 1896 Nikola Tesla patented the first O3 generator in the United States. He found that volatile O3 molecules seek and bind to other molecules either to turn them into other compounds (some good, some bad) or to destroy them. Ozone molecules have a very short half-life, from 20 seconds to an hour depending on temperature and humidity.
Ozone is a powerful oxidant, and when administered at high levels, it purifies most things by killing bacteria and parasites in water and air. That's why some municipal water-treatment plants use ozone; hospitals use ozone to sterilize surgical equipment; and ozone is used often in swimming pools because it's much more effective than chlorine. Disaster cleanup companies use ozone machines to mitigate smoke smells in fire-damaged dwellings.
Is it safe?
"When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs. Relatively low amounts of ozone can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation," warns the EPA on its website. (The EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone is a maximum eight-hour average outdoor concentration of 0.08 ppm.) The jury is still out on how much ozone is needed to be an effective cleaner and whether it's safe at those levels.
Ozonics maintains that the output levels of its HR-200 and HR-300 machines when they are used correctly outside fall below the EPA's threshold. I'm no scientist, but I'm reminded that most common chemicals, like bleach (or even alcohol, gasoline, or soap), have health risks if used improperly or in large doses, yet when used at levels below the safety thresholds, these products, including ozone, deliver fantastic results. Hundreds of companies worldwide have built businesses on ozone's positive results. Even the USDA has approved it for many types of commercial food operations.
Pretty convincing, but I'm more of a seeing-is-believing guy. Recently, I failed to use all the stink bait on a catfish outing, so I threw the remainder in the freezer of my garage's mini-fridge. Big mistake. A couple days later the fridge smelled like rotten chicken gizzards. I placed my HR-200 in the fridge and a short while later the terrible smell was gone. It was incredible.
I did the same thing after a buddy fired up a cigar in my new truck. Same goes for my hunting clothes. If they smell like a roadkill possum and I don't have time to wash 'em, I hang them in a closet with the Ozonics HR-200 and they emerge smelling clean and fresh. So, here's what I know.
Does it work?
The Ozonics machine works wonders as a scent-killer when used in enclosed spaces, but because ozone can be dangerous to breathe in high doses, don't seal yourself in an unventilated room (or blind) with one running or point it at your face while in the tree. Ozonics' Buddy Piland says that if you're constantly smelling ozone from the machine, it's not positioned correctly.
"It's all about recognizing where your scent stream is going and placing the unit so its ozone mixes with it for as long as possible," he says.
Tougher to gauge is whether it works on a deer's nose while hunting. Ozonics' machines feature rechargeable batteries and are intended to be screwed into your tree above you at a 30-degree downward angle to shower your scent stream with heavier-than-air ozone molecules that kill or dilute your human scent as it drifts to animals downwind.
Dr. James C. Kroll is called "Dr. Deer" because he's a hunter who also has a Ph.D. in biology. He tested an Ozonics machine by placing a mannequin wearing a T-shirt laced with human body odor in a portable blind. He baited deer downwind of the blind with corn, set up a trailcam, and conducted the experiment with and without the Ozonics machine. He reported that many more deer fed on the corn when the Ozonics was on.
New from Ozonics is the Kinetic backpack, which is designed to carry a running HR-300 unit while you're stalking or walking to a stand. Does it work?
Mike Carney, co-host of Bowhunter TV, is a whitetail fanatic who's obsessed when it comes to scent management. Several years ago, in a deer camp he raved about a then-new Ozonics machine. Carney has used them as much as anyone I know, so I called him.
Carney mentioned a bull moose he killed last year using the Ozonics HR-300. He said the bull suddenly turned and walked quartering toward him at 30 yards; he had obviously gotten Carney's wind. But instead of wheeling, the moose paused, allowing Carney to lace a broadhead behind its shoulder.
Carney, his ripe-smelling guide, and his once-skeptical cameraman all
believe the bull wouldn't have been tagged if it weren't for the HR-300s on their Kinetic backpacks. Watch it on the Sportsman Channel and judge for yourself.
"It's not 100 percent, 100 percent of the time," Carney says. "Nothing is. It has challenges in high humidity or heavy winds, but it's the closest thing to a cloaking device I've ever seen."
While I haven't had the definitive eureka moment many of my peers have, I'm slowly becoming a believer. For a simple test on whether the smell of ozone itself would spook deer, I placed my unit near a corn feeder. Trailcam pics revealed the same amount of deer, although a few of them sniffed the unit.
"Reactions from animals differ; they are individuals," Carney says. "At times, they'll stop and look or slowly walk off after a long pause and an assessment of the situation. But I never get bucks snorting and dashing while I've had the Ozonics machine silently humming overhead. Other times, it's as if I'm scent invisible, with animals directly downwind feeding blissfully. It may not eradicate every scent molecule a hunter releases, but the ozone mingles enough with my scent stream to allow an opportunity to unfold. And that's really all I need: an opportunity to deliver a precise shot at a calm animal. What would you give to have a second chance at all the bucks that winded you over the last five years?"
In sum, I get it if you're a deer hunter who's anti-technology, doesn't have $300 for a unit, or doesn't like carrying more stuff to your stand. But frankly, while I'm reluctant to admit that such gadgetry could fool a whitetail's nose, much of the evidence I've seen suggests it can