Two things are certain when I return home from a hunt. My feet are sore and my camo stinks. No matter what I hunt, I manage to sweat-through, tear, stain, and batter every piece of hunting clothing I wear. To top it off, my scent control regimen entails mandatory body-rolls in every fresh pile or puddle of deer or elk urine and scat I find. Not only is it dirty after a couple of days of hunting, my camo reeks.
One would think that my primary concern would be to remove the stain and stink of the hunt from my favorite hunting duds. However, my greatest fear is of contaminating my camo by bringing it into my home, washing it in detergents claiming to be “naturally fresh” or “perfume-free,” then cooking those scents into my camo in the drying machine. Put simply, the scent contamination caused by your house, washer and dryer will compromise the scent-free benefits provided by the most technical hunting clothing. You might look cool and feel comfortable in your clean gear, but improper washing, drying and storage will hamstring you in the field. When you smell like laundry detergent and dryer sheets, you are more likely to get busted by the sensitive sniffers of the wild game you are hunting. The result of improperly washed, dried and stored hunting gear is less meat in the freezer. In fact, you will have as much luck hunting in camo washed with regular detergents and machine-dried as you would dousing yourself in raccoon piss and making a pass at a super model.
I killed my share of deer and elk as a youth wearing jeans, an insulated plaid shirt, ski gloves, and blaze orange washed with my school clothes. Scent control meant one thing: keeping the wind in your face. Nowadays I wear camo that is comfortable, keeps me warm in the cold, cool in the heat, wicks moisture, and keeps my scent-factor at a minimum. Proper cleaning and drying is not only easy, it is necessary for maintaining the integrity of quality camo.
Washing is the easy part. Start off by actually reading the washing directions on your tags. Then, purchase an affordable, scent-free, odor controlling hunting detergent that protects against fading and contains UV inhibitors. I recommend reading the labels on all available brands and deciding on the price and product that best suit your needs. I set my washer to wash and rinse with cold water, add my scent-free detergent, dump my load of distressed gear into the wash, and let it soak for a good 15 to 30 minutes before starting the wash cycle. For serious stains I will first rub hydrogen peroxide or baking soda into soiled areas with an old toothbrush, then add the offending article to the soak. For the worst stains I will spray down and soak, then scrub my camo with the cleaner Simple Green and wash it separately from other items. I’m a big fan of merino wool and always make certain to wash my merinos on a cold and gentle cycle.
Drying: I refuse to machine dry my camo. Not only do dryers thrash fine merino woolens, they bake your camo in the residues left from non-hunting laundry, dryer sheets, and other novelty drying items. Dryers are to be avoided at all costs, no matter how tempting it may be to use any of the “scent free” hunting dryer sheets on the market. Bottom line: hang and line dry your camo. I have a backyard with an old-school laundry line that I dry all of my hunting clothes (and skin deer) on. If you live in a condo or apartment with a deck you need to hang a line and dry your camo on it. If hanging clothing outside is not an option, pick a dry room and hang your gear somewhere it won’t take on scents from cooking, cleaning or showering. Hang your camo until it is completely dry. Damp clothing brings stinking mildew and molds into the picture, both of which are unacceptable.
Finally, it is crucial that you store your hunting clothes in a scent-free container or bag. I go so far as to cut and add pine, juniper or sagebrush clippings to my storage bag before sealing my clothing in it. This adds natural scents to your camo while it is being stored, potentially masking additional human odors in the field. As I am currently an urban dweller, I rely on the pine and juniper trees in my yard to provide the natural scents in my storage bag. I even combine clippings from my next-door neighbor’s “ornamental sage” to add that extra element of authenticity to my scent repertoire. If you don’t have a yard or a neighbor who grows native plants, take a walk in your local park with a pair of scissors or small pruning sheers to collect some prime scent trimmings. Look for shrubbery that best matches the environment you will be hunting and clip away. For the best results use common sense and the scents that nature provides. Remember, nothing smells better than the real thing.