Can Deer Smell Coffee?

Through my employment position, I get to talk to deer hunters frequently and discuss all sorts of interesting topics. One topic that has come up several times is the question asking can deer smell coffee?

I’m a diehard coffee drinker and am one of those deer hunters that carry a thermos of coffee into the woods for early morning hunts. I’ve actually had a few situations where I had to put down my cup of coffee to shoot a deer.

Can Deer Smell Coffee?

Does the fact that I’ve seen and killed deer while drinking coffee automatically mean that deer can’t smell coffee? Due to the sheer number of variables involved in the answer, I don’t think my experiences lead to an easy yes or no answer.

Key Points

* Deer have a powerful sense of smell that is stronger than any human and even stronger than any dog or cat’s sense of smell.
* Regardless of the coffee type, whitetails can undoubtedly detect the scent of coffee.
* Environmental conditions, such as wind direction and humidity, can affect a deer’s ability to detect coffee scent

How Good is a Whitetail’s Sense of Smell?

It’s difficult to comprehend the strength of a deer’s sense of smell, but most deer researchers believe that whitetails have an olfactory system that is anywhere from 500 to 1000 times more potent than a human.

Bloodhounds are generally recognized as having the best nose of any dog breed, but even the nose of a bloodhound is not as strong as a whitetail’s nose.

Most biologists use the number of scent receptors to estimate the strength and accuracy of an animal’s sense of smell. Based on scent receptor data, the only other North American animal species with a stronger olfactory system than whitetails are in the bear family.

Their scent receptors are located in their nasal cavities and are five times larger than ours. This enables them to pick up on the faintest traces of different scents. In addition, their olfactory system can process up to six various scent sources at a time.

Although deer have excellent vision and hearing, their sense of smell is their first line of defense for survival.

Nice buck who walked by a hunter's tree stand as he was having a cup of joe
Although the image quality is terrible, a buddy took a cell phone picture of this buck who came very close to his stand as he was having a cup of joe

Deer and Coffee

Just based on a whitetail deer’s olfactory strength, they can undoubtedly smell coffee. However, other factors potentially play a role in their ability to smell your java, including the following:

Wind Direction

The wind direction is certainly a factor that plays a potential role in a deer’s ability to smell the odor of coffee. If a hunter is upwind of a whitetail, then the chances of a whitetail picking up the coffee scent are significant.

However, a hunter downwind of deer has a better chance of the coffee smell going undetected.

Stand Position Height

I tend to position tree stands at least 15 to 20 feet up a tree and may even move one higher than that, depending on the situation. I prefer a more elevated position stand for several reasons, but my three biggest reasons are:

  • I believe it helps with scent control because your scent travels farther away from your position before settling toward the ground.
  • I like the improved visibility from a higher vantage point.
  • I believe that being higher helps move a hunter out of a whitetail’s line of sight.

The one big downside to higher-positioned tree stands is that it can create more challenging, high-angle shots, especially to a deer’s vitals.

Most hunters have various opinions on the ideal tree stand height, so stick with whatever height you prefer.

Warm Air Rises

Another potential factor is the fact that coffee is typically a warm or hot beverage. Warmer air tends to rise to the scent of a hot or warm cup of coffee may travel up a bit before settling toward the ground.

Whitetail Buck Passing By a Hunter in a Tree Stand

The Distance Between the Coffee Smell Source to the Deer

Even though whitetail deer have extremely sensitive noses, the greater the distance between the source of the coffee smell (which is your location), the weaker the scent becomes.

For example, deer coming within 20 to 30 yards of a hunter in a tree stand are more likely to pick up on coffee odor compared to a hunter in a box stand watching deer in a field 75 to 100 yards away.

How Deer React to Coffee Odors

Since whitetails can obviously detect the odor of coffee (under most circumstances), I don’t believe that “can deer detect coffee smell?” is the real question. I think the more important question to consider is how deer react to the smell of coffee.

I’ve spoken to many hunters on this topic to learn about their experiences with deer hunting and coffee. Those discussions were very interesting.

Some hunters have mentioned situations where they believed that whitetails, especially does, seemed to be curious about the cup of coffee in their hand and almost seemed to come closer to the hunter’s location, testing the air. Obviously, in those scenarios, the deer could be coming in for other reasons, such as picking up the hunter’s scent and being curious about that.

A few of my hunting buddies have mentioned situations similar to mine where deer approached their stand position while they were drinking coffee, and they had to discretely put the cup down to pick up their rifle or bow.

Other hunters described situations where they believed that the coffee smell caused a scent issue for them and was the primary reason they didn’t see any deer.

What’s the Verdict on Deer Hunting While Drinking Coffee?

As I mentioned previously, I’ve had a couple of deer encounters in various settings where I had whitetails come by as I was holding a cup of coffee in my hand.

In addition, I can’t recall a situation where I was completely convinced that the aroma of my coffee:

  • Was the primary reason that I either saw no deer.
  • Actually, scared any nearby deer away.

Plus, I like coffee, especially on those cold mornings, so I have no plans to stop taking it with me when I deer hunt.

Now, I will say this: my opinion could change if I encounter a situation where my cup of coffee is the obvious culprit for seeing no deer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some other questions that are commonly associated with the drinking coffee while deer hunting topic:

Can Deer Detect the Smell of Other Types of Beverages?

Given their highly sensitive olfactory organs, I’m quite confident in saying that, under most conditions, whitetails can detect other beverage scents, including the smell of tea, soda, juice, alcohol, and water.

How Far Away Can Deer Detect the Smell of Coffee?

That’s a great question, and I honestly don’t know the exact answer. However, under some circumstances, deer are believed to be able to pick up human scent nearly ΒΌ of a mile away. That being said, I would surmise that bucks and does can pick up the smell of coffee from several hundred yards.

Can the Smell of Coffee Be Used as a Deterrent to Keep Deer Away?

I assume this question is posed from the perspective of someone trying to keep deer out of their garden.

Based on my experiences, I think there are far better odor-based deterrents that would potentially be a better deterrent than coffee grounds.

Final Thoughts

In my mind, the jury is still out about coffee scaring off deer. While it’s certainly possible, and I’ve heard hunter stories about whitetails being scared away from coffee-drinking hunters, I’ve also heard stories about flying pigs and sasquatch.

Until I come across verified data that coffee is a deer deterrent, I’ll keep carrying my trusty thermos into my stand.