Neil Bretl is the first to admit that, in the flavor department, his gum isn't exactly Juicy Fruit.
"It tastes a bit like a pine tree," he said.
Nor is it cheap -- $4.99 for 12 olive green, Chiclet-style tablets in a blister pack.
But in the world of deer hunting, where some will pay $300 for scent-control coveralls or try to mask their odor by rubbing themselves with horse manure, Bretl just might have a little business proposition going.
For now, what he has is a promising start and a warehouse stacked with what he calls Gum-o-Flage -- an unusual-tasting chewing gum that Bretl says will help protect hunters from detection by the hypersensitive noses of deer.
"I fully expect this to develop into its own business," Bretl, the 35-year-old co-owner of a plastic bag packaging and distribution company near Milwaukee, Wis., said of his fledgling gum venture, into which he has sunk close to $200,000.
It started about seven years ago in the cedar swamps and woods of northern Wisconsin, where Bretl, a gun hunter since boyhood, began going after deer with bow and arrow. That meant hunting at closer range, and Bretl took precautions to eliminate his telltale human odor.
He used special soap, shampoo and detergent. He wore carbon-lined clothing and kept it in sealed plastic bins with pine boughs.
Still, he said, deer picked up his scent. Frustrated, he turned to his brother, Nicholas, then a dental student. It's probably your breath, Nicholas suggested.
The brothers started researching the question, and they became convinced that breath was indeed the source of most human odor.
Bretl talked with three accomplished hunters he knew, and found they had been chewing chlorophyll tablets, which, in addition to any odor-suppression effects, turned their teeth green. Another hunter used Bazooka bubble gum impregnated with spruce needles.
Bretl contacted an organic chemist friend and began cooking up gum recipes in a microwave.
"My first few batches were hideous," he said.
But experimentation led to more satisfactory results, and ultimately Bretl settled on a formula that incorporates anti-microbial agents, chlorophyll and three kinds of pine oil. He contracted with Ford Gum & Machine Co., of Akron, N.Y., to make Gum-o-Flage.
"It's sugar-free, by the way," he said.
Bretl has no clinical evidence that the gum works. He hasn't had any official studies done. He said he and his associates used it after smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and eating onions and found that it erased the odors.
Bretl said he has Gum-o-Flage placed in at least 250 independent hunting stores across the country and about 25 Gander Mountain outlets. He also sends the gum directly to customers who contact him after seeing his Web site.