It’s a question that has been debated for years, but does campfire smoke scare deer? You will often come across old hunting pictures where the individuals were around a fire in the same clothes they wore for hunting, cooking, eating before or after a hunt. They generally didn’t seem to worry about the smoke and other smells.
Anecdotal evidence and studies show conflicting results about whether campfires are a good idea when hunting in areas populated with game animals.
The debate continues on this topic as we don’t have enough scientific information or research to prove either side is right on this one.
With that said:
This shows how acute the sense of smell is on whitetail deer vs. humans and why just a little smoke smell (to you) can be a big deal to deer.
Campfire Smoke and Deer – Myths, Rumors, and Legends.
There are two aspects of campfires we want to consider that may impact deer.
The first is the smell of any smoke that may attach itself to the clothes you are wearing.
Second, it’s the chances of a hunter being seen either from campfire smoke or light from the fire they have near their hunting blind.
Is Fire a Good Cover Scent For Deer Hunting?
No, if you can smell the smoke, then it will also be obvious to deer. I would recommend using a number of the highly recommended commercial cover scents that are on the market – one of my favorites is NaturScents and their Super Cover Scent.
A commercial cover scent is usually tested for effectiveness and could be a better bet for you than using a campfire.
Some hunters have had great success using “natural” cover scents, placing natural scents, such as dirt, within a shoebox to impact a natural, earthy smell on hunting gear. These natural odors can mask your scent with one that deer are already used to smelling during their daily routine. But again, this doesn’t have any scientific testing and is only a theory passed down from hunters.
Why Someone May Smell Like Smoke and How To Combat It
Cigarettes – While not wood smoke, cigarettes are a common item that can transfer odor to your hands, clothes, and hair.
Avoid smoking in a vehicle while you are driving to where you plan to hunt or while you are hunting. This may scare the deer based on them smelling the cigarette smoke on you and/or your clothes.
They may also see the glow of a cigarette.
Good Fire Practices – If you use a campfire for cooking or warmth, make sure you not only keep the fire small and contained but also use wood that doesn’t produce a lot of smoke. You should use dry wood where possible, as damp wood will produce more smoke.
To combat fire smells, you need to limit the exposure to fire smoke by being upwind from the fire, so the smoke goes away from you.
You may want to wear different clothes than you will be hunting in, to limit smoke exposure to those clothes versus your hunting gear.
Cooking – smells will transfer onto your skin and/or clothes. Again you may want to change out of your hunting gear when cooking or eating. While cooking, select ingredients that don’t produce a strong aroma, i.e., you may want to avoid something that utilizes a lot of garlic.
Should You Avoid a Wood Fire For Cooking Or Warmth?
You could avoid wood fires for cooking and warmth as wood fires aren’t necessary. You can have a smokeless heat source with something like a Mr. Buddy Heater. While the heaters do run on propane, many people have used these heaters while blind hunting and haven’t had any issues seeing plenty of wildlife.
For cooking, you could opt for a small backpacking stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket, which burns relatively clean without producing smoke or other strong smells.
Lastly, you could skip a fire altogether and dress in layers so you can be comfortable in the varying weather conditions. From a food perspective, you could bring a variety of food that doesn’t require warming up or cooking.
My Personal Experience
I have been primitive camping in New York and Pennsylvania and had no issues seeing deer while I was around a campfire. Now over the course of several days, I may have smelled like wood smoke but still saw deer while out walking about the woods.
Personally, I have found that poor sound hygiene and lots of movement is the biggest thing that will cause deer to hear or see you and run away before you would like.
When hunting, my best recommendation is to avoid moving fast (or moving at all) and trying to minimize your noise.
I have found that deer are much more aware of their surroundings, and if you remain motionless in the woods, they will walk within feet of you without seeing or smelling you.
I do not have scientific testing to back up much of this; I am only relaying my personal experience.
With that said, I don’t generally have a fire while I am hunting or wearing my hunting clothes.
That is just personal preference, and you are welcome to have a fire while you are hunting.
For my hunting clothes, I store them in a plastic tote with scent wafers and some local leaf matter in a shoebox. This generally helps keep scents from getting on my clothes.
In conclusion, I have never really heard stories from reputable sources or any experienced hunters that suggest a deer smelling smoke will cause them to stay away. You can test it out for yourself and see if you have negative experiences from campfire smoke or clothing smelling like campfire smoke.