Campfires While Hunting: Do They Spook Game?

There are few things more enjoyable than sitting around a campfire after a long day of hunting. Sharing the crisp air, the sound of flames crackling, and warm camaraderie with your fellow hunters. Recounting hunting adventures of years gone by.

These evenings are some of the best, but do you ever worry that your campfire smoke is scaring away nearby game? The old debate about whether or not to have a campfire while hunting seems pretty evenly matched, with both sides presenting solid arguments to support their claims. We’ll lay out what we've found, and let you decide for yourself.

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Researchers from Mississippi State University have discovered that a deer’s sense of smell can be anywhere from 500 to 1,000 times sharper than a human’s. In addition to this, whitetails have thousands of sensitive receptors in their nostrils, which can sort up to six smells at one time. Leonard Lee Rue III, a respected deer expert and author of The Deer of North America, observed that under the right conditions (between 50 and 70 percent humidity, between 50 and 70 degrees Faranheit, and with a light breeze blowing), a deer could detect human scent from at least one-half mile or more. That's one formidable sense of smell!

To solve the problem of their human scent, Native Americans would roll around in an extinguished fire to reduce body odor. In addition to this, the buckskin they wore was often made using a smoking process. The smoke helped control bacteria and reduce scents. Essentially, it was nature’s activated charcoal suit.

Many have reported success using the technique of “smoking” themselves before a hunt. One avid hunter put it this way: “I started doing this the last 2 years and have had great results. Deer will go downwind, stop, smell the air, and continue on.” This hunter would get rid of as much human scent on him as he could, and then smoke his clothes and body before leaving on a hunt. 


It seems that if the process of scent-masking with smoke has been so successful for many, then the smell of campfire smoke shouldn’t alarm the game either. However, there are a few things to consider. First of all - is the smell of campfires common in the area you’re hunting? It’s possible that if a deer is not used to smelling smoke in that area, a smell that seems out-of-place could alarm it. Also, it’s good to keep in mind that while wood smoke is typically not an alarming smell to deer, the smell of food cooking over a campfire is likely to spook them.

We’d love to hear what you think! What have your own experiences been when it comes to deer and the smell of smoke?