Does Smoking Scare Deer Away?


smoking scare deer

We have all debated this question more than once but the answer to whether or not smoking scare deer is still up in the air.

Here is an interesting topic that as hunters we have debated in an out more than once. The idea of whether or not smoking scare deer away. Many of times we approach it with a hard yes or no stance overlooking the idea that this is a far more complicated question. Even greater it is a question that brings a great discussion about white-tailed deer behavior.

When dissecting this question there are three aspects we must consider. First, the previous association or conditioned behavior of a white-tailed deer. Second, the individual personality of a white-tailed deer, and lastly the location of the scent itself.

In an article last year titled Deer and Scent: The Strongest Memory we exposed one very unusual aspect of whitetail behavior.  “Whitetails need to be exposed to a scent to begin to associate an experience with them… In suburban America, it becomes far more complicated. If deer ran in panic at every little bit of  human scent then they would have nowhere left to run in urban America. This has forced them to create very complex views of humans and the scents associated with them.”

The interesting aspect to take from this is that not all humans are smokers, or even more accurately, very few hunters smoke. The common results lead to situations where smoke can have various effects. In a large number of cases, whitetails will have no previously established association with it. In some other cases they may have been exposed to smoking from non-hunters creating the possibility of no previous negatively reinforced behavior. Making a strong conclusion that smoking is probably far more often associated with non-threating human behavior.

But to step further as we exposed in the first book, The Urban Deer Complex, whitetails, like humans, have vastly different personalities. Each individual’s reaction to the scent of smoke could be different, just in that context. A whitetail that by nature is over cautious or timid will react in a very alert manner, most likely scared to engage the situation. As where other bucks maybe very curious by nature making them far less likely to survive to a mature age.

Then we have the last aspect to look at- the location of the actual scent. We previously wrote, “If a whitetail smells cologne on a walking trail they will most likely dismiss it and only become alert, with or without the human present. Take that same cologne scent and move it 100 yards off the trail and we will most likely cause mass panic in the same deer.”

Whitetails have the complex ability to separate experiences based on just location.  This makes the same deer or the same group of deer unafraid of smoking on walking trails, backyards, or in other areas with regular human traffic. Put that scent whether identifiable or not to the induvial deer in an area that gets no human traffic and the reactions will dramatically change.

In the end we have all known the hunter that smokes. Some of us even know hunters that smoke who are hugely successful at it. The contributing factors could be anything from great use of wind direction, thermal currents, or aggressive urban tactics like hunting from walking trails. It could just be a case of dumb luck or the perfect storm. The true lesson in it is that there are many layers involved in white-tailed deer behavior.

We must understand the overall complexity of these deer. There is no simple yes or no but a dissection of many aspects of deer behavior. From individual personalities, personal experiences that create conditioned behavior, and even the whitetails ability to segregate locations which results in different responses over the course of a white-tailed deer’s life.


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Last modified: September 13, 2016

2 Responses

  1. Where I hunt deer….The deer are scared of any human, whether they are hunting or not.

  2. g yost says:

    I am a smoker. I’ve seen deer within 10 ft and taken deer, while I’ve been smoking. Some from the ground and some from stands. In Pa. there is an area that is close to my home, a state park allows us to hunt there. Now, weather it is because of human contact other than hunters, the deer I’ve come in contact within this area, showed a relative non-response to my presence of my smoking for a period of maybe 5 minutes, but then mosey on their way. If deer can create an association scent from one human to another, it is my belief that higher concentrations of human activity within that area, does make them less prone to take flight

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