The answer to whether smoking scares deer is still up in the air.
Hunters have debated this topic more than once. We often approach it with our minds already made up. As a result, we overlook the fact that this is a far more complicated question. The question really leads to a discussion about whitetail deer behavior.
When dissecting this question, there are three aspects to consider. First, the conditioned behavior of a whitetail deer. Second, the individual personality of a whitetail deer. Lastly, the location of the scent itself. There is no doubt that scent matters in deer hunting unlike other pursuits like small game hunting.
In an article last year, we discovered one very unusual aspect of whitetail behavior:
“Whitetails need to be exposed to a scent in order to associate an experience with them…In suburban America, this becomes more complicated. If deer ran in panic at every trace of human scent, there would be nowhere left to run in the suburbs. This forces whitetails to create complex views of humans and the scents associated with them.”
Not everyone smokes. Very few hunters smoke. In a large number of cases, whitetails will have no previously established association with smoking. In some other cases, they may have been exposed to smoking from non-hunters. That means they do not likely associate smoking with a previous negative experience. Smoking is probably far more often associated with non-threatening human behavior.
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 vary within the same context. An overcautious or timid whitetail will react in a very alert manner and be afraid of engaging the situation. Other bucks are so curious that they are far less likely to live long.
The location of the scent matters, too. Like we have said before, if a whitetail smells cologne on a walking trail, they might dismiss it but become alert regardless of human presence. If you took that same cologne scent and moved it one hundred years off the trail, you would probably cause the same deer to panic wildly.
Whitetails are able to distinguish the same experience by its location. A deer or groups of deer might be unafraid of smoking on walking trails, in backyards, or other areas with regular human traffic. That same scent detected in an area with no human traffic will result in a dramatically different reaction from the deer.
We have all known the hunter that smokes. Some of us even know hunters that smoke who are also successful hunters. Any number of factors could contribute to this success despite their smoking. Wind direction and thermal currents could be to thank and so could aggressive urban tactics like hunting from walking trails. Maybe it’s a case of dumb luck or the perfect storm.
The true lesson to learn is that whitetail deer behavior has many layers. We need to understand the overall complexity of these deer. There is no simple answer. There is only simple inspection of deer behavior—from individual personalities to conditioned behavior and the whitetail’s varied responses depending on location.
Last modified: November 8, 2019