Does Campfire Smoke Scare Deer?

Campfire next to RV

Sharing food and stories around the campfire is one of the best parts of any trip to the great outdoors. This is often where a lot of fun happens as stories are told, music is played, and relaxation occurs as you gaze into the flames of the fire. This fire may be relaxing to you but what about the wild game that may be in the area? Does this campfire smoke scare deer?

Campfire smoke can scare deer off. The animal has a heightened sense of smell that can be triggered by the scent coming off a campfire or even clothing. However, if the area sees campfires regularly, deer might not be as affected by the smell.

In this article, I’ll be discussing how deer and other wild animals react to campfire smoke. You’ll see that, while the majority of these creatures can be driven off by the smell, this isn’t always the case.

Why Does Campfire Smoke Scare Deer?

Campfire smoke scares deer because it’s an unusual smell in their natural environment. To these animals, a campfire may indicate the presence of a possible predator. Moreover, the light and smoke coming off a campfire boost the visibility of humans, which deer may perceive as potential threats.

Young deer face close up

Mississippi State University has compared a deer’s sense of smell to a dog’s, estimating it to be anywhere between 500 and 1000 times stronger than that of humans. These herbivores can detect human scents from over half a mile (800 meters) away. Given this information, it’s no surprise they’re able to pick up the smell of a sizeable campfire.

However, the smell of smoke won’t necessarily ward off deer, especially if the animal is used to the scent. This can happen often in areas that hikers and campers frequent.

On the other hand, if the smell comes from an area that doesn’t see much human traffic, the animal may be alarmed — especially if the smoke comes from food being cooked over the campfire. Deer may have begun to associate the smell of cooked food with human presence, which is why they’re likely to be scared off by campfire scents.

If you’re having a hard time spotting any game, switching to a smokeless electric burner might change your luck. However, excessive movements and sounds are much more likely to scare off deer than the smoke coming off your campfire.

In short, the likelihood of your campfire smoke scaring off deer depends on how accustomed the animal is to the smell. Therefore, opting for a smokeless heat source can improve your chances of spotting deer while on your camping trip.

How Other Animals React to Campfire Smoke

Not all animals react the same way to a specific stimulus. While most of them avoid smoke altogether, there are some exceptions you should know about, especially if you’re relying on your campfire to ward off potential predators.

Here’s how some of the most common wild animals react to campfire smoke.

Does Campfire Smoke Scare Bears?

Campfire smoke does not always scare bears. Some bears will avoid it, while others may be curious enough to come closer. To avoid the latter situation, it’s best to avoid cooking fragrant food over an open fire to avoid attracting bears.

Therefore, if you’re relying on the smoke to protect yourself from ursine threats, I recommend an alternative solution. Generally speaking, making loud noises by banging pots, yelling, or using an air horn is a better way to deter the wild animal.

Bears usually aren’t aggressive, and often wander by your campsite because you happen to enter their territory. As I mentioned, all it usually takes to make them leave the area is to make noises they can’t ignore.

If the bear doesn’t leave despite your efforts, it’s better to back away without making eye contact until you are out of sight from it. You’ve probably heard many times before that you should never run from a bear. This is well-known by most hikers and campers. However, this is easier said than done when in the heat of the moment.

Thankfully I’ve never been in that situation before nor would I want to be. Bears are extremely strong, and the last thing you want is to be on the wrong end of their sharp teeth and claws.

In case you’ve ever wondered how strong a bear is, here’s a YouTube video showing one moving a bear trap as though it’s nothing more than a piece of paper.

Does Campfire Smoke Scare Wolves?

Campfire smoke can scare off wolves as long as they are not in groups. If the owner of the campfire happens to be a lone person and they are surrounded by a hungry pack, the smoke may not be enough to deter these animals.

Wolf standing next to tree

In general, wolves are afraid of fire. That’s because they’ve learned to associate it with danger. Like their domestic counterparts, wolves have a keen sense of smell, so they’re able to detect campfire smoke from a great distance away.

However, if you ever find yourself in a situation where a pack of wolves won’t go away despite being near a campfire, there are ways to scare them off. Similar to bears, wolves don’t like noise or displays that make you look scarier than you are (e.g. raising your arms above your head). For more information on how to scare off wolves, read this Business Insider article.

Does Campfire Smoke Scare Squirrels?

Campfire smoke can scare squirrels. The same goes for similar animals such as raccoons, and skunks. Because squirrels are prey animals, they tend to run from potential indicators of a threat (or predator) such as smoke.

Squirrel in grass standing on hind legs

That said, if you’re camping in a place where squirrels have become accustomed to humans, campfire smoke might not scare them off as easily as their counterparts who live in harsher environments.

In many campgrounds, you will see squirrels on a regular basis. It’s a great place for these little fellas because of all the foods given to them or left behind by campers. It’s not good to do this but it happens all the time. Because of this, squirrels are usually plentiful in campgrounds and will have no problems with your campfire.

Does Campfire Smoke Scare Birds?

Campfire smoke scares birds because the fumes can cause fatal damage to their respiratory systems. As soon as birds detect smoke, most of them will flee the area immediately. Those that remain are likely to suffer damage if they breathe large amounts of smoke.

Your campfire smoke may not seem like much to you but to a bird, it can be much more damaging. They know this and are usually able to fly away without much damage. Here’s a great guide to how birds are affected by wildfires.


Campfire smoke usually scares off deer, as it has a highly sensitive sense of smell that can be triggered even by the faintest odors. Moreover, the smoke and light coming off a campfire will make you much more visible to the animal.

That said, deer that are accustomed to the smell of smoke within their habitat might not be as spooked as those who’ve never encountered it before.

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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