How Wildfires Will Affect Your Deer Hunt


We are in the thick of it (literally) here in Northern California. With dozens of wild fires burning, smoke is something many of us are dealing with on a daily basis. And with opening day of rifle season right around the corner, many people are wondering how the smoke will affect deer hunting.

This is not something new for us. As a matter of fact, I remember many opening days being smoked in. Although there is not much information about what, if any, changes should be made in our strategies, I can tell you from my own experience that the smoky conditions appear to help cover our scents and our profiles. I have also noticed that I see more game in general when it’s smoky.

Three years ago on opening day, we were sitting around our camp after setting up. It must have been around 1:30 in the afternoon. The visibility was less than a quarter mile and it was pretty muggy out as well. Suddenly, my partner pointed up the hill. A small bear was working his way down the creek towards us. The wind was at his back and as we watched, he came right through our camp and never even looked at us. I whistled as he got about 50 feet out of camp and he turned and high tailed it down the creek. We were amazed. Later that afternoon, we approached a young buck and an older buck in a field. The wind was right but we were caught off guard and they bolted. I saw a pine martin, a coyote and a porcupine that same weekend which was unusual. It seemed like the smoke dulled the senses of all those critters by the way they acted. It seemed like they weren’t nearly as skittish as they were when it was clear out.

While there are different opinions on using smoke as a scent guard, it has always worked for me too get in the campfire smoke before the hunt. Native American hunters smoked all their hides and commonly used smoke as a cover. I think that as long as you remember that the wind still plays the most important part of concealment, being in smoky areas adds to that concealment.

It also allows you to be less visible during a stalk. If it’s really smoky, which it looks like it could be this opener, try hunting at times that you would normally be back at camp. I believe that something about the combination of smoke and diminished visibility does something to the internal compass of animals, making them more likely to eat and drink at odd times.

While I struggle to find any scientific proof that this is actually true, I can only speak on experience, of which I have much with hunting in thick smoke. It would be interesting to see if there were any scientific proof to back up my claim. I know that when it’s smoky for awhile at home, most people I talk to are discombobulated and a bit depressed. Why wouldn’t animals be also?

As difficult as it is already to find deer here in California, many of us are trying out new techniques. One thing’s for sure—die hard hunters will be out there trying it all and that’s what it takes to fill your tag these days.