On the Ridge: Smoke rising

  • Joe Judd Contributed photo

Published: 9/23/2020 4:13:23 PM

A recent phone call from my friend Shirley Scott of Buckland got me thinking. Shirley, concerned about the carnage left in the wake of wildfires still going on in California, Oregon and Washington, wondered how hunters might take some added precautions this year during hunting season, especially if you happen to be a hunter who smokes. Shirley pointed something we all know and have been hearing a lot about lately, which is how dry the woods are right now. Her points were well taken, as during a period of high activity in the woods it doesn’t take much imagination to see how a campfire not properly extinguished, or a cigarette butt thrown into dry leaves or grass simply without thinking, might occur. Mix that with the idea that there’s likely to be numerous hunters in the woods this fall, and you can see why Shirley’s concerns are valid.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, thousands of wildfires happen in this country every year, and humans are to blame for many of these blazes. Unlike fires started by a natural phenomenon, human-caused fires are typically easy to prevent, but are often the result of people not taking proper precautions, with smoldering cigarettes being a common cause. The bottom line is, even here in New England, a little caution goes a long way in avoiding fires of any magnitude from happening. And if you’re hunting and smoking, a little care in how you extinguish that butt could possibly save all of us a lot of trouble.

The topic of hunting and smoking has another important angle to consider; not as critical as staying careful if you’re smoking in the woods, but still important. Hunters painstakingly prepare their gear and equipment so nothing is forgotten, and no detail overlooked. We do this to give ourselves the best chance for success, and when you factor in everything, it seems a shame to overlook any tiny detail that could jeopardize even one day on a deer stand.

For me, there are certain things that are just non-negotiable, like scent. Fooling the nose of a whitetail deer into believing that I’m not there isn’t easy, and to do this consistently there are things we must do every time. That includes washing our hunting clothes properly, keeping ourselves clean and storing our clothes and gear away from foreign odors, which can easily be ruined by hugging a loved one doused in perfume, spending five minutes on the couch or stepping into a kitchen when a meal is cooking. During hunting season, I try to stay clear of these unwanted scents at all costs.

Let’s say that despite being as scent conscious as possible, you’re a smoker. You’re in a tree stand and suddenly the urge overtakes you. You’ve got a pack in your pocket and it’s calling to you. Sure, you can ignore it, but the question is for how long, because cravings are powerful things. You’re concerned that this buck you’ve been carefully monitoring for weeks might catch wind of the smoke and head for the hills, right? So, you wait to ‘burn one’ until you can’t wait any longer, crossing your fingers that the smoke doesn’t stay with you and it rises quickly without messing things up. But at the end of the day you never see that buck, or even a deer. You think, was it simply chance, or was the cigarette really to blame? For me, that would be a total “mindbender” with long-lasting effects. That said, I wouldn’t worry too much about it because the answers to these questions simply don’t exist. The only answers are the opinions of hunters who have been there and done that.

Smoke is a natural occurrence that deer likely encounter often during their lifetimes. Cigarette smoke, on the other hand, does not have the same smell as a woodland fire. Would you say deer are less apt to bolt from the smell of cigarette smoke, or could it be that so few hunters smoke while hunting that reliable scientific data just doesn’t exist? If you are a smoker who hunts, pay attention to what smoke from a cigarette does. Remember, hot air rises, as does cigarette smoke. In the absence of wind, it will go upward, just like the thermals. And smoke, like your scent rising in those early morning hours, will rise and dissipate quickly, possibly quick enough to go unnoticed by deer on the ground before finally being carried away, leaving us with no true answer about how smoke affects them. We’re simply left to wonder and come up with our own theories.

The true lesson here is that whitetail deer behavior has many layers, especially with scent. And there are no easy answers. If you need to light one up while hunting, don’t worry too much about it. Just be certain the cigarette butt is completely extinguished before walking away.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.

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