To smoke or not to smoke

Discussion in 'Bowhunting Africa' started by Fritz Rabe, Aug 6, 2012.

  1. Fritz Rabe

    Fritz Rabe AH Veteran

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    To smoke or not to smoke:

    The view in front of me is tranquil. The low hills offer a perfect vantage point when you climb onto a big rock and glass the dry open Mopane veldt beneath you. I rest my legs and lean back against the old Rock-fig tree that has been here before man. Far below me an Impala Male is grunting. He is spoiling for a fight to prove himself to the ewes. A Yellow billed Hornbill is making an awful noise to my left.

    I lit up a cigarette and looked at the smoke as it drifted away on the light breeze. This made me wonder about the different beliefs and superstitions that we bow hunters follow for some or other reason. Some hunters believe that to smoke while hunting is just as bad as to hunt with day-glow camouflaged clothing because you will be exposed to all.

    Other hunters do not share the same sentiments and smoke whenever they feel like it. Be it in a blind or out for a stalk. Both groups produce trophies or meat at the end of the season. Some non-smokers do not mind burning Cow-dung around their blinds and even believe that it masks the human scent and that would help animals to calm down or not to be so jumpy. Why then are there two opposites that both enjoy success in hunting?

    Most plains game animals use their noses, eyes and ears in that order to gather information about their surroundings. These three senses also make up an animal's mind as to be curious or to flee. Take a big Kudu bull for example. Those big ears are like radar dishes absorbing every sound in the bush.

    When next you sit in a blind and a kudu walks in, take a good look at him and look at how he uses his senses. He will stand dead still and listen for an hour before he takes a few careful steps. He will do this the whole day. Younger bulls and cows do not listen so intensely or so long before they move. If he hears something he will freeze and be motionless for as long as it takes. Cows and young bulls will often stretch their necks or take a few steps to get a better view of the origin of the sound. This sometimes is the cause of them being shot.

    If a big bull sees something, he will also freeze. He will slowly turn his head to follow a person that walks diagonally past him. His ears will be poised so as to confirm what his eyes saw. If the hunter is outside his personal space, he will not run. By standing like a statue he believes that he is invisible and he will keep his pose for a long time and not even blink an eye. Young bulls and cows will move and walk away. This is why they often get shot especially by rifle hunters seeking Kudu.

    When the wind turns and a Kudu smell danger the whole picture changes in an instant. There will be a loud bark and the sound of breaking branches will be heard as he runs flat out through bushes with his curling horns laid back along his back. No Kudu will ever stand still if he smells you even at a distance. He will put as much distance between himself and the source of the smell in as sort a time as possible.

    Will it help to prevent him from running by burning dung then? Look at reality. There are literary thousands of different smells out in the bush. Water, soil, grass and trees have all got their own smell. Bushes and trees all smell differently and even more so during spring time. All the animals and birds each have their own smell. Some insects have such a strong smell that some of them can be detected at a great distance even by us humans.
    Then there is the smell of fires, fuel and civilisation all around.

    Each of these smells means something to an animal. He detects every one of them and then analyse them all from instinct. If he smells a human he is gone. By adding the smell of burnt cow dung will not disguise any other smells but just add to the ones already there. Some animals ignore certain smells. That does not mean that they did not smell it.
    Even within the same herd of animals, some might feel threatened by a certain smell while others ignore it.

    This is evident when you look at a herd of Buffalo. When a Cheetah or leopard walks past a herd of Buffalo, some will lift their heads and take a good sniff while others will not even bother. When a Lion walks past you can immediately see all the cows and young getting restless while the big bulls will stand there with their heads held high deciding on the next move.

    Animals can also determine how far the origin of a smell is from them. Elephants will stand with their trunks in the air and bunch up if they smell a human at a distance but when the same human is close they will often trumpet and move off in a hurry. This is even more evident in areas where they are hunted or poached a lot.

    We humans are blessed with a mind that can calculate and reason to solve problems and to sometimes predict events. We like to transfer those human thoughts into animals so that we can explain the things they do. Animals do not behave or think the same way as humans.

    An animal with a broken leg does not lie down and feel sorry for himself. He goes on doing what he has to do in order to survive and many times the broken leg will heal even if it leaves the animal with a disability. This does not make sense to humans as we will lie down and cry when we break a leg and we will not be moving around doing our everyday things in such a state.

    Some animals are even attracted to the smell of smoke. In the Kafue area of Zambia, the burning season starts in mid-May. Thousands of hectares of tall elephant grass are burned down so that new growth can start. Many times I have witnessed Common Reedbuck and Oribi actually following the flames to feed on the burned grass to get much needed salt and minerals that they otherwise would not be able to. They sometimes even move through the flames.

    Whatever the effect of smoke is to animals is something we can debate for years. We shall never know the true answers to it all. To many hunters it is taboo to smoke or even smell of fire smoke while others want to smell like the camp fire in order to mask the human scent. To each his own as both do hunt very successfully and it does provide us with something to argue about over the aroma of good coffee and the smell of the meat on the grill.

    Fritz Rabe
  2. Stretch

    Stretch AH Fanatic

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    Nice article Fritz. I am a firm believer in practicing scent control as much as possible. Animals can easily differentiate and associate many individual odors just as we form visual associations with many different ocular visons. A man watching a red convertible driven by a young blonde female will have no problem remembering the girl next time he spots the car a quarter mile away. Similarly, an animal associates a human or predator scent with danger from previous encounters . The next time this animal smells that scent he knows danger is in the area even if he cannot see it. Smoke does not and can not cover human scent but rather adds countless molecules of yet another scent that an animal will recognize as foreign, which at the very least will put the animal at full alert. Staying as scent free as possible as always staying downwind are the two key elements that the most successful hunters all possess.
  3. mudslinger

    mudslinger AH Veteran

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    Stretch, I have to politely disagree with you on smoke adding other molecules of a scent an animal maynot recognize. If you are talking about tobacco smoke, then yes maybe, but if you are talking about smoke from a camfire, then it is a proven fact that natural smoke helps eliminate and cover human odor from your body and clothes. I smoked all my hunting clothes this past year and and way fewer deer smelled me than any other year I have hunted. Why do you think some of the PH's take dried dung and light it sometimes in side but usually out side the hide to mask human odor. the use of smoke as a cover scent and scent eliminator goes way back into the early days of humans hunting animals. There is quiet a bit of research done on this and in my short research of using it as a cover and scent eliminator last year on whitetails, it works and works dang good.
  4. timbear

    timbear AH Enthusiast

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    I have always held with the belief that if an animal gets downwind of me, it does not matter whether it smells "pure" human or human plus tobacco smoke. It will be gone in a flash anyway. They can pick one smell from a rich mix just like we can pick one sound in the middle of a noisy city, or one false note in an orchestra. The age-old trick, of course, is not to get into their wind in the first place.
    Now, I have given up smoking a while ago, but my hunting success has not changed.
  5. TOM

    TOM AH Elite

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    Africa...are there other continents to hunt?
    I don't think smoke bothers animals in Africa as bad as it does here in North America. I've had PH's smoke in the blind (with my consent and sometimes addition) and never had any trouble with game coming in regularly. If you tried the same thing in NA it might not go so well for you. I'm not sure if animals over there are more used to smoke or what it is but I do believe smoke can help you cover scent in Africa.
  6. shaffce

    shaffce New Member

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    Fritz,

    Great write-up! I have been on both sides of the fence on this. Years ago I smoked and smoked while hunting, I didn't really have a good understanding of how animals reacted to scents back then so any successes were attributed to mainly luck. As an ex-smoker I can tell you the most compelling reason to not smoke while hunting-SMOKING IS NO DAMN GOOD FOR YOU, IT STINKS, MAKES YOUR TEETH YELLOW AND IT COSTS ALOT OF MONEY THAT COULD BE USED FOR HUNTING!!. I have had great success hunting whitetail deer over a wood fire, I'm convinced that the burning of naturally occuring fuel will cover your human scent as well as attract the inquisitive animals. On my last trip to SA I had some experience with smoke hunting. After seven days of relentless tracking of Blue wildebeast my good knee became my bad one and it needed a rest. So we decided to spend the day up on a big rockpile glassing. A couple hours into the day the wind shifted, every animal the walked into our scent did the same thing, stopped, sniffed and took off like a bullet. My PH sent the tracker down to collect some dung and we got a good smolder going. After that we had numerious animals walk right through our wind, they would stop, sniff, look around and continue on, maybe a little faster than a walk but not a panic escape. We had a troup of baboon come in from downwind to within 100 yards which never would have happened without the dung fire. I'm convinced that wood/dung smoke is good and helps you blend in but nothing smells more human than a cigerette. At the last outdoor show in Harrisburg PA I talked to a guy about bear hunts, once he realized that I was serious about hunting and may be a pontential client he asked me one question, "do you smoke?" His claim was that a smoker in a stand will ruin that bait site for the rest of the season so he would only schedule smokers for the last week of the season. Just a thought...if someone would market dung cigerettes then the smokers would have the best of both. I'll have two packs of Zebra lights please.
  7. timbear

    timbear AH Enthusiast

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    You could try that in a pipe, but I fear your cough would probably ruin the hunt after the first drag!
  8. Stretch

    Stretch AH Fanatic

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    Mudslinger - Thats what I like about all you fella's on this website, very respectful, good at explaining your opinion so one can see both sides.
    Fritz is good at setting the stage so we can all discuss our beliefs. Wood smoke is very natural and I know other hunters that have had success using wood smoke as a cover scent. I was referring to cigarette smoke. I have a close friend that has quit smoking a few years back and has enjoyed some incredible success since. If you don't play the wind it doesn't matter either way because animals have the ability to sort out scent and react accordingly. What is most important is what give one the most confidence. If someone beliefs that cover scent such as wood/dung smoke helps them cover their scent, the confident feeling gained will flow over into better concentration and stealth. I derive my confidence from staying as scent free as possible. Hunting this way give me conviction, determination and assurance that I am doing what I can to improve my chance at fooling those wonderful critters we all like to pursue.
    Thanks for showing me your idea's, it allow me to see another side as you are a very successful hunter.


    Tom -
    That's interesting Tom. Maybe there is less pressure in Africa or maybe there are more smokers? Either way it is a good discussion.
  9. Stretch

    Stretch AH Fanatic

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    That is very interesting. To be able to observe an animals reaction like that lends confirmation of effectivness.

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