8 replies [Last post]
Joined: 03/13/2010
Posts: 328
campfires in Wilderness areas(CO)

I have drawn 1st season rifle for Elk. I plan on back country hunting from tents.  I will not be returning to base camp every day.  Is it ok to have small camp fires? Or would it be best to use camping stoves and headlamps?  Will the fires spook game?  Will other hunters be upset?

This will be my first backpack hunt for elk.

exbiologist's picture
Location: Colorado
Joined: 09/19/2008
Posts: 2399
I do it

I don't know that it does or doesn't spook game, but we had a bull near camp most nights last year bugling with or without the fire.  If you're in the backcountry you shouldn't be camped within sight of another hunter, kinda defeats the whole purpose.  So it doesn't matter if they are or are not upset because they won't know.

More importantly, don't have your tent out in the middle of a meadow, tuck it into the timber.

buffybr's picture
Location: Montana, USA
Joined: 11/15/2007
Posts: 343

exbiologist wrote:

More importantly, don't have your tent out in the middle of a meadow, tuck it into the timber.

Obvious advice to a seasoned hunter for several reasons, however many "hunters" don't know this.  Besides not being readily seen, you're more protected from wind and bad weather.

The last time I hunted in one of Montana's Unlimited permit Bighorn sheep areas, my son and I packed into the area we wanted to hunt several days before the season opened.  We set up our camp over a mile away from the basin that we wanted to hunt.  We quietly climbed to the edge of that basin before the season and saw shootable rams both days before the season opened. 

At daylight opening morning the basin looked like a circus.  An outfitter rode his dudes on horseback to a prominent point in the center of the area that we had seen the rams, and there were six different tent camps scattered across the basin.  Most of them were camped in the open, far from trees.  It was a 5 day season, and we didn't see another ram.

As for campfire smoke, for over 20 years I horse packed my wall tent into Montana wilderness areas hunting sheep, moose, and elk.  I use a folding wood stove in the tent for heat and much of the cooking.  I've kept my freezers full and my taxidermist busy with many of the animals that I've killed from these camps.  Often, especially with fresh snow, we've seen elk, moose, and their tracks litterly within feet of our tent. 

I've also seen deer, elk, and caribou shot on very cold days by hunters who were by a small warming fires.

Another time, when I was working for the Forest Service helping burn logging slash piles, we saw 6-10 elk grazing within 100 yds of the last slash pile that we lit.  I came back to that still burning slash pile after work, and shot a 5 pt bull that was still grazing nearby.

The majority of animals that run in fear from smoke or fire are those that were created by Walt Disney.

Kepper's picture
Location: NW Pennsylvania
Joined: 06/02/2011
Posts: 4
I would suggest you check the

I would suggest you check the rules for the particular area you will be hunting.  Some wilderness areas don't allow open fires.  Others allow fires as long as they do not leave a permanent mark.  Most wilderness areas have a leave no trace policy.  If you build your fire with care, burn only downed wood, and remove any evidence of its existance, you should be ok.  For cooking, it may be easier to take a stove.  They tend to be much more efficient than a fire.  If you don't want to pack fuel, then check out the small "hobo" style stoves that burn wood.

As long as you are not loud and intrusive, I do not believe that a small camp or fire will disturb the wildlife.  Just be low key.


Joined: 03/13/2010
Posts: 328
I have a "pocket rocket" camp

I have a "pocket rocket" camp stove.  It is so small it will actually fit in your pocket.  I have used it a few times on multi day hikes and it works great.  I was thinking of the fire more for warming up and hanging out a little before sleep time.  Although we may be too tired to hang out or even boil water. I believe headlamps and stove may be the way to go. 

It may be hard to find dry firewood if it rains or had recently rained.

Kepper's picture
Location: NW Pennsylvania
Joined: 06/02/2011
Posts: 4
Last elk hunting trip it

Last elk hunting trip it rained almost every day.  Even with everything wet we had no difficulty burning the dead pine we found.  Something about the pine makes it want to burn like nothing I've seen.  Makes me nervous sometimes!

arrowflipper's picture
Grand Slam Challenge Winner!
Joined: 01/03/2011
Posts: 579
good advice

In reading the replies to your post, you have received some good advice from several people.  I have mixed feelings about fires.  I love them to keep me warm and LOVE the feeling of comfort one gets from a fire.  But with that said, I don't like getting into my sleeping bag smelling like smoke.  That smoke gets into your cloths and it stays there.  Pretty soon your sleeping bag and everything around you smells like smoke.

Are animals spooked by the smell of smoke?  I really don't think so.  They are much more spooked by the smell of "you".  Here's what I believe... and I may be full of bull.  I believe animals smell both you and the smoke and are spooked by what's happening.  If they are coming towards you and your fire, they are in control and are wary but not necessarily spooked.  If you are going to them, they are not in control and they bolt.  I've seen deer and elk so close I was amazed, but in those conditions, it was usually because they came to me.  I shot a small buck on time that was in our camp, eating Oreo cookies off a stump.  He had no fear if what he walked into.  Had I walked into him, I think things would have been different.

I believe a fire (unless prohibited by hazardous conditions) is a personal thing and some of us just don't like smelling like smoke.  A small stove will get your food warm and give off much less odor.


Joined: 05/15/2010
Posts: 41
some use smoke as scent control

The guys at this site at touting smoke as a great cover scent.  While still a kid I killed white tail deer while tending a warming fire. 

WesternHunter's picture
Joined: 05/05/2006
Posts: 2374

We always have camp fire in camp every night, even during the day if someone is there in camp to tend to it.  Just don't leave it alone burning.  You shouldn't camp in the middle of your herd or on a game trail anyway. 

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