Does A Campfire Keep Animals Away From A Campsite?

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When you go camping, you’ve likely heard that a campfire is important. Heck, it’s often referred to by survivalists as the very thing that can keep you alive. There are many important things fire can be used for, but one of the most common is protecting you from animals. The question for many might be, does fire really keep animals away from your campsite?

The answer to this is both yes and no. We know, we know. That seems like a cop-out answer but the fact is, it’s true. Fire can keep away a large percentage of animals, especially deadly cougars (pumas), wolves, spiders, scorpions, and many others. Yet sometimes, animals like bears, snakes, and lizards will not stay away due to fire alone.

The big thing that keeps a lot of animals away is often just the presence of humans alone. In spite of bears being stronger and larger than humans, they will tend to run off if humans are in an area unless they’re incredibly hungry. Snakes and Lizards tend to always try to stay away from humans.

Essentially, fire in general was not the major thing that keeps animals away. It is fire and man overall that keep them from most campsites. Animals are not stupid, they know when humans are around. We assume it is the fire that is keeping them away when it’s often us. Plus, some animals just spook easily with all animals. Deer are easy to point to here.

Why Fire Does Not Keep Some Animals Away


A lot of the time, fire and man combined will keep animals away. Yet there are times when this will not be the case. The fire itself can be intoxicating to some animals and they will be drawn to it. Meanwhile, snakes and lizards tend to be cold-blooded and are around a fire for similar reasons humans use it for, warmth.

At the same time, other animals see a campsite as a potential food opportunity. Bears who are in or around National and State Parks are all aware of humans and know they have food. Of course, they know this beyond the fact that they just see humans with food.

They can also smell it, which is why it is recommended you always take a layered cooler or carrying device that keeps the scent in. This will prevent animals from smelling it easily. If an animal is hungry enough, it will get desperate. That means they’ll take chances an only slightly hungry animal wouldn’t take.


At times, animals can have a disease that they are unaware of. They may very well be sick while other animals like them are not. These diseases can be a type that humans might be able to get and some we cannot. We may also react differently to a specific disease than they do.

Rabies is a common disease that both humans and animals can get and it can alter an animal’s brain. As a result of this, the animal will do some crazy things and be more than willing to attack humans as well as bigger, stronger animals.

They do not know why they are acting with such high aggression without thinking. This can cause them to even attack others within their species. Commonly, wolves affected by rabies will attack other wolves and sometimes pass along the rabies virus. Although it is typically stopped by being controlled within the pack.

Yet if the infected wolves are consumed by another animal, it “can” pass on to them. Due to dozens of ways one can get rabies, you must be aware that disease like this among others will result in animals acting against their normal fear.

Some Animals Are Just Used To Us

It is sad but true that humans or fire alone will not scare off some animals because they have been “humanized.” This is when a species becomes so used to the actions of humans that they are no longer frightened by them. However, that does not mean they won’t be affected by us at all.

Dogs and Cats have been humanized for literally thousands of years, but both can still be startled or scared by man. Of course, this all depends on what the human is doing. Most of the time, the mere presence of humans do not scare them off. They might even come right up to them.

The issue with this is that when animals become humanized, they are not always afraid of coming up to a campsite. Raccoons, Squirrels, and sometimes even rats & mice will be so used to humans that they’ll invade campsites.

Bears, Elk, Moose, and Deer usually stay away from humans. The problem is that humans have slowly been humanizing them at State or National Parks. You can see videos like this one on YouTube where humans are feeding a bear at. Something they should not be doing.

That kind of situation results in the Bear believing it is okay to come right up to humans. It is no longer afraid to invade campsites. We need to make sure we stop doing stuff like this and bears will be afraid more.

How Do We Protect Our Campsite?

camp food

As referenced, while fire or humans isolated from each other will not get rid of every animal out there…the combination of the two does wonders. Wolves, Coyotes, Cougars, and even Bears are all scared of a man-wielding fire.

They do not tend to see this in nature, and therefore get a bit surprised and shocked by it. Thus causing them to fear what they cannot understand. If you swing fire at them, they’ll feel the heat. They’ll see the brightness of it in their eyes.

They can also smell it and smoke from the fire can also hurt their high sense of smell. Ashcan even be thrown in their direction or on them and they will likely be unsure how to act. Often running off just out of general fear of the unknown.

Of course, we always recommend taking a good sharp knife when camping at the very least, as it can be used for a lot…including protection purposes. However, another thing you can do is simply know the area you plan to camp.

By knowing it, you can be sure if there are going to be very dangerous animals around. If you are not sure or suspect that there could be, either do not camp there or be sure to take a firearm just in case. We recommend keeping it safe from children as well as having the safety on, just as a proper precaution.

Things You Can Do To Keep Animals Away

We referenced some of this already, but it is worth repeating. When you have food around, animals will smell it and they will be curious. This is why when you hunt and kill an animal, you want to skin and gut it a good distance from your campsite.

The reason for this is that an animal will smell this portion of the creature you killed and might investigate. Once you take it back to camp and cook it up, there won’t be anything left of the animal you killed for them to smell. All that is left is what you got rid of, which you’ll be cool with the animal taking, obviously.

If you decide to bring food from home, which is a much smarter move on a camping trip, you need to bring special containers. These containers or even bags and coolers, need to be able to seal up so tight that smell cannot escape.

If it is something like Chips, you might not need something so drastic. Though you do need a container for even this. Meat, more than anything, needs to be in a sealed tight cooler. You also need to make sure it goes in your tent or RV with you at nighttime. Just in case an animal gets curious while you’re sleeping.

Other things you can do to keep animals away include:

  • Clean up your campsite when you plan to leave camp or go to sleep
  • Check your sleeping bag or tent for creepy crawlies that might have gotten in
  • Don’t camp near rocks or debris, as they are prime places for dangerous animals
  • Don’t leave food out for extended periods of time, even if you’re at your campsite
  • Finally, NEVER feed the animals

Another thing many recommend is to never cook food on your campfire if you believe dangerous animals might be present. The reason for this is that this smell will go up in the air and out for about a mile. Meaning animals with a great sense of smell will want to investigate.

Bears have been known to check out campsites where they can smell food cooking as have wolves, coyotes, cougars, and many other animals. Therefore, if you’re sure dangerous animals are around…it’s best to avoid cooking on the fire if possible.

Even if this feels inconvenient, you’re better to play it safe than sorry.

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