How to Protect Yourself From Wildlife While Camping
Camping offers the ultimate break from today’s tech-heavy, industrialized lifestyles. Constant connectivity has its conveniences, but it too often divorces you from what really matters — like undistracted time with those you love. However, your holiday can turn tragic if you don’t know how to protect yourself from wildlife.
Fortunately, most critters you encounter offer more annoyance than a danger. However, would you know what to do if a grizzly visited your campsite? You should, if traveling to bear country.
Most of the hard work lies in the preparation. Bringing the correct gear and maintaining your escape vehicle goes a long way toward keeping you safe. Here’s how to protect yourself from wildlife while camping.
Have the Right Stuff
The right gear can make the difference between a pleasant camping trip and a disaster. Here’s how you should prepare yourself to enter the wild
1. Outfit Your Vehicle
Perhaps the most common mistake people make when heading into the wilderness is failing to perform routine maintenance on their vehicles before they depart. You can’t rely on AAA when you’re miles from the nearest paved road — you might not even have enough cellphone signal to call for help.
For example, your typical tires might not be up to the task. Bias-ply models use belts that cross the centerline at a 30- to 45-degree angle from bead to bead, greatly increasing sidewall strength. This makes them superior to traditional radials for rough terrain and heavy loads, like carting your quad in your toy hauler.
You’ll have fun hoofing it to the nearest gas station when you’re 50 miles deep in woodland bliss, so carry plenty of spare motor oil, fuel, and antifreeze. You should also outfit your truck or rig with basic tools, including:
- Multibit Screwdriver
- Socket and ratchet set
- Adjustable wrenches
- Allen wrenches
- Tire-changing kit — triangles, flares, a jack, spare tire and pressure gauge
- Hammer and mallet
- Duct tape
- Utility knife
You should also keep basic first-aid supplies in your vehicle. Auto parts can be sharp, and you wouldn’t be the first person to burn or gash yourself fixing a radiator.
2. Protect Your Campsite
Your campsite faces two types of threats: those posed by humans and critters. Fortunately, the further in-country you go, the lower your chances of encountering folks who want to steal your stuff — or worse. What are the odds for a thief when there are only five or six people to steal from within a mile radius?
Critters are another story. Some of them pose a nuisance, while others can kill you. How you set up your campsite influences whether they cruise on by or make themselves right at home. You need the right gear to protect yourself, including the following:
- Locking, airtight containers for food and trash: Your best bets are locking, bear-safe containers. Many bear country campsites have these amenities, but you must supply your own if you boondock. Your second-best option is to double-bag trash and lock it in your trunk, doing the same with any food coolers. Hanging your garbage from a tree is unlikely to work — if you can climb up there, so can a bear.
- A clean tent: Keep all scented items and food out of your tent.
- A set of PJs: You don’t have to rock your Elmo onesie. However, you shouldn’t sleep in the same clothes you cook in, so bring something to change into come shuteye time. Keep this outfit away from your camp stove.
- Unscented toiletries: You love your strawberry-scented body lotion. However, it smells equally yummy to a bear.
Some people go so far as to set up a perimeter fence of clean tin cans to alert them to an invading bear’s presence while they sleep. If you go this route, pair them with motion detector lights to see the nature of the threat. RVers could mount lights and security cameras on their rig, especially when camping alone. You can see what’s disturbing you from your cell phone while safely locked inside.
Know the Animals That Can Cause You Harm
You should consider arming yourself if you’re spending time far in the backcountry. Bears can break car windows — your vehicle isn’t a failsafe.
If you choose to stay armed for self-defense, please don’t treat your weapon like a toy. Sign up for a training course in proper handling and practice with your gun, even if you don’t hunt, and pray you never have to use it. Most weapons are more unwieldy than they look on TV, and firing off without the right techniques can result in tragedy.
Make noise to ward off most animal encounters. You might have noticed other backwoods campers hiking with cowbells — they’re smart to do so, especially while traveling alone. The racket alerts animals to your presence, and all but the most severely rabid and starving prefer leaving humans alone to encountering them.
When traveling in bear country, please heed the following rules to keep yourself safe:
- Travel in packs: Please avoid letting small children dart ahead. Wild animals are more likely to approach a solo hiker than a group.
- Be aware: Circles of birds indicate dead animals that draw predators. Keep your distance. If you spy a bear, give it plenty of space. Slowly back away, talking in soothing tones and raising your hands overhead to make you look bigger. Don’t run — it triggers the chase reflex, and four legs beat two every time.
- Carry bear spray: This pumped-up version of pepper spray is surprisingly effective if a bear approaches you and shows signs of an imminent attack.
The individual in your party best trained in firearm use should also carry a gun when traveling in bear country. Although bear spray is your first line of defense and often sufficient, you want a backup — just in case.
Furthermore, a .22 won’t do the trick, and even a 9-millimeter pushes it against the big bruins. A .357 or 10-millimeter are good handgun choices with heavy-caliber bullets to stop a grizzly. You can’t go wrong with your trusty 12-gauge with lead slugs, although a 30.06 doesn’t quite cut the mustard — or halt a not-so-gentle Ben.
Dogs may be descended from wolves, but these wild ancestors are not furry friends. The rules for wolves are essentially the same as for bears. However, you should avoid eye contact, as these creatures interpret it as a sign of dominance and an invitation to battle.
Coyotes are smaller than wolves and generally more timid — there have only been two documented deaths from attacks. Your best bet with these creatures is to avoid them when possible but fight back if attacked. Protect your vital organs, throw anything you can grab, and kick, punch and whack them with your backpack.
4. Mountain Lions and Bobcats
Safety in numbers is your best defense against big cats. Mountain lions and bobcats especially dislike multiple targets, as it amplifies the threat. You can test this theory by having your partner slide up behind you the next time your house cat stalks your feet — see if they don’t pause.
However, what if you adore solo camping? Your first rule is to stay on your feet and stand your ground — don’t crouch or curl into a ball. Cats don’t see two-legged creatures as typical prey, but getting low makes them treat you like any other lunchtime snack. Make plenty of noise and lob rocks at them if they approach, as long as you can do so without bending over.
5. Elk and Deer
If you hunt, spotting elk and deer might be the point of your trip. However, keep your guard up. These animals can be aggressive and have attacked humans, so avoid antagonizing them. A full-grown deer can weigh more than 200 pounds with sharp antlers — keep your distance to avoid an unpleasant role reversal from predator to prey.
Pro-tip: Please report any wild animals behaving aggressively to local authorities. You might have emerged unscathed, but the next camper might not be so lucky. Speaking up protects people and critters alike, as wildlife officials can relocate some animals before they cause harm.
Special Note: Protecting Your Pets
The wilderness seems like the perfect place to let Fido off-leash, but think twice before doing so. It’s best to keep your pets secured, as they can antagonize wild animals and even lead them back to your camp.
Therefore, keep your dog leashed when hiking and consider tethering them while at your campsite, even if they typically obey your commands. If nothing else, it could keep them from getting sick on an elk leg some hunter left behind after field dressing, leading them to vomit all over your car’s upholstery. At best, it could save your best four-legged friend’s life.
How to Deal With Other Campsite Pests
You might find internet raccoon videos adorable — how clever these critters are with their little hands! However, they’re not as cute when tearing through your campsite. As for mosquitos, those little buggers are so unphotogenic they don’t even have a good side.
Fortunately, the same good habits that keep bigger critters at bay work for smaller animals. However, there are a few other tricks you should know.
1. Raccoons and rodents
Your food is most at risk from these creatures, and the ones accustomed to established campsites aren’t shy. They’ve overcome their fear of humans and will steal bread off your picnic table while you sit there. Keeping your snacks locked up is your best bet.
However, you have one more weapon in your arsenal against these pests: dryer sheets. Raccoons, rats and other rodents like squirrels hate that freshly laundered smell and will avoid it, so stash those puppies in every RV cabinet before storing your rig between trips.
Insects are generally little more than annoyances, but an infected bite can become a major problem if you’re deep in the middle of nowhere. Wear an unscented repellent containing at least 10% DEET, keeping in mind that higher concentrations increase their longevity. For example, a 24% DEET spray lasts up to five hours.
How to Protect Yourself From Wildlife While Camping
When you go where the wild things are, you must prepare to face them. Chances are, a bear won’t invade your campsite. However, knowing how to prevent their presence and defend yourself if they appear bolsters your safety.
Follow the above tips to protect yourself from wildlife while camping. You’ll enjoy your trip with greater peace of mind and increase your chances of a pleasant excursion.