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 Each year, thousands of campers lose food and equipment to persistent bears, raccoons, ground squirrels and other animals.

I enjoy communing with nature.
 I just don't like it when nature tries communing back.

Avoiding Unwanted Animal Visits


[Raccoons]   [Bears]  [Snakes]  [Cougar, mountain lion, puma]   [Wolf ]   [Moose]   [Birds]

If you go camping, chances are, you and critters are soon going to cross paths. Most every area is going to have its share of skunks, possums, and raccoons,
but, depending on the area, you may very well see bears, muskrats, mice, snakes, snapping turtles, and any number of other animals.
It's a slim possibility that you may see a bobcat or coyote or fox, but these animals are much more wary,
and you should be very cautious if you see a fox close by, for instance, because they often carry rabies, and any healthy, self-respecting fox wouldn't remain visible for more than an instant.

National parks and other campsites are alive with wildlife, from birds to bears to chipmunks to snakes to fish.
It's tempting to lure some of those animals into your campsite with food, just to get a closer look.
But do yourself a favor and resist the temptation.

It's important to remember that wild animals are not zoo or domesticated animals.
These creatures are anything but tame. 
"The wilds are wild".
Just because you enter through a gate doesn't mean this is a kept place. The wildlife you encounter should be extended great respect. Look at them, enjoy them,
But enjoy them from a safe distance and stay on the trails."

Never feed wildlife when you're camping.
 Even if you escape the close encounter without losing a finger, 
the next family to land in the same campsite might not be so lucky.
These animals are smart.
Once they know they've been fed at a certain location, they will instinctively return.
 Eventually, someone will get hurt when the animal's natural instinct to be fed poses a physical danger to humans.

The best thing to avoid critter encounters is to set up your campsite so that's it's not quite so attractive to the "beasties".
 Leaving food out overnight almost assures a midnight visitor.
 Skunks and raccoons in particular are pretty brave about raiding your campsite if there is a tasty meal as a reward.
 Put away all food before you go to bed. Seal everything if possible and tuck away as best you can.

Raccoons, Ground Squirrels and Skunks

Although most wild animals are afraid of people, some of them may still approach our campsites.
DO NOT feed them.
This not only hampers the animal's natural instincts but it encourages them to make repeat visits.
They may even decide to help themselves.
 ALWAYS store your food away in a car or a BIG HEAVY sealed TIGHT container!

 NEVER leave food in your tent.
These animals can and will do a lot of damage.

Never leave other smellies (deodorant, tooth paste, shampoo, etc.) in your tent (especially in bear country).

Never leave food and smellies in a zipped pack, jacket, duffel bag, etc. Hungry animals will literally chew holes in your nice equipment to get to the food.

These creatures of the night are out to steal your food and cause general dismay at your campsite.
Although they are cute to look at, they are still wild creatures.
 Observe them from a distance and don't leave food out where they can get into it.

Store food inside your car

A plastic or metal ice chest will protect foodstuffs from ravaging raccoons and ground squirrels, but there is no acceptable portable container that will reliably discourage bears. Ground squirrels and raccoons have very sharp teeth and will bore right through a fabric packsack.
Best recommendation is to store food in your vehicle.

Raccoons can open twist lids!

Even if your camping excursions are going to be limited to established campgrounds there are some things you need to know.
Otherwise you or at least your breakfast may be in jeopardy. 

The first rule is

No Beverages in the tent other than water.
 Need I say more?

The first thing this ensures if you are camping in regions with bears is that if a bear does wander onto your site it will be much less interested in your tent, or it's contents.
This means no storing of food and should also include not eating in the tent.
Make this your standard rule and you also have a good way to keep messy candy out of your tent(s) without being the bad guy.

Next you have to determine your level of risk. If you're conservative it's simple, all the food goes into the vehicle at night. Generally your biggest risk will be raccoons. If your food is in totes make sure they are tied securely closed with a bungee cord. This method is not foolproof, trust me. It is a lot of fun to wake up in the middle of the night and watch the raccoon flailing at the bungee cord. When you fall asleep it will quietly open the tote and have a field day. Different types of breads are very popular. However, onion bagels were not a big hit.
Perhaps putting a heavy drink cooler or such on top of the food tote may be of help.

When you get ready to turn in make sure you don't forget any munchies you had out on the table or by the fire. All it takes is one marshmallow that fell off a stick or out of the bag, peanut shell, one Cheeto, etc to fall on the ground. If you do forget to get your edibles packed away you may find yourself stumbling out of your tent to defend your Pringles, peanuts and marshmallows. Some of these campground varmints are quite comfortable around humans and may be perfectly happy to sit and wait you out while you try to scare him away without awakening all of your neighbors.

Did you use aluminum foil on a grill? 
Raccoons and skunks will get the smell and come for it also.
Don't bother to take it off and put it in a trash bag NOR any other FOOD ITEMS unless you take it to the dumpster that night!
We scrape all our plates and other scrap food (that didn't meet the family dog's approval) into the campfire.
The aluminum foil off the grill, the same thing.
Be careful putting the foil into a fire for the grease will catch fast!
Because of the grease, most or all of the foil will burn away . . .


At the end of your camping escapade . . .
It is your responsibility (your mess) to clean out the pit of all foil and food and anything else that did not get burned away!!!!

You may even be greeted by a raccoon if you take a midnight stroll to the restroom.
You'll find them near trashcans or watching from up in trees.
 They're not going to bother you, just move along.

In the case of skunks, shine your light on them and make some small noise to let them know you're there and their presence is unwanted,
leave them alone!
Chances are you're sitting plop down in the middle of their nightly stroll for insects and since they know their awesome power, they just forge right on.
But they will eventually go away. 
Be wary of skunks though.
 We all know what they are capable of doing to our ol' factories, but they are also one of the major hosts for rabies. If a skunk has entered your campsite and is acting aggressive and getting too close for comfort, suspect rabies and avoid the skunk at all costs!

If you can stand it, moth balls are a pretty good deterrent for many critters,
 so if you have some in your pack, it will keep them away. 


If you are in bear country the campground will usually make it very clear to when you check in. All food should be in your vehicle at night. The alternative is hanging bear proof food canisters in the trees. This is beyond the scope of this page and from what I've read isn't a sure bet either.



 Remember no food in the tents....
this is serious stuff !

I'm sure that in different locales there will be different varmints but generally a tidy site will serve you well.

 It never hurts to ask the campground hosts what to expect. 

The most common advice is to protect foodstuffs by

#1. Store food inside your car.

2.Suspend food cache-like from a tree limb at least 20 feet the ground.


Here are the realities and hazards of each . . 

Store food inside your car

This is acceptable even in grizzly country providing you take care to seal all car windows tightly. Bears (especially grizzlies) will insert their claws through the tiniest openings in windows and doors and rip out the glass or metal to get at food. Today's hardtop cars make it relatively easy for a determined bruin to steal food. For this reason, a car trunk is safer than an auto interior.

Expert campers usually do not store their food in trees to protect. it from bears. Instead, they seal the food tightly in plastic to eliminate odors then remove the food from the immediate camp area. Setting the food pack outside the campsite perimeter is usually enough to foil hungry bruins and other animals. The rationale for this procedure is simple: Bears are creatures of habit - they quickly learn that camps, packs and tin cans contain food. In each campsite there is usually only one or two trees with limbs high enough to confidently suspend food packs. But bears aren't stupid; they know the location of these trees by heart and make daily rounds to secure whatever is suspended from them. When they find something (anything!) hanging from "their" tree, they'll get it down, one way or another. All black bears (even fat old sows) can climb to some degree. And cubs shinny like monkeys. If mamma can't get your food pack, the kids probably will! Only polar bears and grizzlies don't climb.

Recommendation: Double bag (in plastic) all foodstuffs, especially meats. Set food packs on low ground (to minimize the travel of odors) well away from the confines of the campsite. Separate food packs by 50 feet or more, an added precaution.

Do not, as commonly advised, put food packs in trees!

In truth, far more camping trips are ruined by racoons, skunks, and smaller creatures than by bears.
 Raccoons, in particular, can be absolutely ingenious in figuring out ways to get into your cache of food.


Snakes and Scorpions

As warmer weather approaches these critters become more active.
 Learn how to identify the poisonous snakes and know what to do if bitten.
As a general rule, avoid all snakes in the outdoors.

All snakes "hear" by feeling vibrations in the earth through their bellies.  They know you're walking up the trail long before you arrive, assuming of course that you wear shoes.  Being terribly nearsighted, snakes can only see you if you move.  And, although it may seem like they move quickly, you can easily walk away from the fastest of them.

     Snakes will run away from you if you give them an escape route.  NO snake will attack you unless you provoke it or step on it.  Most of the people bitten by poisonous snakes (I believe well over 90%) were trying to poke at it or capture it.  Of the truly accidental bites, the majority are on the buttocks or hands. 
Moral: Watch where you sit and reach out with your hands. 
 One final note:
Snakes are not evil or bad. 
They serve the earth with honor. 
 Honor them. 
 Leave them alone.

Click Here for More on Snakes

The  information following this icon pertains to Backcountry Camping. (Extreme camping, deep woods, no modern facilities, etc.)
Cougar , mountain lion, puma

Every adult cougar needs about 30 sq. miles to roam.  That's the size of a mid-western county, so the odds of an encounter are long.  They also avoid human contact if possible. Only a child or injured person would be at any real risk of attack.  If confronted you must appear aggressive and as large as possible.  Pull your shirt open and stand tall.
 Cougars will not normally attack anything larger then themselves.  Never turn away or run.  Unlike with the bear, always keep your eyes locked on the cougar's. 
Screaming might be useful too, if only for the soul.

The  information following this icon pertains to Backcountry Camping. (Extreme camping, deep woods, no modern facilities, etc.)


A pack of starving wolves and a wounded human would be a scary situation.  Fortunately, that usually only happens in the movies or TV.  Wolves are as smart as the smartest breed of dog, only independent, and with highly structured societies.  They know humans have to be avoided because it is the human, not the wolf, that is a terrifying killer.  If you should encounter a wolf in the forest, consider it an omen.  You have just been called to go out and explore beyond the obvious knowledge, and then return to your clan to teach them of these new things.
This is how the Indians saw it.  

The  information following this icon pertains to Backcountry Camping. (Extreme camping, deep woods, no modern facilities, etc.)


The animal I give the most ground to is the moose.  Most of them have nasty dispositions.   In desert areas expect scorpions in log or debris piles.    Keep your hands away and use a stick to turn items around before picking up.  Always check sleeping bags before using.  Tarantulas are not poisonous, just large furry spiders.  They can bite, however.  Give them some space.

Birds, crows, ravens, and gulls

Observe the same precautions for birds as you would for the small animals and don't leave any food out at an unattended campsite.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

     Just the thought of being alone in the wilderness is enough to make most folks shiver. Our heads fill with images of savage creatures just waiting to make us into dinner, all compliments of the silver screen.  Who knows what perils await us during the night, alone, and deep in the wilderness?

     Unless we happen to know the animals, this unfounded fear can paralyze us in survival situations.  Staying put when you become lost can be a terrifying prospect as night falls and you are without matches for a fire or even a simple knife for protection.   This fear is so ingrained that panic can overcome simple reasoning.  For many, unfortunately, this proves to be fatal.

     What is the real danger to you from wild animals? 
 Almost none.
  The critters big enough to inflict serious damage to you (bear & cougar) will usually do everything in their power to avoid you.   This is also true for rattlesnakes. 
Actual attacks are extremely rare.
  Usually the victim was asking for it by trying to get closer, luring them in with food scent (usually on their clothes), or by intentionally aggravating the animal.


  Just Remember . . .

 Most animals move and feed after dark.  The scary noise you hear going bump in the night is probably only a doe and her fawn on their nightly rounds.


If there is only one thing that you learned from this page, 
I sure hope it was the fact . . .



Do you think we've resolved the critters?

Think again . . .










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