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Critterproofing Your Camp

Posted by Darren Bush on 6/27/2013 to Camping Skills & Tips

Look at it this way. Critters in the wild are doing what comes naturally. We are intruders in their space, and a leave-no-trace wilderness ethic requires that not only do we leave no trace physically, we should not leave any behavioral trace either. It’s hard to do, but by not reinforcing an animal’s efforts to get our food, we make future visitors more comfortable. I’ve been awakened by ground squirrels running over my face before, and something tells me that’s not a natural behavior for a ground squirrel.

Helpful Hints


Generally, animals cannot find what they cannot smell. If you keep a clean camp, you will discourage animal visitors from bears to ground squirrels to birds (a Canadian Jay can do a number on pancakes left uncovered). Remember, however, that the people before you may have thought it cute to feed the little guys, so they may be expecting a handout. Be firm, yet polite.

If you are an angler, keep your fish guts out of camp. Fish guts should be placed far from camp on a rock so that scavengers will clean them up, but make sure they don’t associate food with human presence.

Animals will associate past success with stimuli you bring to your camp. That is, if a bear was previously able to haul a large, hanging, pack-like object from a low limb of a tree, then that bear will continue to associate goodies with big pack-like objects. If you hang your food, hang it well, or else it becomes a ropes course for your ursine visitor—they’ll get your goodies, they’ll just have to work a little harder. To hang it well, hang it at least ten feet off the ground, and at least six feet from the nearest tree trunk.

Cliff Jacobson recommends another strategy. If you place something that is smell-proof, waterproof, and in the bushes far from camp, it shouldn’t be associated with people, since it’s far from the site of previous stimuli. So far, he’s reported success.

Physical barriers are becoming much more popular, as they are virtual guarantees that your food will remain in your possession, not in the stomach of a bear. Bear-proof containers from Garcia are a good investment if you use a lot of freeze-dried food, either your own or store bought, as they are smell-proof, waterproof, and most importantly, bear and other critter-proof. If you don’t use freeze-dried or dried food, you can still repackage your food and get quite a bit inside a barrel. They you don’t have to hang food anymore, just stash it outside of camp. Just be sure a bear doesn’t use it for playing bear soccer.

Well, that should do it. Enjoy your time outside, and protect the critters too.

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