Chad Dyar | 6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Wildlife
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6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Wildlife

6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Wildlife

For those who don’t know me or who haven’t been following me on Instagram and seeing what I’ve been up to lately, I’ll let you in on it now. Since the end of October, I’ve been traveling the US, camping, hiking and just experiencing the great outdoors. Over the past couple of months, I’ve had quite a few people ask me a very concerned question… “Aren’t you afraid of bears, mountain lions or other wildlife?”

Well first off, I love wildlife. I love taking photos of wildlife. I love learning about wildlife. But yes, of course, I want to avoid any kind of dangerous situation that I can. So, here are 6 things you can do to avoid potentially dangerous wildlife while you’re out enjoying nature.

1) Keep food in a bear-resistant container.

There are multiple kinds of bear-resistant containers out there. Depending on where you’re camping, this kind of thing could be provided for you. At specific campgrounds in some national parks you’ll find bear boxes. A bear box is a large metal bin with a latch on it to keep bears and other wildlife from being able to access the items you place inside.

If you’re camping in an area that’s not equipped with bear boxes, for instance in the backcountry, you’ll still want to store your food somewhere safe. A pretty reliable solution for this is a bear canister. A bear canister is a small barrel-shaped food locker you can purchase at an outdoor gear dealer like REI. It’s great for protecting your delicious vittles but you should know that they usually weigh about 2 or 3 pounds, making them sort of bulky to carry with you if you’re camping far away from your vehicle.

If you’d like a more packable solution, you can carry a bear bag (as long as it’s allowed in the area – check with your local park ranger). A bear bag is a stuff sack you can pack your food into so you can hang it out of reach of those beautiful beasts. You can purchase a “bear bag” or use any stuff sack but I suggest also putting your food in a odor-resistant bag before placing it into the stuff sack. In order to hang your bear bag, you’ll probably want to use the PCT method. You can find step-by-step instructions, with pictures, here.

Hanging a bear bag isn’t always the easiest method and can be foiled by those yogis, you know, smarter than the average bears. But it’s a method that will keep you from having to carry heavy canisters out into the woods. When hanging your bear bag, make sure it’s at least 100 feet away from your actual camp. You don’t want to hang your food right over your tent, that could be a disaster.

If you’re able to have your vehicle at your camp, perfect! You already have a built in bear box, given your vehicle is a hard top vehicle.

2) Pack toiletries, lotions or anything with fragrance.

Remember that whole thing we just went over about packing food in a bear-resistant container? Well, that rule doesn’t just apply to food. It also applies to anything with fragrance. Soaps, shampoos, lotions or any other items or substances that have fragrance should also be packed in a bear-resistant container. Bears can’t tell the difference between food smells and smells that are given off by things like our toiletry products, to them it all smells like food. Also, remember to keep these products and food outside of your tent. You don’t want any odors or pesky crumbs getting into your tent and attracting any unwanted attention.

3) If you encounter wildlife that could be dangerous, make yourself look big, make loud noises and throw things.

This is kind of a generic way to run a potentially threatening creature off. For more detailed instructions on how to deal with different wildlife by species, check out this helpful article.

4) Make a perimeter of bells around your tent

A perimeter of bells, you say? That’s right! There are a few ways of doing this so I’ll just explain how I accomplish the task. Before embarking on this trip, I purchased some fishing line and an 18 pack of 1 inch sleigh bells AKA jingle bells. Yes, the same bells you sing about during the Christmas season can be used to alert you of possible danger. When I’m camping in an area where I’m concerned with mountain lions, tigers or bears (oh my!) I make a perimeter around my tent using these two items.

In order to set up a perimeter, I use trees, bushes, sticks, poles or anything else that surrounds my tent as anchors for the fishing line. In this scenario, let’s say I’m in an area with an abundance of trees. I tie the line around the first tree about a foot or two above the ground and run it around two to four more trees making a “circle” around my tent. I string the sleigh bells on the fishing line, placing more bells on longer stretches of line and less bells on the shorter stretches. Think of your sleigh bells as a backcountry alarm system. If your bells ring in the middle of the night, you know something or someone is approaching your tent. Just remember two things… First thing, make sure your perimeter is enclosed, in other words, don’t leave any gaps in the “fence” you created with your fishing line. Second thing to remember, your perimeter. If nature calls in the middle of the night and you have to leave your tent to get some sweet relief, don’t forget that there’s a perimeter around your tent. That’s a really great way to trip yourself up and scare yourself half to death. If you do scare yourself, hopefully you don’t accidentally get your “sweet relief” right then and there. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, have a nice laugh and be thankful that there isn’t anyone else in the backcountry to laugh at you.

5) Attach a bear bell to your daypack

The bell method can also be useful when hiking. In order to let wildlife know you’re nearby, tie a bell to your daypack before starting your hike. Why would I want to let wildlife know I’m nearby? Honestly, most wildlife wants to avoid you just as much as you want to avoid it. A little jingling bell tied to your pack is a great way to say, “Hey y’all, I’m here!”

6) Ask the nearest park ranger

If you’re in a national or state park, a great way to find out information on wildlife in the area is to ask a park ranger. Ask about types of wildlife, what areas they’re most active in and about any recent incidents or places you should avoid. Most park rangers are more than happy to help you out and divulge this information. This is also a great way to build a relationship with your park rangers! And when camping, hiking or enjoying other kinds of recreation in a park, who better to be friends with than your friendly neighborhood park ranger?!

What are some other ways you avoid wildlife when you’re outdoors? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

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