Over millennia, mankind has developed the ability to adapt to the environment and use its resources to its advantage. The mountains are one of these environments.We can sometimes bend the mountains to our will, but more often than not, we must change ourselves as well as our approach to mountain living and exploration.
This is true not only for the weather but also for the diverse range of animals, both large and small, that live in the mountains. We’ve moved into their neighborhoods and must learn their rules in order to survive.
As I’ll explain in this article, the challenges we face can be detrimental to our safety as well as the safety of our pets and livestock, or they can simply become annoyances over long periods.
Cleanness is important
Regardless if we are living on the homestead, tramping across the backcountry on a hunt, or simply enjoying a weekend of backpacking, chances are we will have some food with us. And food has a smell, even if it is the blandest of foods and even if you can’t smell it.
Every animal on the mountain can smell it and follow the scent to wherever it is carrying the food. This will bring the animal close to you, and you will have to deal with it. As a result, regardless of where we are, it is critical that we take care of our food. It is equally important on the farm as it is in the backcountry.
I forgot this lesson five years ago while on a weekend backpacking trip with my nephews. We’d hiked into a national forest, set up camp, stuffed our backpacks into our tents, and begun preparing dinner.
We sat around the campfire after a delicious backcountry meal and attempted to solve the world’s problems talking about survival and the way things are going in this country.
When we returned to the tents, I discovered that a nocturnal visitor had swung by, drawn by the aroma of the breakfast sandwiches I had hidden in my pack as a surprise for breakfast the next morning—a rookie mistake that cost me dearly.
The bandit at large, a raccoon, managed to chew its way through the wall of my tent and then through the side pocket of my pack, removing the sandwiches and eating parts of them. And to make things worse, before leaving, it decided to give me a nasty “gift” on top of my sleeping bag. Needless to say, before we went to bed that night, I showed my nephews how to hang a bear bag.
Taking care of items that might have an alluring smell isn’t a difficult task, but it’s one we must remember whenever we’re in the backcountry. Animals can smell food, garbage, soap, or anything else with a scent, and they will be drawn to it from a long distance.
This holds true for all animals on the mountain, from squirrels and raccoons to foxes and bobcats, but also for wolves and bears.
There are several methods for keeping smelling foods and items away from you and the animals they might attract:
Get a bear canister
A bear canister is a tough but lightweight plastic container with a lid that is secured at the top by a mechanism that animals like bears and wolverines can’t open. Although these canisters are tough and secure, they are not scent-proof.
So, once you’ve arrived at camp, store them a good distance away. If you do so and the animal comes looking for the smelly items, it won’t be near you or your campsite.
Another idea would be to hide the canisters under large rocks or logs to keep smaller animals at bay. However, keep in mind that this will not prevent a bear from digging them up and dragging them away.
Hanging the canister in a tree, at least six feet away from the branch on which it hangs and from the tree trunk, will also prevent animals from stealing it.
Use a bear bag
Hanging a bear bag containing your food and other smelly items is another great way to keep animals, not just bears, away from your treats.
A length of paracord with a weighted bag on one end should be thrown up and over a tree branch at least 20 feet above the round. After you’ve gotten the weighted bag over the branch, lower it to the ground and tie the bag to the rope. Then, bring it back up and secure the rope to the trunk.
Use bear-proof trashcans
Keep your garbage in a bear-proof trashcan with a latch that cannot be ripped apart, no matter where you are, whether at your homestead or at a campsite. Keep in mind that small animals can still get through very narrow openings, so make sure the trashcans are tightly sealed.
Think of elevated caches
Another idea would be to store your food and any items that might attract animals above ground in a strong, elevated container cache. Place the cache high enough so that animals can’t get to it, cannot reach it, and build it with a strong door or an opening that animals are unable to open or break through.
Proper campsite layout
The way you plan and utilize your campsite also plays an important role in keeping wild animals at bay. For example, whenever I go camping, I use a triangle pattern for the layout of my campsite. The legs of the triangle layout are about 100 feet long. The cooking area, sleeping area, and the place where I store the items with an alluring smell are each one of the points of the triangle
How to protect yourself from predators
Our ability to make tools and make proper use of these tools places us at the top of the food chain. However, we must acknowledge that there are many large predators just below us who didn’t need any tools to get there.
When we step into the wilderness, we are in their territory. We’ve moved into these areas uninvited, and we are trespassing areas where they live, sleep, eat, and reproduce. All the animals you will find in the wilderness have a key advantage over us since they know that territory like the back of their hands (or paws) far better than we do.
These reasons alone should make you think twice about your safety when you are in the backcountry, away from home. We must arm ourselves if we want to withstand an attack from wild animals.
I can’t cover in this article every predator you might encounter on a mountain, so it’s better if you do an Internet search to find out which animals inhabit the region you plan on visiting.
Learn everything you can about wolves, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, lynxes, bobcats, wolverines, and mountain lions if you plan to spend time in the wilderness, and those animals are a frequent occurrence in the regions you visit.
Keep an eye out for changes in the weather, what the birds are doing or not doing, what smaller animals are doing, and what you can smell in the air. Remember that scent always travels with the wind, so “look” into the wind with your nose and look downwind with your eyes.
If you find yourself in bear country, you need to make noise by singing, talking, shouting, or wearing bear bells when traveling. Avoid areas that attract large predators (such as salmon-spawning streams, hunting kills, or, in the spring, berry patches that attract bears emerging from hibernation).
Carry your preferred defensive tool, whether it’s a rifle, shotgun, handgun, or bear spray, with you when you leave the homestead to deal with whatever situation arises. In general, it’s recommended to bring a secondary weapon, a handgun, so that when you find yourself in close proximity to an animal, you can use it more efficiently.
Even so, remember that none of these will work like they do in the movies. Even the best-placed shot, which is highly unlikely in a stressful situation unless you have hours and hours of training, will not stop the animal. An aggressive animal can and will hurt you if it is close, so be prepared to fight with your hands if everything else fails.
Keep your homestead safe
We must always take precautions to keep our homestead and family safe, but we should also make preparations to protect our pets and livestock. Even if you’re homestead may be located in a suburban area, you still need to prepare for wild animals’ encounters.
While common sense goes a long way, there are some specific things you should do to strengthen your perimeter.
If you don’t need your livestock to graze in open mountain meadows, you should keep them in large, fenced-in areas. These areas should be large enough for them to move away from any predator that gets inside the fence but also large enough to keep large predators out.
Such areas need to have a buffer zone between the fence and any cover so that you and your animals can see any predator sneaking up on them.
You should also get a couple of livestock guard dogs in addition to, or instead of, sheepdogs. The sheepdogs are good for herding livestock, but they cannot protect the animals they are watching. Guard dogs will not keep the animals together and move them according to your instructions, but they will be on constant alert, and they will engage any wild animals that will approach the herd.
There are several breeds of livestock guard dogs used in North America, and most of these breeds are coming from European countries where they have a long history of protecting livestock. The Caucasian and Carpathian shepherd dogs are two such breeds.
You can keep pets around the house, but you should never keep them on a chain since they will not be able to escape or fight back to protect themselves if they get in a fight with a predator. If you have pet dogs, train them to bark or alert you when they see or smell a wild animal.
Living in the mountains provides breathtaking views and experiences that everyone on this planet should experience in their lifetime. However, if you decide to live in the mountains, even for a short time during your camping trips, make sure you know what steps to take to safeguard what is valuable in your life.
This will ensure a happy existence and positive communion with the wilderness, as well as prepare you for moments that may threaten your very existence.
Other Useful Resources: