Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Protecting Your Eats From Bear Feets

When you're inside a nice, secure building, you don't worry much about animals getting hold of your food, but when you're out in the sticks or storing things outside, this becomes a concern. Thankfully, there are ways to keep your food safe so you only feed yourself and not the local four-legged foragers. This also serves to protect the wildlife, as nuisance or dangerous animals must often be destroyed for the safety of all.

The Bearmuda Triangle
Bears are the traditional bogeyman of outdoor food storage, to the point that one of the major storage strategies is named for them. However, with very limited exception, bears are the least of my storage concerns. Raccoons, skunks, and other small critters are far more prevalent, and far more likely to cause grief.

If you're in a tent or other soft-sided shelter, remember to take no food with you into your shelter. If possible, cook and store your food 100 yards from where you're sleeping.

The "Bearmuda Triange." From wideopenspaces.com
Food isn't the only thing to keep out of your tent, either. Gum, mints, toothpaste, and anything else that has a scent can attract unwanted visitors. All of these things need to be stored with your food. Regular trash sweeps are also necessary, as any garbage or food scraps will also serve as bait for scavengers.

Secure Storage
Food can also safely be stored inside vehicles, so long as they're not soft-topped. If vehicles are not practical or available, there are still other ways to secure your foodstuffs. The first option is a hardened food storage container, commonly called a "bear box." These sturdy boxes are usually made of metal and have latching doors. They're built to withstand attempts to force them open, and tough enough to prevent rodents from chewing through.

A campground bear box. From marydonahue.org
Similar boxes can be bought or built and installed at cabins or semi-permanent camps, and are an ideal solution for food and other item storage, but are pretty impractical if you're out in the back country. There are a few commercial options coming into the market, but they're small, pricey, and still fairly uncommon.

Instead, a better strategy is to hang your smelly items out of reach. "Out of reach" is usually taken to mean at least 10' off the ground and 4' from any tree, pole, or other objects that can be climbed. Items secured in this manner are high enough to prevent being grabbed from the ground, and far enough out that they cannot be grabbed by climbing a tree.

This is easier than it sounds, and only requires a couple tall trees, a sturdy bag, and a rope long enough to reach between the trees and hang to the ground on each end.

  1. Throw your rope over a branch on the first tree, then secure it to a solid point at ground level. 
  2. Attach your bag to the rope, then throw the rope over a branch on the second tree.
  3. Pull until the rope is tight and your food is safely off the ground, then secure the second end like you did the first.

If you're in an area that doesn't have a way to hang your food, contact the ranger station or Fish & Wildlife office in the area and ask for their recommendations. This is something they deal with on a daily basis, and they'll have an answer that is appropriate for their location.

Keeping your food and yourself safe is quite simple, but requires diligence and a plan. Have both of those, and you'll keep your meals to yourself.


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