Bugging Out About Bugs, by A.D.

After a few camping trips where I learned the hard way about preparing for local wildlife I started thinking about the bugs in my bug out plan and I’m not talking about technical flaws.  Previously I had focused much of my attention on what kind of gear to pack, how to provide food and water, and various routes to travel.  A trip to the Rockies, part of the AT and a few southeastern US adventures later I realized that people weren’t the only hostile forces I might encounter and I didn’t have much prepared to deal with the critters I might encounter.
Preparing for wildlife became a new priority for me when I reached an epiphany after visiting my sister in the southwest this summer.  While we have all seen the massive fires sweeping across the southwest, most of us have been fortunate enough to avoid their destruction.  Animals, however have had much of their habitat destroyed by the fires and as a result these animals have been forced out of the burning forests and into more populated (and better protected by fire suppression efforts) areas.  When the fires approached her town, so did many of the animals trying to escape the flames.  While my sister at most sees a coyote every now and then, the occasional scorpion and rarely a snake, all of these animals were prevalent throughout her neighborhood.  I admittedly have an irrational fear of snakes, but seeing so many in an area where I never saw one before made me a bit paranoid and hesitant to walk quickly without deliberately looking where I was stepping.  As we hurried to get things ready and get out of town I came to the realization that this may be just what we face in a TEOTWAWKI situation and I would need to be prepared to deal with it  In a disaster situation animals will be just as confused as humans and with widespread destruction animals may be out of their “normal” habitats.  With this soft awakening to the additional challenges I might face in a disaster, I began to take some of my camping experiences (and failures) and applying them to my bug out plan. 
My primary method of avoiding unnecessary wildlife is to properly select a campsite.  While this may seem easy for those of us used to hiking in state parks where there are designated camping areas mostly clear of brush with pre-dug fire pits, in the wild this can prove to be significantly more difficult.  If possible, I try to elevate myself off of the bare ground, if only by a few inches.  This not only provides some insulation in the winter from the cold but also helps to keep some of the bugs away.  I also try to clear the ground around where I will be camping.  Most snakes (so I’m told by my friends who actually like snakes) will avoid crossing clear ground if there is brush or concealment through which they can travel.  I will try to find a good branch and rake away the leaves and other cover, pick up the sticks and rocks and have several feet around where I will be camping.  Before clearing the site, I try to find a site that is not in a dry creek bed, is level and doesn’t appear to be close to a game trail.  I realize that in a survival situation the campsite selection will be a compromise between concealment and comfort.  In the case of concealment at night, those wondering around will typically look at the ground (think about stumbling around in the dark or walking at night with a flashlight)  you will focus where you are going and rarely look up.  If you can safely get up high in a tree and sleep there, this offers great protection from the ground critters and helps you avoid discovery.  I have laid logs between a forked branch and tied the logs down with paracord to keep everything secure.  This took a while, so when making camp be sure to start early to avoid working at night where your flashlight may give you away.  I further took a spare carabiner and clipped my belt to the lashed log assembly while I slept to avoid rolling off in the middle of the night.  A few tricks I learned to quickly cut the cross member logs to size was to find longer logs of the appropriate thickness, stick the long log between two trees growing close together, or a tree with a fork near the base, and then use the leverage of the fork holding one end and me pushing the other end of the log to break it to size.  This avoids needing to have an axe or saw and works great to manage the size of firewood.  The sound of a branch snapping is also less indicative of human activity when compared to the distinctive sound of chopping or sawing.
Another ritual I always follow while camping is to avoid the triangle of death.  While this isn’t always necessary, I still do it to ensure my safety and peace of mind.  The triangle of death is something I learned in the Rockies while working to keep bears away from my supplies.  The triangle is formed between where you suspend your food in the trees, the fire pit where you cook and where you store your dishes.  If you make camp inside (or very close to) this triangle, you have the highest chance of encountering any bear, critter or person investigating the smells of this area.  I always take note of what can be smelled and ensure that those items are not on me or near me when I am sleeping.  This includes things like film (has animal-based adhesive), deodorant, snacks I may carry in my pockets, Chapstik, medicines, stove fuel, duct tape, water bottles you drink out of while eating and even your survival knife if you used it to butcher game.  If you have a change of clothes available, I always cook and eat in one set and sleep in another set to fully minimize the smell.  I also don’t apply any deodorant, powder, Chapstik or other smelly substance after 3 p.m.  While this is not a hard rule, if you do this, the substance will likely absorb or lose its scent by the time you are sleeping.
If it smells I string it in a tree (old feed sacks and paracord work great for this).  If I ate out of it, I always wash it before going to sleep and leave it either in a tree or by the fire pit (this goes for stoves and fuel too).  While I thankfully have only had raccoons invade the triangle, I am hyper vigilant to avoid being woken up by something much more menacing.  Additionally I only eat right by where I cook and I never take food into my tent if I have one.  I try to stay 20 feet or more away from the triangle, and often build a secondary fire for where I sleep for warmth.  While this may separate you from you gear, you can consider camouflaging it with branches, a camo poncho to shroud items you place in the tree and by avoiding unnatural colors such as stark white, orange  and other bright colors.
If I am trying to conceal my fire, I will dig a Dakota fire pit.  I learned this configuration in Scouts and it is essentially two pits, one large to hold the fire, and a second smaller one to draw out the smoke.  A small tunnel connects the two to provide airflow.  Dig the pit deep enough to keep the fuel and the flames below the top edge of the larger pit.  This keeps the flames shrouded while allowing you to cook and heat yourself under cover.  If you need to sit a pot over the fire, the recessed flames allow you to easily place logs over the pit to support the pot.  I try to soak the logs so they don’t burn through and spill my food into the fire.  If i need to reflect more heat, I will stack logs to make a lean to which will reflect the heat and keep me warm while I sleep.  If you can’t dig a pit due to rock or hard soil, I usually try to find a fallen tree or large log and build the fire in the hole where the tree fell or against the large log with more logs stacked up around it to conceal some of the flame.  These areas near the fallen trees may be wet, so i will place bark, branches and other dry (even green) items in the pit as a base on which to build the fire.  While smoke is visible during the day, it is much more difficult to see at night so the primary concealment should be focused on the flames.  If visibility is not a concern, animals, including snakes, don’t like fire.  If I am trying to keep them away then I try to gather four times as much wood as I think I need and will usually end up going through most of it.  In my experience you can never have too much firewood.
After you have a good camp set up and a good night’s rest, you will likely need to move on the next morning.  If you took your boots off (I usually do to make sure my feet dry out) be sure to shake them out.  A trick I learned is to stretch your sock over the top of your boot and this will keep critters out while still allowing everything to dry.  I’ve found everything from millipedes to frogs in my boots so be sure not to ruin your escape by being in a hurry.  When going on foot, your feet are your wheels and you won’t get very far with a flat.  To allow my boots to further dry I typically try to have a pair of “camp shoes” with me.  While this does add some weight, I have found my Teva type sandals or croc type shoes to work best depending on terrain.  The crocs are a bit more difficult to walk in but weigh very little while the sandals allow me to hike in them if my boots should be destroyed.  I generally prefer the sandals but have had success with both.  As a general rule though, I never go barefoot or sock footed anywhere (even in creeks) and I try to keep my feet as dry as possible.  I generally safety pin my extra pair of socks on my bag and let them air out and dry in the sun while I continue to hike.  If my feet become too sweaty, I take off my boots, change socks, and let them air out a few minutes.  Wet feet are unhappy feet and if you don’t dry them out they literally rot away. 
Apart from that bit of foot maintenance be sure to watch out for the smaller bugs when getting up every day.  I had the unfortunate experience of waking up one morning covered in ticks.  I picked 58 off of me and itched like crazy for a week.  Hiking in the south I also encountered every southerner’s favorite itch to scratch, chiggers.  Without any anti itch medicine I had to do a bit of improvisation to stop the itching.  I have found that petroleum jelly will work, as will fingernail polish if you have it (I didn’t).  In a pinch, if you can find some clay soil and make a paste out of it, smearing the clay over the chiggers will smother them almost as well as the nail polish but you will have to reapply the paste as it dries out and cracks off.  Nothing beats a good pair of tweezers to get those tiny seed ticks off, just be sure to get them off as soon as possible to avoid the spread of any disease.  As a critter first aid kit, I carry a venom extractor (great for wasps and snakes) a pair of tweezers, a small container of petroleum jelly, some antihistamine, and alcohol wipes.  The petroleum jelly doubles as a great fire starter, blister bandage and lubricant.
Wherever you go, take some time to study the local wildlife before you go out.  This goes for preparation with your BOB as well.  A small guide can come in handy and help you understand which creepie crawlies are edible and which ones are better left alone.  Further, if you study, you can avoid certain areas in your routes known to house certain animals (mountain lions come to mind) and you can determine how to appropriately hike.  By this I mean whether you should be concerned with proceeding too quietly and surprising a bear or whether you should be using your hiking stick to probe in front of you for snakes or other painful surprises.  Knowing the wildlife in your area will come down to more than looking at territorial range maps found in the field guide.  While those various shades of red flowing down in a sweeping arc can give you a general idea of what you might find in your travels, you will have to be more specific if you want to really understand the animals in your area.  This will not only help avoid wasting your time hunting for an animal which isn’t there but also help you stay out of trouble should you encounter an animal on your hunt much larger than what you were anticipating.  You will have to make critical decisions while out hiking involving the local wildlife.  While that fat and juicy timber rattler would make a great meal, if you don’t have any experience with snakes trying to kill it might not be the best idea while you are bugging out.  If you aren’t sure if a particular frog is safe to eat, it may be better to look for another source of food.  An Apache foot snare can hold an animal very well if properly constructed but once the animal is held, you will still have to dispatch it.  If you can’t do it safely from a distance, it would be unwise to get close to an angry and injured deer trying to stick it with your knife or bash it with a log.  You should know what you are hunting for and how that animal can potentially hurt you.  After you successfully kill an animal, be mindful of where you kill it and clean it.  Be sure to clean it far away from camp and bury the waste if possible to minimize attracting animals.  If you accidentally spill something in camp when you are cooking or preparing the animal, urine will help to mask the smell of the animal (or any other spilled food) and avoid attracting additional predators. 
Be sure to keep the bugs out of your bug out bag by shaking out all of your equipment and being aware of what is around you and which bugs can ruin your day, especially if you have any allergies.  I realized the hard way that preparation involves being prepared for the animals, insects and other wildlife you may encounter on your journey.  As the Scouts say, be prepared.  Victory loves preparation.