The first rule of interacting with wildlife up close and personal is to realize that each creature—from the smallest chipmunk to the largest moose—is a wild animal that can be unpredictable and dangerous. Obviously, there are times when encounters will be unavoidable, but you can still take measures to prevent them from occurring.
One of the biggest attractors of wildlife is food. I know it seems like you’re doing the right thing when you feed a family of hungry raccoons that finds its way to your campsite, but if one of those critters bites you, it will have to be killed and you’ll need to take painful rabies shots. That being said, it’s best to fight your urge to feed the wildlife. Smart campers know to store all foods, including dog food and horse feed, in closed, wildlife-resistant containers. I’d also keep your sleeping bags, tents, and sleeping areas free of food and beverages. Finally, never sleep in clothes that you wore while you were cooking.
With animals, you need to remember that it’s not what you call food that counts; it’s what they call food that counts. That includes cooking utensils, toothpaste, sunscreen, garbage, clothing, boots, backpacks, and more. All of these items can taste delicious to animals like porcupines and deer. Furthermore, natural fabrics tend to attract smaller animals, such as mice, that use them as nesting material. It’s better to place questionable items in a pack or bag that’s hung from a tree branch, even if the branch is only a few feet off the ground. When it’s up out of the way, animals are less likely to find it.
Keeping a clean camp will do a lot, too. After meals, be sure to wipe down your tables and chairs. Try to wash your dishes and utensils as soon as you’re done eating if you can, and be sure to dispose of wastewater downwind from your camp, at least 100 feet from your sleeping area.
When it’s time to break down your campsite and leave, pack all food scraps and trash in sealed plastic bags and take them with you so you can dispose of them properly. When these items are left behind or buried, they attract animals to campsites, increasing the chance of bad encounters either for you or the next campers.
I love wildlife as much as the next outdoorsmen, but I’m not alone in admitting I’d rather keep my gear and campsite clear of critters. The tips outlined above will help keep animals like raccoons, mice, and bears from sniffing around your tent for a meal, which will go a long way towards keeping both you and the animals from harm.