How to Stay Safe from Dangerous Wildlife at your Cabin

Wildlife is a beautiful and magnificent part of nature.  Having the chance to interact with wildlife in the right setting can be an amazing experience.In the wrong setting, however, wildlife can be very dangerous.  The last thing I want when I finally get up to the cabin for a nice weekend is to have a run-in with a dangerous animal.

So how can you stay safe from wild animals?The best way to keep yourself and your cabin safe from wildlife is to keep wildlife away.  You don’t need to actively repel wild animals, but don’t give them a reason to get close.

I want to relax and enjoy nature.  But things happen.  Wildlife is out there and the animals need to eat.  So they look for food.  And sometimes that search leads to an unfortunate encounter with you or your belongings. 

How to Keep Wildlife Away from the Cabin

Keep food and garbage in containers.  Most wildlife is attracted to the smell of food.  If they think there’s an easy meal in it for them, a lot of animals will go the distance to get at your food and trash.  Bears have been known to cause a lot of damage and even break into cabins to get at food or trash that they could smell.  Raccoons and mice particularly are also known to get inside and cause all sorts of damage just looking for food to eat and a warm place to stay.

When you leave the cabin, take your food and garbage with you.  Unless it’s in a can, it shouldn’t stay behind.  Mice, raccoons, and bears are not deterred by a cardboard box, and they’ll even be able to smell your food from outside. 

Garbage is particularly dangerous.  The smell will only get stronger over time, but it’s particularly good at attracting bears.  Pack all your trash out with you every time you leave the cabin for long stretches.

While you’re at the cabin, keep your food and garbage in containers that seal relatively well.  Using a good garbage can that closes itself is good practice.  If you need a larger trash can, get one with a lid the seals closed.  The big ones with the hinged lid that just covers the top of the can won’t do much to hold the smell in.  But the round trash cans with plastic lids that close over the top are actually pretty effective at holding the smell in.

Don’t Feed the Wildlife, Purposely or Accidentally

Once they know that your cabin is a source of food, they’ll make camp and it will be tough to get them to leave.

So don’t put food out for deer.  That will attract deer, who will also eat your vegetation, as well as attracting predators of deer.  And you don’t need mountain lions hanging out around your cabin. 

The other big one that people use all the time is bird feeders.  It’s nice to sit outside and listen to the birds.  But honestly, we get lots of birds around without hanging bird feeders.  The problem with bird feeders is that the bird seed also attracts other animals, including bears.  Bears have been known to climb trees to get to bird feeders.  And you don’t need bears hanging around your cabin.

There are other accidental foods that we either put out or leave around sometimes.  These are things like compost, nuts, acorns, and berries.  Compost, as bad as it smells to us, attracts other animals and pests.  If you want to have compost at your cabin, keep it far away from the cabin. 

If you have oak trees around with acorns on them, keep them cleaned up when they fall to the ground.  Acorns actually attract bears as they like to eat them.  And if a bear decides it wants the acorns in your oak tree, it may hang around for several weeks.  So rake them up and take them to the trash when you leave. 

The same goes for berries.  It’s probably best to clear out any berry bushes within about 200 yards of your cabin.  Bears like berries and will hang around if you have any nearby.

One last tip, clean the food off your grill.  If you have a grill outside, don’t leave food remnants on it.  After you’re done cooking, let it burn a bit longer to burn off the remaining food.  That food has been enough to attract bears and other wildlife in many situations.

Install Outdoor Lighting

Lots of these animals are nocturnal.  Raccoons and even mountain lions do a lot of their hunting and foraging at night.  One of the best ways to keep them out of and away from your cabin is to install outdoor lighting. 

I really like to use solar-powered lights that I can keep on even when I’m away from the cabin.  That way, the animals stay out even when you’re not there.  I also like to use ones with motion detectors just to save power.  If you set the sensitivity correctly, they should pick up the motion of a raccoon.  You can read about my favorite outdoor lighting for cabins in this article.  This same lighting setup works great for keeping wildlife outside and away from your cabin.

Remove Low Vegetation around the Cabin

Especially if children play outside at the cabin, it’s important to remove places where animals like mountain lions and coyotes can hide and stalk.  These animals rarely attack humans unprovoked, but children in particular look like prey to these animals.

How to Know if Animals are Near the Cabin.

Watch for the tell-tale signs.  Each time you go to the cabin, take a walk around the area and look for the signs that animals are around.  Here are some of the tell-tale signs that animals, particular larger ones, have been around while you were our.

  • Rocks have been overturned – Bears particularly like to turn rocks over looking for ants and other bugs.  Most other animals won’t have the strength or dexterity to turn over big rocks so this is a tell-tale sign of bears.
  • Animal droppings – It might be a good idea to keep a photo guide of animal droppings around so you can identify what animals have been around.  If you find large droppings, it’s likely to be a bear.  Small round droppings could be deer.  If there’s fur in it it’s probably from a wolf, fox, coyote, mountain lion or other carnivore.  Interestingly, bears mostly eat berries, vegetation, and insects so bear scat usually doesn’t contain fur.  You can be sure of one thing.  If you see droppings while you’re out something has been roaming your area.
  • Destroyed ant hills – Bears eat insects so they will sometimes dig into an ant hill.  If you see smaller holes poked into an ant hill, that could be from birds.  You probably won’t even notice that.  A bear, on the other hand, will usually try to dig up the whole mound looking for ants.  So if you see that, be aware that bears could be in the area.

How to Prevent Wildlife from Encroaching while you’re Away from the Cabin

Don’t leave food and trash behind.  I think we’ve covered this fairly extensively, but don’t leave food or trash behind unless the food is sealed in a can or jar.  If you want to have compost at your cabin, that’s fine but do it far away from the cabin.  It’s going to attract animals.  Keep your acorns cleaned up and clear out any berries from the area immediately around the cabin.

Again, outdoor lighting will help.  If you use lights that can be on even when you’re gone, this will be a big help in keeping wildlife out of and away from your cabin.

Prepare for the Encounter

You can do a lot to at least not attract wildlife to your cabin.  But there’s always a chance of an encounter around the cabin.  And there’s probably even more of a chance of an encounter while you’re out hiking around.  What’s most important is that you know what to do in these situations.  If you’re prepared, you won’t be as inclined to panic.  Panic in these situations often leads to a very bad outcome.

Know What to Do.

First of all, you need to know what to do.  There are some things you can do that will apply to all of the more dangerous, large animals.  Here are the actions that are common among the big ones.  Specifically, we’re talking about Black Bears, Grizzly Bears, Mountain Lions, Wolves, and Moose.

  1. Avoid an encounter in the first place by making your presence known.  Wearing a bell or talking with the people around you works really well.  It’s best to let the animals around know that you’re coming before you ever see them.  In most cases, these animals will avoid you altogether and you’ll never see them.
  2. If you do run into one of these dangerous animals, start off by taking a breath.  Don’t panic.  Panicking in this situation is the worst thing you can do.
  3. If the animal hasn’t taken notice of you, just back away slowly.  Don’t turn away from the animal because a lot of predatory animals including those listed here have the instinct to chase animals that look like they’re running away.
  4. If the animal has taken notice if you, make sure you don’t approach it.  Again, these animals will generally try to avoid the danger of a confrontation with you, so they’ll move away.  Bears will usually only stick around if they’re defending cubs or a kill, or if they feel particularly threatened.
  5. In every case except for moose, make yourself as big as possible.  That includes increasing your elevation by backing up uphill or onto a rock.  Talk loudly.  Even yell.  While you don’t want to move toward them, you also don’t want to look like prey.  Stay upright.  Mountain Lions in particular will see you as prey if you look like you’re on four legs, so don’t crouch.  Children are particularly vulnerable when confronted by mountain lions.  They’ll usually leave adults alone, but children are seen as easy prey.  So if you have a child with you, pick them up immediately taking special care to not bend over or turn your back on the animal.  (We’ll address what to do with a moose in a minute)
  6. If you’re wearing a backpack, keep it on.  It could protect you if things go south.
  7.  While facing the animal with your body, back away either straight or at an angle.  Never move straight toward them.  Once you’re a ways off and you don’t see them anymore, get away as quick as possible.
  8. If you see baby animals, that’s a sign that you need to get out of there.  It almost always means there is a mother around, and that’s one thing a mother will fight over in almost every situation.

What to do if You are Attacked

Black Bears: If a black bear charges at you, back away but don’t run away.  Backing away shows you’re not a threat.  But if you turn and run it will actually be more likely to go after you.  Black bears often to “false charges” to scare you off.  But it usually doesn’t want a fight any more than you do.  So back up quickly if this happens. 

If the bear keeps charging and actually attacks, don’t run.  You can’t outrun the bear no matter what you’ve been told.  It will quickly outrun you uphill or down.  Some people say to climb a tree.  Bears climb a lot faster than you do, so that’s probably not going to work.  But, it can make you seem less threatening. 

The best thing you can do, actually, is to fight it off.  But whatever you do, don’t play dead.

That’s right, use a walking stick, your hands, whatever you can to defend yourself.  It’s a losing battle, but you’re more likely to survive this encounter if you fight back.  Aim for the face and muzzle as much as possible and when you can, try to escape to a car or building if there is one nearby. 

The most effective weapon against a bear, black or grizzly, is bear spray.  It’s only effective at about 5 yards depending on wind speed and direction, so you have to be patient and bold.  But that’s your best chance.  This situation is really rare, but if it happens to you, you’ll be glad you had bear spray.  Once the bear leaves, get out of there to a safe place.

Grizzly Bears: The same principles apply to grizzly bears except that if the bear continues to charge at you, instead of standing your ground and fighting back, you’re most likely to survive if you do play dead.  Lay face down with your arms behind your neck and legs outstretched.  Putting your legs out makes it harder for the bear to turn you over.  Stay still until the bear leaves the area.  But don’t fight back. 

Usually, fighting back will make the bear angry and more aggressive.  The bear’s instinct is to defend itself. Playing dead in this position makes you extremely non-threatening.  But, if the bear decides to attack you anyway, fight back and use anything you can to hit the bear in the face.  Bear spray, again, is most effective.  Grizzly bears are huge and incredibly strong.  You’re best off to not surprise one so again, make yourself heard wherever you go so the bear will just stay out of your way.

Mountain Lions: Mountain lions are a lot like black bears in terms of what to do.  Make yourself look big, make noise, don’t act afraid, and slowly back away.  If there are children with you pick them up immediately.  Mountain lions rarely attack adult humans but it’s more common for them to attack children who look more like prey.  Whatever you do, don’t bend over.  When picking up children, be quick but don’t bend down any more than you have to.

If you do get attacked, fight them.  Protect your neck and throat particularly because mountain lions often kill their prey with a blow to the neck.  Use rocks, walking sticks, tree branches, water bottles, and even your hands and feet.  Whatever you do don’t play dead if you’re attacked by a mountain lion.  They are predators and will keep attacking, clawing, and biting even if they believe you’re dead.

Wolves: It’s almost certain that you’ll never run into a wolf in the wild unless you’re looking for them.  Wolves cover very large territories, so they’re fairly sparsely populated.  They have really keen senses of hearing and smell so they will know you’re coming long before you see them and in almost every case will stay out of your way.

If you do encounter a wolf, a few differences apply.  Face it, but don’t stare it in the eyes.  They see this as a challenge or threat.  Actually bowing your head a bit is more effective.  The rest of the advice applies.  Face it but back away slowly.  Never run.  Make yourself as big as possible, yell, and back away.  If you can grab some rocks to throw at it without putting yourself in a vulnerable position, that can be a good idea if it keeps staring you down.  But more importantly, back away.

If you do get attached, the same rules as the black bear and mountain lion apply.  Fight back.  Concentrate any hits on the face and snout.  Bear spray will work well on Wolves as well as mountain lions.  Your best chance is if you fight and then get away as soon as you can.  You won’t outrun a wolf but you may convince it that it’s better off leaving you alone.  You can also climb up a tree if there is one you can quickly climb nearby.  Unlike bears and mountain lions, wolves are not good climbers.  But you’re best off getting to a building or vehicle.

Moose: If you encounter a moose in the wild, you need to stay away.  If the moose changes its behavior at all, like if it stops eating or looks at you, you’re too close.  With moose, the general rules all go out the window.  The best thing you can do it run away.  You won’t outrun a charging moose, but you likely can outmaneuver it.

Moose are actually really big.  And they attack by charging and butting you.  So if a moose starts staring at you, smacks its lips, walks toward you, whips its head back, or does anything different than it was doing before it noticed you, back off and run away. 

Get behind a tree or building so it can’t hit you on a charge.  But don’t believe that a little fence or even your car stop the moose.  They have actually been known to attack cars.  So if you cross a moose’s path in your vehicle, let it cross the road.  If a moose is coming after you and you can get in a car, do it, but know that your car might get attacked.  Just get into the safest position you can inside and wait it out.

If, as you’re trying to get away, the moose knocks you down, the best thing to do is curl up into a ball to protect your head, neck, and vital organs.  You might get kicked or stomped, but this is your best shot.  Stay that way until the moose is done and walks away.

The best rule of thumb to follow, is stay away from moose.  If you see one, don’t make loud noises.  Don’t look big.  Back away.  And if it starts to charge at all, run and get behind a tree or something sturdy.

Bring a Defense with You.

In any case, it’s best to go out prepared.  In the wilderness, hike around in groups.  Talk and make noise.  Prevent that encounter.  But also go out prepared.

I like to hike with a walking stick.  It’s not that I need it so much for balance or help.  I mean, it’s great for all that.  But it’s also a good weapon in case I do run into anything.  Carry bear spray with you if you’re in an area where any of these animals could be.  It’s just a strong pepper spray designed for bears.  But it’s really effective on the other animals listed here.

I also like to hike with a sidearm.  While a gun won’t be very effective against a grizzly, it can be against a black bear and definitely will be against wolves and mountain lions.  Of course, just like if you were being attacked by a person, shooting an animal is the last resort. 

If a black bear is threatening you, a good shot in the body with a 12 gauge shotgun with a slug can be very effective at distances less than 100 yards.  If a bear is more than 100 yards away, you have no reason to be shooting it.  We’re not talking about hunting here.  We’re talking about protecting yourself and your family.

If you do shoot an animal and you don’t have a license and tag for that, you need to report the shooting to the authorities and you need to be able to account for why you shot it.  Shooting animals out of season for reasons other than protection of life and property is illegal and carries heavy penalties.

How to Get Rid of Pesky Wildlife

If you have dangerous or pesky wildlife hanging around your cabin, the best thing to do is eliminate the cause of their attraction.  If there are acorns, berries, or leftover trash or food in the area, then get rid of it. Even then, it could take a long time for the animal to give up and leave.  Once an animal learns that your cabin is a good source of food, it’s not going to give up and go away until it’s convinced that there’s a better source of food elsewhere.

The next thing you should do is contact the local fish and game department.  In fact, you should notify them of any sighting of a dangerous animal in the area.  They keep track of those kinds of things and can warn others if sightings become more common than usual.  If you have a dangerous animal hanging around your cabin, sometimes the local authorities can encourage it to leave or actually relocate the animal safely.

In a dangerous and threatening situation, you can shoot an animal even without a license if you can legally own and use a firearm.  This should always be the last resort and only in the case of protection of life or property.

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