Camp Safety – How to Scare Off Raccoons

Dawn rouses you with a serene, yet invigorating energy. The rustle of trees and singing birds harmonize like Edvard Grieg’s Morning Song.

You unzip your tent to a light breeze of fresh pine, ready to conquer the day. But as you poke your head out of the shelter, you realize something’s wrong. You’ve been ransacked.

Even worse, you’ve been raccoon-sacked!

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These little backcountry bandits sneak through the shadows of the night to steal your food and belongings. Like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, they swoop in unseen to pull off a handout heist and disappear without a rustle. You probably don't have a laser beam security setup at your camp, so you need another way to scare off raccoons.

There are a few ways to ward off these night raiders. Read on to find out how!

Why Are Raccoons Attracted To Campsites?

Hunting and gathering enough food to survive in the wild is tough. So when you deliberately carry food into the forest, raccoons and other forest dwelling critters have learned to take notice. They've adapted to the easiest gathering method possible: stealing.

Through learned techniques, these omnivores have discovered that if they simply smell humans in their territory, then there must be food available for the taking.

It's not just your food that attracts raccoons either. They love shiny objects. Why? It's unclear. We don't know why these masked bandits (and other animals) would be attracted to shimmering metal. It could be a “primitive desire for water,” mating rituals, or simple curiosity.


How to Scare Off Raccoons - PROACTIVE Techniques

You understand what actually attracts these trash pandas. Now let’s go over a few techniques to prevent and repel them from endangering your outdoor living area.

Make Your Campsite Unappealing

campsite-1

Raccoons have learned that a food rich campsite involves stinky trash and coolers full of food ripe for taking.

If you want to deter these bandits, the solution is to make your campsite unappealing. Tidy up everything, don’t leave out any shiny objects, and make it look basic as possible.

Store And Secure Your Food

The most important preventive measure to remain free of raccoons, is to properly secure your food.

If you think that simply putting everything in a cooler will work, then you may wake up to your campsite turned inside out. These devious scavengers have learned to open bags, trash cans, and even coolers.

If you have a standard cooler, you’ll want to use a bungee cord or similar device to “lock” it. Yet, many people forget that raccoons can still drag coolers deep into the woods, even if they are locked. Therefore you should always tie down your food storage containers to a permanent fixture like your car or a tree.

Personally, I use a critter-proof Ursack Minor and secure it to a tree (bear canisters like the BV500 also work great since the raccoons little paws can’t grip the sides).

Whatever method you use to store your food, always remember to never keep it in your tent!

Practice Proper Toilet Hygiene

You may have become accustomed to scented beauty products, but these items are a telltale sign for raccoons that humans are in the area. Look into purchasing odorless toiletries like unscented deodorant and toothpaste.

Make sure to store them in an airtight plastic bag to lock in the smell, or use the purpose-designed, odor-proof bags.

Use Chili Barriers

Racoons have a heightened sense of smell, which is why they can seek out the aroma of freshly grilled camp food from far in the woods. Although, one potent odor that’s unappealing to these creatures is chili powder.

Spread a small amount of chili powder around your campsite every few days, and those trash pandas may choose to head to the next tent. 

Some other common products that are noxious to the nosy creatures are ammonia and cayenne pepper.

Use Industrial Repellents

There are two main types of industrial raccoon repellents on the market: sprays and motion sensors.

For the former, you may be able to find a critter deterrent spray like Rodent Defense, but it does have mixed reviews on it’s effectiveness against raccoons.

For the latter, there are motion sensors, like Garden Secret's Animal Repellent, that use light and noise to ward of creatures. Still, these are designed for at-home use where there is probably little wildlife. In the great outdoors that’s bubbling with life, anything may set off the alarm.


How to Scare Off Raccoons - REACTIVE Techniques

raccoon battle

So what if you utilize one, or perhaps all of these proactive deterrents and the masked bandits still end up making it on to your campsite? Well, there are a few options you have to ward off these pesky creatures, and keep you, your family, and your food, safe.

Bring The Noise

Shout. Clap. Yell. Bang on the side of your car. Just make some noise! While raccoons may be determined to grab a bite to eat, they’ll be startled by any commotion out of the ordinary.

If you really want to have them shaking, a recent Canadian study has shown these creatures are easily scared off by sounds of their predators. So growl like a mountain lion or howl like a coyote if the initial yelling doesn’t make the raccoons run away in fear.

Shine A Light

Raccoons are nocturnal (meaning they are active at night) since their eyesight is very poor. If one gets too close to your tent, whip out a flashlight and shine it on them. Their natural instincts should kick in, and they’ll scurry back into the safe haven of the woods.

Break Out The Pepper Spray

As previously mentioned, the spicy smell of chili pepper deters raccoons, so why not use a more concentrated version of it? If the critter won’t budge from the noise and light, you should continuing yelling, but keep a bottle of pepper spray handy.

Under no circumstances should you approach the racoon to purposefully pepper spray it. That would be like bringing food to your neighbors potluck at their house, then shooting them in the face because they ate it.

Only spray the potent substance if the raccoon(s) start to get overly aggressive or approach too close for comfort. Even then, remember that you are the visitor and guest here.

Fight Back

Don Quixote windmill

If you left the pepper spray at home (or simply don’t own any) it’s time to fight back!

Use a long stick or something like a trekking pole as your “weapon” and a garbage lid or backpack as your “shield.” Congrats! You have now fully transformed into a wilderness Don Quixote.

Now gently poke the stubborn racoon away from your campsite, and use the shield if it decides to attack you in a justifiedly angry rage. 

If you do end up getting bitten, go to the hospital immediately since that aggressive raccoon could have rabies.

Your Turn

Don’t let these devious bandits ransack your food supply. Eliminate items from your campsite that may attract raccoons and employ preventative techniques to keep them out.

If they do break through your barrier, protect your family first, and try to employ non-confrontational methods to shoo away the night raider. If all else fails, do your best to fight back.

Although, you should always be mindful that you are camping in their home, not the other way around.

Jay toes the line between hiking enthusiast and vagabond as he treks across the world, soaking in it’s natural wonders. When he’s not exploring the trail, he writes articles to help guide others through their outdoor conquests.

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