Every camper has heard the pitter patter of a racoon’s paws rummaging outside their tent. You just keep telling yourself that everything was put away, so what could they possibly get into?
Trying to scare them away buys you a minute or two of peace before the pawing and scratching starts again. By morning you unzip the tent, poke your head out of the shelter and realize that your campsites been plundered.
With trash everywhere and your food missing, you just keep trying to figure out what you could have done differently. How can you keep raccoons out of your campsite?
Keeping Raccoons Away From Your Campsite
If you go camping anywhere in North America you will probably have to deal with raccoons. Experts estimate that there’s at least 10 million raccoons in the wilds so there’s really no avoiding them.
To make matters worse they’re smart enough to realize PEOPLE=FOOD. Although they’re usually solitary animals in the wild they tend to congregate in packs (called nurseries) around regular camping areas. If you’re camping in established campsites I guarantee there are a few dozen raccoons closeby.
You could probably shine a flashlight into the woods tonight and see a pair of raccoon eyes staring back at you. Thankfully, most of the time they won’t bother you, but good luck keeping them away from food.
Why Are Raccoons Attracted to Campsites?
Raccoons spend their entire lives hunting for food and just barely getting enough to survive. In captivity, a raccoon lives well into their 20’s but they rarely survive past their 2nd birthday in the wild.
Over time they started to realize that humans always have food and you probably won’t just give it to them. So they’ve adapted to stealing as much food as they possibly can from humans. What’s more dangerous, starving to death or a slightly pissed off human?
With opposable thumbs and unlimited free time good luck keeping them out of an unlocked cooler.
Make Your Campsite Less Appealing
You know what keeps these little bastards out of camp? Getting rid of and securing anything that they could possibly eat. Humans are irrational and dangerous so raccoons don’t want to be around them. If there’s no food to get at they have no reason to hang around.
Store and Secure Your Food
The only way to keep raccoons out of camp is to remove and secure all the food. I’m not just talking about what we consider food. Remove all the trash, toothpaste, lotions, soaps and everything else that smells.
Unless you have a way to lock your cooler it’s basically worthless against raccoons. They can take off bungie cords, open latches, remove rocks and figure out basically any other obstacle you can think of.
This might work on the young dumb ones, but before the night is over somebody will figure it out. A padlock is the only surefire way to stop a raccoon. You might even want to tie your cooler down so it doesn’t end up getting drug away.
Car campers should take all those stinky trash bags and coolers filled with food and load them back in the car(or find a dumpster). Backpackers should take all food, soaps, lotions, toothpaste(anything that smells) and use a bear canister or bear bag.
Personally I just use the same old bear canister (On Amazon) that I’ve been using for years. It’s lightweight and holds at least 5 days worth of food. Other people prefer the lightweight Ursack Bear Bags (On Amazon) that are lightweight and come in a wide variety of sizes. If it can handle a bear it can easily deal with a raccoon.
Hanging Food Doesn’t Always Work
For decades campers have been using bear bags to secure their food from wildlife. Surprise! Raccoons can climb trees and balance on ropes. So they can definitely find a way to get into your bear bag. Bear bags are better than nothing, but bear canisters and Ursack bags are much better.
Get Rid of All Your Scented Products
Get rid of anything you can possibly find that’s scented. Scented beauty products, suntan lotion, baby wipes, tooth paste, etc will all attract raccoons to your campsite.
You can either purchase unscented toothpaste and deodorant or store it somewhere secure. Check your local hunting store for items made by Dead Down Wind (Look on Amazon). It’s probably easier to just store these items with the rest of your food.
If he can’t smell your food he probably isn’t going to find it. Keep a clean camp, be careful where dirty dish water/food scraps go and pack out all the uneaten food.
OPSAK odor proof bags are another option for simple toiletries that you want to leave in your tent. When it comes to odor-proof bags you really get what you pay for. OPSAK is the only company that’s proven to work against wildlife (raccoons, dogs, bears).
Other Raccoon Deterents
Raccoons have a very good sense of smell so they can find food from miles away. Even if you secure all your food and do everything right they will probably stop by to investigate just in case.
Throughout the years campers have found various things that supposedly ward off raccoons. They use chili powder, cayenne powder, ammonia, and commercial critter repellent sprays.
Who knows whether or not these actually work. It’s hard to say, because people who go through the hassle of bringing raccoon repellents will most likely secure their food storage. So they really have no idea if the repellent worked or not since there was no way for the raccoon to get at the food to begin with.
Scaring Off Raccoons
There’s really no easy way to scare off raccoons for good. You could beat one with a baseball bat and he’s gonna come back the second you head in for the night.
Warding off raccoons isn’t about keeping them away for good. Scare tactics are really only to keep them from temporarily being a nuisance. They might go away for a bit, but they won’t be far.
Shining lights, yelling, clapping and making noise will all scare them away. Some people even claim growling and barking like a predator helps. Wouldn’t you run away if some crazy person started banging pans, shining lights in your eyes, and yelling?
Dealing With Aggressive Raccoons
Honestly, raccoons pose very little threat to campers. There’s very little chance a raccoon will just attack you out of the blue. It just doesn’t make sense for a raccoon to fight when they can run away from something that’s so much bigger. Even diseased and rabid raccoons will rarely go after a human just for the fun of it.
If you’re threatening him with a stick, screaming and yelling, of course, he’ll get defensive. Make some noise while slowly backing away. Advancing on a scared, pissed off raccoon will sometimes get you bit.
The only time people really get bit is when serious drinking is involved. Drunk people do stupid things and wild animals aren’t something you want to fool around with.
Other Raccoon Camping Facts
1) Raccoons Have Ambidextrous Hands
When you combine ambidextrous hands with a wild, intelligent, determined animal who knows what they can get into. Coolers get ransacked, hooks/clasps get unlatched, and lids get removed.
To make matters worse they learn from past attempts quickly outsmarting your hard half-hearted attempt to stop them.
2) Raccoons Are Smarter Than You Think
Raccoons are highly skilled animals, with some of the highest problem-solving skills in the animal kingdom. They can unscrew lids, manipulate fine objects like doorknobs/locks, and they even use tools. If there’s a way to get something they will figure it out.
Think about what a raccoon needs to do in life. Their entire life is built around finding a way to steal food. Of course, they can figure out how to unlatch your cooler.
3) Raccoons Can Get Into Your Tent (Don’t Give Them a Reason)
With hardly any fear of humans they can chew and scratch holes through your tent ripping through everything you thought was safe. Some have even figured out how to unzip the door.
Although they probably won’t be brave enough to go inside a tent with you in it, anything left inside is fair game when you walk away.