Who is watching when you’re not watching?

By Gary Lewis

It might be a sleeping bag in a lean-to with a small warming fire at the entrance. It could be a wall tent with five or six hunters high in the backcountry. It might be a recreational vehicle parked at the end of a road. It might be a hiker’s bivouac on the shore of an alpine lake or a place to run to in the event of a natural disaster or unrest in the big city.

Whatever the reason for the camp, chances are the camper or campers will have to leave, to hunt, to fish, to hike, to go for supplies. Camp is unguarded for a part of a day or part of a week, with no doors, no locks, nothing between a thief and the potential loot left behind.

After dark, if no guard is posted, the camp and campers are vulnerable as well, to the creatures – four-legged and two-legged – that roam the night.

A word to the wise.

Backcountry camps, both in and outside of established campgrounds, are vulnerable to theft and invasion. Camping equipment is hard to trace to its original owners and is easily converted to cash.

No area of the country is immune. Homelessness and illegal drug use are rampant in the northwest. Illegal aliens slip across the border all across the southwest. Drug lords use backwoods camps for the manufacture of methamphetamine and marijuana grows. When we camp anywhere in the country, our nearest neighbors might be a family on their annual fishing trip or they could be felons on the run.

If you keep a gun to defend against predators, two-legged and four-legged, keep a light with it. And practice. Encounters are likely to be after dark and at close range.

At home we usually have some sort of early warning system that can alert us to a threat before the threat reaches the threshold of the bedroom. It might be a dog in the yard or the sound of the doorknob opening. In a tent or a shelter, that door is the door of your tent and by then the intruder is inside your personal space.

Examine each campsite with a view to strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Is the site defensible? Is cell service available? Where is the closest cell signal connection? What paths lead into and out of camp? Is water close by? What distances must be traveled to find food or go for supplies? Are there wild animals that might make midnight raids on the camp kitchen?

A camp within a day’s walk of a town is likely to have at least a few individuals that make their homes in the woods nearby. How likely would this camp be found by a homeless wanderer or the criminally insane?

It helps to make contact with the neighbors and figure out who you can trust. Let them know what kind of activity they might expect at the campsite and if another vehicle is expected or not. The campground becomes a community.

Build a fire and they will come. Wild animals are fearful of fire, but humans are drawn to it.

Security is about deterrence. A four-legged predator is likely to stay outside of the circle of firelight or a ring of lights. But a two-legged predator may be attracted by illumination. A one-tent camp is more likely to be entered than a camp with more than one shelter. The reason? A burglar that chances on an encampment will have to turn his back on one tent to enter the other. One tent may be empty, but the other might be occupied by a camper with a 12-gauge.

When camped away from others, establish the illusion of more people in camp and more people expected, with extra chairs around the fire or other devices.

Use a decoy tent in such situations, a larger one that might serve as food and gear storage and another nearby, perhaps camouflaged, to be used for sleeping.

Set up camp with a thought to where and how the food will be stored and prepared and how garbage will be stored and disposed of.

Most human/bear conflicts arise out of disputes over food.

A bear can smell bacon grease up to three miles away. It might be spooked off by the human smell and it might not. Coyotes are prone to prowl the perimeter of the camp. If the smell of food is overwhelming, coyotes become a nuisance and young children are vulnerable as evidenced by recent news reports of attacks on people. Raccoons and skunks are even more likely unwanted guests. Neutralize food smells by burying garbage or removing it from camp.

The Camp Alert Perimeter Security System (CAPSS) from Brite-Strike Technologies is a 135dB audible alarm unit with red lens flashlight and blue flashing LEDs.

One of the best early warning systems is a dog that catches the scent or sound of the intruder. Some dogs are better than others and some are absolutely worthless, but the fact is the camper may not be accompanied by a dog or will not ever own one. How then can a campsite be secured?

Establish a safety zone in which any prowler might be considered a threat. A perimeter system can be as elaborate as a solar-powered electric fence with a battery backup or as simple as a taut fishing line with empty beer or soda can rattles on likely ingress and egress paths.

One 360-degree perimeter system uses a spin-cast fishing reel with six- to ten-pound fishing line. Run the line around camp then secure the reel in the sleeping area with the drag set low. If the perimeter line is hit by an intruder, the reel will begin to click as the line pulls out.

Another option is a battery-powered motion sensor, but such systems are likely to be tripped by bats, squirrels and other small varmints and might cause more annoyance than they are worth.

From Brite-Strike Technologies comes the Camp Alert Perimeter Security System (CAPSS), a 135dB audible alarm unit with red lens flashlight and blue flashing LEDs. The CAPSS comes with two rolls of trip wire, two nylon zip ties, eight inches of adhesive mounting tape and two blue all-purpose adhesive light strips. Contained in a box the size of a bar of soap, the CAPSS takes up little room in a pack and retails for about $40.

To put the CAPSS to work, identify the expected intrusion path. Attach the alarm module to a fixed object (tree, boulder, parked car, etc.) with the supplied zip ties or adhesive or duct tape. Attach one end of the monofilament trip line to the audible alarm trigger bead chain. Connect the other end of the line to a fixed object on the other side of the intrusion path. When the trip line is tripped the male post is pulled from the unit and the alarm is triggered – 135 earsplitting dB and blue light.

In some camps the threat is four-legged. Fire is a good deterrent to any wild animal, but it is a definite attractant to the two-legger.

Since most attacks come out of the dark, light can be a deterrent. Light up the night with a strobe and an intruder is likely to be disoriented. The more lumens you put on the subject the better. LED lights come in a thousand configurations, but for combat, for addressing a threat in low light and no-light situations, 100 lumens is the minimum. Better to have 150 or 200 lumens.

If you must leave vehicles or other heavy equipment unattended, there is a simple way to protect them. Use vibration alarms and door/window alarms which can be found for about $4 apiece. When the connection is broken or vibration sets it off, a loud siren is triggered. With on/off switches, they are easily disarmed.

Both types of alarms are mounted via adhesive tape. Find an unobtrusive spot to mount the device out of the elements. Set the switch on ‘chime’ or on ‘alarm.’ Then remember to arm the device before leaving camp.

If the camp is being used by more than one person that might return from various errands at all hours of the day or night, a set of signals might be agreed upon to include colors of light or number of flashes.

In a long-term camp, it would be prudent to change the signals from time to time.

Position the camera at a 45-degree angle to the trail and 24 to 36 inches above the ground, oriented parallel to the grade.

Know who and what is watching. Strap a trail camera to a tree and leave it to watch for days or weeks at a time.

Utilize digital camera technology with motion detection, night vision and timed recording as the controls are hidden inside a waterproof enclosure. Powered by batteries, the content is written to a removable memory card. Check the card supplied with the unit to determine if there is sufficient memory to record the number of days that the camera will be in use between check intervals. In my cameras, I run cards with 2GB of memory and then set the images at about 3MP resolution.

At night, some cameras are stealthier than others. Most use infrared (IR) to see in the dark and images appear in black and white rather than in color.

Camera theft is common. One of the main reasons is that the person photographed does not want it to be known that they were in the area. Position the camera in less obvious locations and take care to camouflage it.

Set up a camera on the trail on each side of camp, beyond the perimeter and check the images every couple of days. If someone or something is sniffing around, you will know about it.

To contact Gary Lewis, visit www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com