A cougar screamed at us as we walked home in the dark one night along the Kalama river. I’ve encountered black bears at less than ten yards – one stealing honey from bees, another standing on her hind legs to get a closer look at me.
On each occasion I walked carefully away, albeit with frequent looks behind to make sure said critter was not following with malicious intent. There is one inhabitant of the deep woods, however, that has been known to make me babble incoherently and send me running like a crazy man. I am not alone.
In his journal, on March 25, 1804, William Clark wrote “The musquetors are verry bad this evening.”
On July 10, 1806, Captain Meriwether Lewis complained, “Musquetoes excessively troublesome insomuch that without the protection of my musquetoe bier I should have found it impossible to wright a moment.”
He closed his journal entry five days later saying, “The musquetoes continue to infest us in such manner that we can scarcely exist…my dog even howls with the torture he experiences.”
Mosquitoes get all the nutrition they need from plant nectars, but adult females have to take a blood meal before they can develop eggs capable of surviving. Birds, mammals, reptiles and even amphibians are hosts to different species of mosquitoes. Many females attack man, and a few take special advantage. Some bite mainly in the evening or early morning, while the host sleeps. Sound familiar?
In Lewis and Clark’s time, to escape the hordes of gnats and mosquitoes, men would stand directly in the smoke of a campfire and coat themselves with bear or buffalo grease.
Personally, I find I’m always out of buffalo grease when I need it most.
Mosquitoes need water in which to lay their eggs and to grow from larva to adult. Some breeds will travel forty miles or more looking for new habitats and hosts, while others stay close to the water source where they developed.
Many of the activities we engage in at this time of year center around bodies of water. Camping, hiking, mountain biking and of course boating and fishing all bring us close to mosquito breeding grounds. On a picnic a couple of weeks ago, we were driving along a spur road and became mired in a mud puddle adjacent to a swampy meadow and millions of thirsty mosquitoes. Immediately upon disembarking from the vehicle we were set upon. Whilst we were applying bug dope to exposed parts the little devils began to probe for weak spots. One application was not enough to keep them away, serving only to whet their appetites for more.
Of course, being prepared for mosquitoes is a lot easier in our time than it was two hundred years ago with all the sprays and creams and candles available now but the big-game hunter or photographer has a more difficult dilemma. How to repel mosquitoes without repelling big-game with the smell of bug dope?
There are a number of ways that a person can become less attractive to mosquitoes while remaining relatively scent-free. Some bow hunters use a head net. This provides the dual function of camouflage and insect protection. Wearing gloves can protect you though this may not be the right decision for warm weather. Forget about the camo netting gloves as insect protection. I have some and they fit tight enough that a mosquito can use them for a template, standing on the outside and sliding her proboscis through the nice little holes provided.
There are companies making insect protective suits for outdoorsmen. They come with extra long sleeves, pants with elastic waist and cuffs, a zippered jacket, hood and face shield.
If you must use repellent, buy one with no scent added. Be aware that when you apply it there will still be a slight chemical odor.
If caught without protection or repellent of any kind, stay away from the water and keep to ridgetops, dry meadows or wide-open shores where wind sweeps insects away. As Lewis and Clark knew, campfire smoke will keep them at bay and without any bear or buffalow grease, mud smeared on exposed areas will afford some measure of protection.
With all the moisture in the mountains this year, there will be a lot of mosquitoes to deal with. Go prepared or go crazy. It’s your choice.