As we rounded a bend in the narrow canyon, the small stream we had been following widened and became swamp-like. Stands of willows, punctuated by 100-year-old cottonwood trees, accentuated the stark, iron-red sandstone walls surrounding us. We stopped to enjoy the beauty of the canyon.
Within moments, from every blade of grass and willow branch, launched a swarm of biting deer flies. Somehow, some way, all across the canyon the dinner bell rang, and it took only a matter of seconds for us to realize we were the main course.
As thousands of these blood hungry insects converged on all unprotected body parts, we began the "oh that's going to hurt" dance. Waving arms and using willow branches we ripped up by the roots as flyswatters, we made a mad dash for the slick-rock sandstone.
Thinking that the flies wouldn't follow us if we moved away from the cool canyon, we climbed up a rocky ledge and into the harsh sun. As we rested, counting our bites, thankful to be rid of the pesky flies the dinner bell rang again. It started with a distinct buzzing sound as tiny black gnats flew into and out of our ears. In a matter of moments the gnats had settled in, biting us unmercifully behind the ears, around the hatband, anywhere they could sink their teeth into us, and for such tiny creatures they had mighty big teeth.
Individually the gnats were tiny, hard to see, and impossible to feel when they landed and staked out their claim. Once these tiny creatures put the bite on, they were worse than the deer flies. As the cloud of gnats circling our heads thickened and began to throw a shadow -- an undulating halo of itch and pain -- we literally ran from the canyon.
Our hike was over miles before it should have been, and we limped home itching and scratching dozens of bites on our arms, legs and necks.
Ok, we should have had some good insect repellent and we didn't. I had hiked dozens of times in the same area without ever seeing so much as a mosquito, and consequently, was completely unprepared for the reception we received. Still, I have heard similar stories about swarms of mosquitoes driving people off rivers in Alaska, from high country lakes and even farm ponds. There are many stories of turkey hunters swarmed by ticks as they sat quietly under a tree or in a thicket waiting for a big tom to come in to a decoy.
I even heard a story about a party who was dropped off at a remote Canadian lake for a week's fishing. As the float plane taxied across the lake they realized the mosquito repellent they brought, on the advice of one of the angler's wives, not only didn't work, but seemed to actually attract the blood sucking hordes. It was an ugly week.
Mosquitoes and Flies
Which mosquito repellents work? And more importantly, which don't? There are many natural insect repellents such as Citronella, Eucalyptus, Lemon leaves, Peppermint, Lavender, Cedar oil, Canola, Rosemary, Pennyroyal, etc. All in all there are about 150 natural repellents. Over the years many of these natural oils have been included in commercial products. So, how effective are they? Not very. If there are only a few insects around and a person doesn't plan to be outside for more than a few minutes, any of these oils will be adequate. However, if the mosquitoes, gnats or biting flies come out in number, these natural oils will not work.
Only a couple of things have proven effective when the bugs get serious about removing a quart or two of your blood. For mosquitoes, ticks and biting flies the most effective repellent is DEET. My experience for serious swarms of bugs is a minimum of 20 percent DEET. Less than 20 percent and you're at risk of being eaten alive. Several studies have shown that the more DEET in the repellent, the longer it lasts and the more effectively it repels biting bugs.
Study after study has shown that DEET is not harmful, except in rare cases when an allergic reaction occurs or when someone is exposed to huge quantities of DEET over long periods of time. Normal application of insect repellent containing DEET has proven so safe in over 45 years of use (literally billions of applications since 1954) that no long term dangers have been observed when the product is used properly and in accordance with label directions.
Cabela's sells repellents with varying amounts of DEET. Ben's Max Formula contains 100% DEET. While this may be overkill except in rare instances when the swarms of mosquitoes are overwhelming, it is better to be safe than sorry. No Stinkin' Bugs Bug Spray contains 23.75 percent DEET. For most outdoor activities, with 'normal' concentrations of mosquitoes, this spray will provide plenty of protection.
While DEET will repel ticks, if you want to kill them outright, use Permethrin. Permethrin is not an insect repellent. It is a contact insecticide that kills ticks and other insects. While Permethrin will not hurt you if it is applied to the skin, there is no reason to do it. Permethrin breaks down and is deactivated within 15 minutes after contact with skin and becomes completely ineffective. However, if Permethrin is sprayed on clothing or gear and allowed to dry, it will last up to several weeks, even through weekly washings. If the garment is dipped in Permethrin the effectiveness lasts even longer.
Cabela's Bug Buster 3D Camo Suit has been treated with Permethrin and while wearing the suit, you will not be bothered by ticks, fleas, or mosquitoes. As a matter of fact, if a tick travels across as little as 10 inches of treated fabric, it will die. Permethrin is a must when hunting, fishing or hiking in tick country.
DEET works best if it is spread over large areas of clothing or exposed skin. However, keep DEET out of your eyes and nose.
Some insect repellents containing DEET react to synthetic fabrics and even synthetic gun stocks. It is always best to test a fabric before it is sprayed with repellent.
Alcohol based repellents do not last as long as water base lotions or sprays. Most aerosol sprays use an alcohol base to carry and disperse the DEET. Gels or creams typically last longer and are more effective.
15 to 20 percent DEET in a repellent is generally effective for about four hours and then must be reapplied. Heavy perspiration or water will remove the DEET more quickly, reducing the effectiveness.
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