Avoid stinging, biting insects while hunting

(Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Here are profiles of the ‘demon-possessed creatures’ awaiting your arrival.

The promise of the coming fall is heralded by slightly cooler evenings, the choral sounds of summer frogs giving way to crickets, the rise of a mountain trout to the season’s final mayfly hatch, and those tell-tale markings and scraping of whitetail bucks setting the stage.

Unfortunately, this same time period also means it’s feasting time for some of the most demon-possessed creatures on the face of the earth. Be it stinging, biting, buzzing or otherwise intending to inflict pain, several species of insects are just waiting to ruin your day.

Fortunately, we have a mixture of modern chemistry, forgotten remedies and sage advice that may not completely exorcise these demons of the insect world, but will help keep them at bay or minimize the damage done. 

Ticks burrow into the skin of the host and may feed for up to 10 days before falling off.


Ticks may not be a big issue on the water, but the woods are full of them in late summer and early fall. Ticks bite people and animals to feed and may stay attached for as long as 10 days if not removed, before falling off the host.

In many cases, tick bites are harmless and leave little sign other than slight redness on the skin. Other times, ticks can cause allergic reactions or transmit disease to the host ranging from Lyme disease to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

The best tick prevention is to wear long shirt sleeves and pants in the woods and spray with an insect repellent containing at least 20% DEET. Showering after possible exposure and self-examination are also recommended, as ticks will often crawl over the host looking for a moist area before attaching themselves.

Mosquitos are public enemy No. 1. Females need blood to assist with egg production.


 Possibly the most widespread and hated pest in the outdoor world is the mosquito. Like ticks, mosquitos bite to draw blood to feed. Only female mosquitos bite, and the nutrients gained from blood help make eggs for reproduction.

Mosquito saliva contains an anticoagulant that keeps blood from clotting so the insect can feed. The anticoagulant is what causes the itching sensation and at times, small red whelps on the skin or other allergic reactions.

Taking antihistamines or applying heat, aloe, basil oil or honey topically to the bite can reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms.

Mosquito spray, typically composed of DEET, can ward off mosquitos, and wearing long-sleeve clothing the insects can’t penetrate is not a bad idea.

In recent years, newly developed devices that emit the oils or aromas of plants such as citronella and chrysanthemum, which naturally repel mosquitoes, can be worn on the body or placed in an area to ward off mosquitos. 

More than 250 species of black flies exist in North America, including this deer fly.

Black flies

North America is home to more than 250 species of flies, including sand gnats, also referred to as no-see-ums. Black flies wear you out slowly as they find seams in your clothing and bite, resulting in a lingering, relentless itch. Flies bite and feed for the same reasons as mosquitos, to produce eggs. Rather than suck blood, flies and gnats have a scissor-like mouth appendage that bites through skin and injects a coagulant.

Several species of biting flies swarm in areas of high moisture content, like marshes and swamps, and are most active early and late in the day.

In North America, black flies do not spread disease, but their bites can cause swelling, bleeding, pain and itching.

The best defense is light-colored clothing with tight fittings around the neck, wrists and ankles. Insect repellents have been proven effective, however, with varying results. Most sprays that leave an oily residue seem to work better, presumably because the oil makes it difficult for the smaller flies to land and bite, which is why natural oils — even without harsh chemicals — are believed to be effective. 


The larval stage of the otherwise inert insects known as harvest mites or red bugs may possibly be the greatest villain in the insect world, although, like ticks, chiggers are actually arachnids, closer related to spiders and not insects at all.

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not crawl into your skin, although it may feel like it. After hatching from eggs, chiggers group low to the ground waiting for passersby. At less than .33 of a millimeter in size, chiggers are hard to see with the naked eye.

After crawling to a suitable area, usually at a restriction such as a sock line or belt line, chiggers attach to the skin, make an opening with tiny sharp claws and spit saliva into the holes. The saliva rots human flesh, and the ungodly creatures drink your liquified flesh, often for a couple of days, before they fall off. After feeding, chiggers move on to the next stage of life.

Prevention for chiggers is sometimes difficult, because they are nearly invisible. Tucking pant legs into calf-high boots is an old standby, as the creatures usually live within a foot of the ground.

Along with long pants and high boots, spraying your pant legs with high concentrations of DEET is effective. Another preventative measure is to dust your socks and pants legs with food-grade diatomaceous earth, a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that has been crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder. When chiggers, ticks, ants or any bug with an exoskeleton is exposed to diatomaceous earth, the fine powder gets under the skeleton, absorbs moisture, and mummifies the creature, providing a fitting end for them.

Treatment of chigger bites with clear nail polish is an old wives’ tale. In some cases, the nitrocellulose used in nail polish may help dry the skin and offer some coincidental itch relief, but anti-itch creams, calamine lotion or hydrocortisone is the best solution applied topically. For serious reactions, antihistamine pills, steroid shots, or even antibiotics may be in order.

Most insect sprays contain an oily base with concentrations of DEET, an insect repellent developed at the end of World War II. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Fire Ants

The best prevention for fire ants is awareness. While the odd, roaming fire ant may be in a tree or high in vegetation, most fire ant bites and stings are caused by stepping into or on fire ant mounds. Be aware of your surroundings before sitting down or placing any bare skin on the ground. Attacks often occur when cultivating the ground, when ants swarm the equipment, which is then handled by the victim.

Fire ants both bite and sting as a group response to protect their mounds. Worker ants will find an area to bite with their mandible jaws, then twist their abdomen up to sting the victim in a rotating circular pattern, stinging very similar to the way bees sting.

Treatment for fire ant bites and stings include cold compresses and applications of hydrocortisone or other anti-itch creams and or taking antihistamines.

Unintentional Pests

Additional threats to outdoorsmen include wasps, bees, hornets, spiders and scorpions. Unintentional pests rarely go looking for victims but may bite or sting if encountered. 

Like fire ants, the best prevention for being stung or bitten is awareness. Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets may nest in trees or vacant structures such as deer stands or duck blinds and attack if threatened.

Spiders and scorpions typically reside in arid, dark locations and may also bite if disturbed.

Treatments for severe stings/bites from unintentional pests may be more acute than typical bug bites. Along with topical treatments and internal medications such as antihistamines, special attention should be given to make sure a severe allergic reaction does not occur.

Devices like the Thermacell emit engineered plant-based scents that naturally repel insects. (Photo courtesy thermacell.com)

Allergic reactions to insect bites

Most insect bites pose little danger other than the initial bite and lingering itch. In some cases, allergic reactions, particularly to insect stings, can cause severe illness or even death.

After being bitten/stung by an insect, pay close attention for signs of an allergic reaction which includes swelling, redness or rash, itching and numbness or tingling.

Severe reactions, those requiring medical attention, may include fever, difficulty breathing, nausea or vomiting, rapid pulse, swelling of the lips or throat, or loss of consciousness.

About Phillip Gentry 24 Articles
Phillip Gentry is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer who says that if it swims, walks, hops, flies or crawls he’s usually not too far behind.

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