We love to look at them, we love to know they’re out there doing their natural thing, but we hate to think about them bothering us. From big to small, here’s a potpourri of tips on how to deal with Montana’s critters.

Grizzly Bears
Ursus horribilis. As always, avoidance is the best solution. For those who don’t want to hike with a marching band, two words: PEPPER SPRAY. Even the ranchers with the “My President is Charlton Heston” bumper stickers have learned it’s the best tool for dealing with a bear attack. Buy it. Carry it. Try not to need it. And don’t forget to use the test sprayer at the store so you know how to deploy it properly.

Nature’s definition of cranky. Think road rage with hooves. Laugh at the dumb tourists who try to have their picture taken with one, but give moose respect and a wide berth in the woods.

So far, no sign of aggression toward people. Very hard on calves, sheep, and especially dogs. They have made short work of big specialized breeds designed to protect sheep. If you go hiking where there are wolves (and they’re everywhere south of I-90 from Red Lodge to Butte), better leave Spot at home.

We do not have Brown Recluse Spiders in our area, unless they’ve hitchhiked in on a truck. We do have Aggressive House Spiders, renamed Hobo Spiders by their PR firm. They are the Junior Seaus of the spider world; they’ll run two feet in order to bite someone. They are large, gray-brown, and live in woodpiles, around sheds, and sometimes in undisturbed areas of basements. Their bite causes a nasty wound, often mistaken for an infection, which can take a very long time to heal; but they’re not really dangerous.

Some folks are allergic to their stings. If you’ve had a local reaction—swelling, redness, pain—you’re probably okay, even if it was severe. If you’ve had hives, facial swelling, or difficulty breathing from a bee or wasp sting, and you’re going outdoors from April to October, you need to be able to save your own life. Don’t rely on antihistamines. Carry a fresh ANA-kit or an EPI-Pen and know how to use it.

Deer flies and horseflies can ruin a nice mid-summer outing. Mosquito repellants don’t work on them. I wear a hat and use a spruce branch as a switch. Anyone who has a successful strategy, please write or e-mail Outside Bozeman; we’ll award a prize for the best solution and publish your name in the next issue. Fortune AND fame!

Springtime blood-sucking hitchhikers. They rarely cause infections and Montana ticks do not carry Lyme disease. (News flash: the state health department is investigating the possibility of a new, Lyme-like infection from Montana ticks.) Don’t apply gasoline or Vaseline or hold a match or cigarette up to them (especially not in that order). The best way to get them off is to gently, steadily, and slowly pull them off with a pair of tweezers. To avoid ticks, wear long sleeves and tuck pants into socks.

Not nearly as big a problem in the arid West as in other parts of the country, but still a hassle. West Nile is here to stay, but is no more dangerous than the other late-summer mosquito viruses we already live with. DEET works. The 30% cream, 24% alcohol-based preparation, or the “extended release” product all work well for about five hours. To avoid toxicity, little kids need lower concentrations.

The misnamed Beaver Fever. This well-known, single-celled organism lives in surface water and we’re all bummed that its habitat includes pure-looking, perfectly clear, and frosty-cold mountain streams. It causes either recurring stomach-flu-like illness or a persisting gassy, grumbly gut, sometimes with upper abdominal discomfort. Easily diagnosed and treated, but also easily mistaken for other things. Surprisingly, we commonly see giardia in little kids and couch potatoes who haven’t been within 1,000 miles of a wilderness—an international expert recently told me it’s dogs. Old Rip will drink anything, get infected, and donate the parasite to us. To treat water for giardia, boil for five minutes, properly use a filter, or let iodine work overnight.

Dean Center, M.D., is a physician at Family Doctors’ Urgent Care in Bozeman.