The Wild South

Keeping Bugs at Bay in the Turkey Woods

For turkey hunters or anyone else tromping through the wilds, three effective ways to defend against spring’s insect hordes

I’ll admit that I’m a little concerned about Lyme disease, but not so much about Zika virus, West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, yellow fever, dengue, or even chikungunya. I think that’s most of the insect-borne ills that turkey hunters have to face each spring. But I am terrified of chiggers. Let me tell you what body part chiggers seem to prefer. Actually, I won’t tell you. I will only say that these tiny demons flock to the moist places, the dark places, and set up shop in cracks and crevices. And they never come alone. So, use your imagination.

But what I really worry about is scratching a bug bite itch right when Ol’ Gob comes through the oaks. I don’t like blowing chances in the turkey woods, and I don’t like taking chances with bugs. When it comes to repelling the spring hordes, be they flying, creeping, or crawling, a strong defense is the best offense. I’ve used all three of these products, and all three work very well, in the turkey woods, on a farm pond, or on the back porch.


Thermacell devices use a small heating element that warms a wafer-like mat impregnated with allethrin, a synthetic repellant designed to mimic an insect-repelling compound found in chrysanthemums. The heat disperses the repellant, creating about a fifteen-square-foot zone that is downright miraculous when it comes to keeping mosquitoes at bay. The devices come in three fuel versions, fired by either a small proprietary gas cartridge, camping gas fuel bottles, or a rechargeable battery. They come in lightweight platforms that you can easily carry with you, in a few tabletop models that are paired with a lantern-esque light for tailgates and porches, and in even smaller backpack versions. I use them all the time while hunting turkeys, deer, and ducks, or while simply hanging out on the porch. They’re inexpensive, and in all but windy conditions—when the wind does a pretty good job on its own—they’re fantastic at knocking back mosquitoes and biting flies.

Permethrin Spray

Treating your duds with permethrin, another synthetic formulation that mimics a natural insecticide, will turn away mosquitoes, biting black flies, ticks, and chiggers. I lay out a complete set of clothing—boots, socks, pants, shirt—and mist the wardrobe all at one time. Once dry, the treatment is odorless and lasts through six weeks of wear or six washings. And it works. The chemical is found in items from flea collars to ornamental lawn treatments. One caveat—cats seem to have a low tolerance for permethrin, so keep it away from felines. My go-to brand is Sawyer. A 12-ounce spray bottle holds enough of the stuff to treat about two clothing sets.

Sitka Equinox Guard Collection

If you’re unsure about using sprays or atomized bug treatments, there’s a new approach to battle spring’s insect invaders. The outdoor clothing manufacturer Sitka has released its Equinox Guard collection (hoodie, long pants, and gloves), which takes a one-two-three punch to insect protection. The first line of defense is a new lightweight, breathable material that is tightly knitted to prevent a mosquito’s proboscis—the biting thingie—from passing. The material is also treated with a permethrin application baked into the fabric for a second layer of protection. And the pants are sewn with a nifty inner gaiter that, when tucked inside your socks, provides another physical barrier to ticks and chiggers that might launch their attacks from the ground up. Bonus: Along with three camouflage flavors, Sitka also makes the Equinox hoodie and pants in two versions of street-friendly solid colors.

Follow T. Edward Nickens on Instagram @enickens.