First, let’s go ahead and get the awkwardness out of the way. We all poop. Sometimes we have to poop while we’re hunting and don’t have access to facilities. So what? People have been answering the call of nature outdoors since the dawn of humanity, so this is no big deal. It’s certainly not rocket science, but there are a few things you should know to keep things as clean as possible.
It’s worth mentioning that this article is written to hunters, which makes the advice a little different than what I’d tell campers or hikers on a well-worn trail. You’re likely to be in isolated backcountry, on land you own or lease, or otherwise far away from where other people are going to share the same space anytime soon.
Leave No Trace dictates that the best way to handle solid human waste is to pack it out (the TP, too). However, sometimes it just isn’t possible to do so. That said, there are some areas where packing out your waste is legally required (canyons, desert areas and other places your poop will petrify, not decompose), so it’s wise to check just in case.
If you can’t pack it out, bury your waste in a hole. The hole should be at least six inches deep and well away from water sources and trails. Some people carry a little trowel with them just for this purpose. A stick, a rock or the heel of your boot works just fine, too, although it takes a little more effort.
Whether to pack out or bury your toilet paper is a matter of preference. Single-ply disintegrates faster than its thicker counterparts, but even so, just throwing it on the ground is littering. I use the least amount I feel comfortable with and then bury it. If that’s not possible (like the time I was hunting sea ducks and had to drop my waders on a giant rock in the middle of the bay in front of God and the million-dollar waterfront houses dotting the shore a few hundred yards away), I at least try to cover it with leaves, pine needles, grass or a rock.
If you prefer to drip dry—hey, more power to you, especially in winter—wearing a pantiliner can help keep things cleaner. Wet wipes are nice to have, but they must be packed out, so decide if it’s worth it before carrying the extra weight afield.
Going Number One
You gotta pee. While peeing in the woods isn’t as easy for women as it is for men, it’s still a relatively simple deal—just squat and let it go. A couple pieces of advice:
Drop your pants just below your knees, not all the way to your ankles. This lets you squat below the level of your pants so there’s no chance of peeing on them.
Minimize splash by getting as low as you can. Peeing on soft ground produces less splash than peeing on a rock or hard ground, if you’ve got the option.
While bibs are warm and cozy, they do make dropping your drawers more complicated because you’ll have to remove every piece of upper-body clothing you’ve put on over the bibs in order to remove them (unless you have a handy trap door).
Finding privacy is sometimes a challenge if you’re with a group, as was the case for me once on a dry-field duck hunt. Get over the shyness and just tell everyone “Hey, I have to pee, so I’m going to walk behind the layout blinds. Can you guys just not turn around for a few minutes?”
The single most difficult pee in hunting, as far as I’m concerned, is the flooded timber pee. You’re wearing waders and standing in at least a couple feet of water. Dropping your waders and squatting is just not possible. My only advice is to not drink a lot before you go on this hunt in the first place, because you could be in for a long hike to find dry ground if you can’t hold it.
There are products available to help women pee standing up—plastic or rubber funnels, basically, that you pee through. There are even special women’s underwear designed to work with these funnels. This wouldn’t solve the high-water/wader problem, but it would let you pee off a treestand without climbing down or allow you to take a leak in a place you can’t squat, such as on (or off the side of) a boat or in a duck blind. Options include the SheWee, the GoGirl, pStyle and many others. I’ve never tried one of these funnels, because they seem more trouble than they’re worth to me. Some women love them, though. To each their own! If you’re going to try it, practice using the funnel at home before you carry it afield. I’m going to guess that the learning curve on this one is steep and treacherous.
Going Number Two
Pooping in the woods brings in a new set of considerations. For doing the deed itself, you have options here beyond the classic squat we discussed earlier:
The Log Sit: If you happen to see a nice rock or fallen log you can sit on and hang your butt off of, you’ve found Mother Nature’s toilet. Enjoy.
The Tree Hugger: Wrap your arms around a tree and lean/squat backwards. Make sure you get horizontal enough that you won’t drop anything on your own boots. If the tree is large, you can take off your belt and wrap it around the tree, holding both ends tightly as you squat.
The Supported Lean: Lean your back against a rock or a tree (be sure it will support your weight) and slide down until you’re in a seated position, with your feet dug into the ground and the backstop supporting much of your weight. Be sure your feet won’t slip, and be sure you can get back out of this lean without stepping in anything.
The Portable Toilet: Portable toilets—usually just a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet seat on top—are an option, and they even make models that hook onto the trailer hitch of your vehicle. This really only works if you’re close to your truck or if you’re in a fixed location, like a dove field or duck blind or shooting house that never moves.
Dealing with Your Period
If you’re hunting while you’re on your period, and if your flow is heavy enough that you’ll be changing out your tampon or pads in the woods, you don’t have any choice—you’ll have to pack used items out of the woods, because they will take forever to break down. A ziptop baggie (cover the outside with Sharpie doodles or duct tape if you don’t want the contents visible) is your best bet, and since you’re going to be packing stuff out anyway, you might as well carry some wipes for cleaning things up.
I’ve had very good luck with the “period panties” offered by Thinx. On light days, a pair lasts me all day, eliminating the need to worry about feminine hygiene products in the middle of a hunt. They’re also a great backup to catch leaks if you’re going to be hunting hard and might not get to change products as frequently as you’d like.
Now, hit the woods and have fun, secure in your newfound knowledge of how to answer nature’s call. Just remember the No. 1 rule of hunting: Never forget the toilet paper!