I grew up in the woods. It wasn’t uncommon to wake up to deer grazing in the yard, see mountain lion and coyote tracks in in the dirt, or be awoken to the sound of our neighbors shotguns in an attempt to save their garden or dogs from the wild boar in the middle of the night. Raccoons waged war against our trash cans and cat food, not to mention our cats and domestic animals were often lost to coyotes if kept out too late, or let out too early. Wild animals were just a part of our lives, and something always to be considered and respected.
While traveling I’ve never lost sight of this lesson. Every region of the U.S. is different and it’s important to do a little research into what you could face each time you set out. Here are a few tips we’ve put together on what to do when encountering wild animals, how to prepare yourself and your space for wilderness travel, and what to do in the event of an attack.
When reviewing your options there are generally two types of animals: ones you back away from and ones you run towards. When confronted with a mountain lion for example you want to make yourself appear as large as possible, grab sticks, kids, jackets, bang things around and make noise, while slowly backing away. Don’t make eye contact or show your teeth unless they turn on the offensive as this can be perceived as a challenge. When faced with smaller predators like coyotes, bobcats, etc. make sure that they have a way to get out and don’t feel cornered. Yell, throw things, “chase them off”. Unless cornered or protecting their young they’re usually not going to bother you anyways.
You know that old joke, you don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun the guy next to you? Here’s the thing, NEITHER OF YOU SHOULD BE RUNNING!
- Be loud and purposeful in your walking. Bears will usually hear or smell you long before you see them and make their own way before you even get there.
- If you do surprise one, stand your ground, make yourself tall, and slowly back up. Don’t run. Don’t try to climb a tree. Basically fight every “prey” instinct in your body and dig your heels in.
- A tip I’ve heard a few times (but would find almost impossible to execute) is to let the bear run at you. Most of the time the bear is just testing you and will veer off rather than fight.
- If you’re traveling in Grizzly Country, carry bear spray. Again, CARRY bear spray. Don’t have it in your backpack, or on the table; it is hands or holster. In the event of an attack you’ll have about 15-25 seconds to use it. Keep it close.
- Grizzly and black bears respond differently to confrontation. If attacked by a grizzly, and your bear spray fails to work, your best bet is to play dead. Curl up in a ball and do your best to protect your neck, throat, and vital organs. A black bear however will usually give up if you fight back hard enough: go for the eyes, nose, and throat. Fun fact: most black bears in California actually look golden brown.
The best ways to avoid bear confrontations is to pack your trash and food. If you’re car-camping, pack it in a sealed container and keep it in the car. Never eat in your tent, leave scraps around the campsite, or leave your dishes dirty. If you’re cooking on the campfire be sure your grill, utensils, and clothes are free from residue and food scents. Also, be aware that if you’re hiking or backpacking in certain parts of the Sierras and various other parks you can be seriously fined for not carrying your food in a required bear canister.
My least favorite word on the planet. Not even going to try and find a picture.
- They say snakes will not bother you unless they feel cornered or threatened. If you come across one… do not corner of threaten it.
- Back up slowly, and do not turn your back until you are more than 5x the length of the snake away.
- Again, walk loudly.
- Be aware of temperature changes in both the seasons and the day; snakes are extremely found of warm rocks and cozy crevices, so look before you sit.
- Dial 911 or send for help immediately, don’t wait for symptoms to show up.
- Elevate the bite and rinse it with water.
- Do your best to remember what color & patterns the snake had.
- NEVER try and suck the venom out.
- NEVER apply a tourniquet without medical expertise.
- NEVER try to go after the snake.
The majority of snakes are not venomous or deadly, but either way, keep your distance. In the event of a bite, try your best to stay calm.
Deer: Usually don’t people, but they have been known to charge at dogs (my parent’s dog provokes them) and males can often act unpredictably around mating season if a females around. I’ve found they get a little crazy. Just leave them alone and take some nice pics from a distance.
Racoons: Stay away, yell, and throw things. Clean up your food. They can often open latches and doors so make sure everything’s as secure as possible.
Bobcats/Coyotes/Foxes: Yell and throw things. Most really don’t like people and will run away if chased and threatened.
Birds: Birds hate me (more on that in my next article) so felt the need to toss this one in here. We’ve had a large cat picked up by a hawk, and friends in the northwest have had small dogs snatched by eagles. Watch your pets.
Porcupine/ Skunk/Opossum: When I was six years old I went home crying from a slumber party movie night: Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Seeing our beloved dog characters hit the face with porcupine spines was a little too real for my little heart to handle, mostly because I knew it happens all the time. The difference for us humans is that these three animals will rarely attack a human. All those scary things they do are just defense mechanisms. It’s a general rule of thumb for almost every animal: Let them be. Don’t mess with their babies, let them know you’re coming, and never back them into a corner.
Wounded animals: Call animal control or have 911 connect you. Do not approach the animal. No touching!
Be safe, get out of the car, and enjoy the great outdoors. But remember, you are but a visitor in their homey habitat. Pack your trash, take only pictures, and leave only footprints.