I was once fishing the Cache La Poudre River, just outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, when I felt a large splash behind me.
It was a black bear. How big? Big enough. And close enough to poke with my rod tip. It sat there and I kept a calm eye on it. I reeled my line in and cautiously crossed the river. When I made it to the other bank, I watched the bear until it left the water and disappeared into a thicket adjacent to me. After checking the condition of my pants, I decided to pack it in.
It was an awesome experience, if a little too close for comfort. It certainly hasn’t deterred me from solo trips into the woods. Go often enough, and you will eventually have a similar encounter.
Here’s how to safeguard yourself from the beasts that might cross your path.
Carry pepper spray and whistles if you’re in bear country
Bear attacks happen when a bear is taken by surprise. Be loud when walking through the woods. That’ll alert the bears you’re near. If you see one and you’re in a group, pack close together — the bear will think you’re one large animal. Don’t run. Pepper spray is good for about 10 feet. That’s pretty close. UDAP just engineered a pepper spray backpack that automatically sends out a blast if a bear attacks you.
If you see a mountain lion, it wants to be seen
Mountain lions commonly attack mountain bikers because they resemble deer in both size and speed. Hikers, not so much. Like other big cats, mountain lions rest during the day. Be cautious at night, dawn and dusk. If you see one, get big and loud. If they advance, be ready to fight back. Throw rocks first. Then keep your dukes up, protecting your jugular and jabbing outward. Never run.
Coyotes are more scared of you than you should be of them
If they are circling you, just get big and loud. They’ll scatter. Coyote attacks are very rare.
Moose are to be avoided at all costs. That’s no Bullwinkle.
Moose are more dangerous than grizzlies. They weigh north of 1,500 pounds, and they’re highly territorial. Signs of aggression: stomping their feet, grunting and tossing their heads around. If that happens: stand still, speak softly and back away. If they charge, try to put a tree between you and them. Most charges are bluffs. If they come up on you in open space, protect yourself by balling up and playing dead. Then change your underwear.
There’s a correct way to wash off a skunk’s spray. It involves isolation.
Skunks have horrible eyesight and typically come out at night, which is when you’re unlikely to see them. They won’t chase you, so you should back away from them. Don’t be loud or corner them. If you’re sprayed, remove your clothes and put on old ones. Then wash the infected area. Isolating this will ensure that you don’t spread the skunk’s oils around your body (or your pet’s).
There are plenty of easy ways to avoid a shark.
Don’t swim at dawn or dusk. Don’t follow dolphins; they’re hunting the same fish. Don’t swim after it rains. Don’t swim in polluted, murky waters. Don’t swim at low tide. Don’t get in the f*cking ocean. Just kidding. Do. Just don’t wear jewelry, loud bathing suits or open wounds. Don’t splash frantically. Don’t swim with seals. Don’t swim alone. Don’t swim near fishermen. Do swim in large groups. Do fight back if attacked, and do scream for help. And above all know this: way more people die of mosquito bites than shark attacks.
Keep a tidy garbage area if you want to avoid racoons
Racoons are in the same family as bears, and they can get pretty vicious. Keep your garbage area clean, weigh down your lids and consider placing ammonia-soaked tennis balls on the ground in areas they frequent.
Snakes are generally out of sight, but don’t cross them
Snakes are nocturnal and like to hide out of sight, the big exception being cottonmouth water moccasins, which are territorial and will chase your ass. Snakes hit the trails later in the afternoon to soak up the heat from the hardpack dirt. Otherwise, steer clear of dead logs, brush and rocks with lots of gaps. Wear high hiking boots with thick socks so their fangs can’t nick you. Always use a flashlight at night to monitor the trail. If you see a snake, back away. If you are bitten, call 911 immediately, remove clothing and jewelry from the infected area, and elevate and immobilize the infected area.
Alligators are super fast. Wait, why are you in Florida? Leave. Leave now.
Alligators are surprisingly fast on land, and can spring undetected from a pond, bayou or drainage ditch and reach 35 MPH quickly. In the water? Forget about it. Just don’t swim where they are, period. Don’t feed them. Just steer clear. Darwin Awards are doled out to hapless souls in Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi every year.
Above all, remember: it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be attacked by a wild animal. In fact, it’s far more likely that you’ll be attacked by a human (especially in the South). But knowing this does absolutely nothing to assuage the primal fear of being attacked. You can’t reason with an animal. And in most cases, if you run, you’ll probably lose.