Despite how rare human and wildlife encounters may be while hiking, prevention is the best way to avoid danger. Here’s what you need to know before your next hiking excursion in a national park.
Educating Yourself Is Key
Research what kinds of wildlife live in the area you’re visiting. Also:
- Ensure children are nearby. Teach them to stay close while on the trail with you.
- Never encourage wildlife by feeding. Use adequate food storage.
- Understand that wild animals never feel comfortable around humans unless there’s something amiss.
- Leave no trace and stay on trails to keep wildlife safe.
Keep Eyes and Ears Open
Being aware of your surroundings is a basic of wildlife safety. Listen and observe ahead and around you to avoid scaring or stepping on animals.
Wild animals usually run away from humans. Sing or blow a bear bell to make noise and deter wildlife. Keep dogs leashed so they don’t frighten wildlife and cause a dangerous encounter.
Be an Undesirable Target
Hiking with a small group of one or two friends can help to prevent wildlife encounters.
Don’t Rely on Firearms
If the trail you’re on allows firearms, use them to prevent or put a dangerous encounter to an end. However, they’re unlikely to reduce your chances of injury if attacked.
Animal-Specific Safety Tips
Animals including snakes, bears, coyotes, and mountain lions are all common wildlife that hikers encounter.
Stop and calmly back away. If you get bitten, go to the emergency room immediately. Never give or take aspirin or ibuprofen; try to suck out the venom or apply a tourniquet.
Brown and Black Bears
Back away slowly from brown bears. If they’re defensive, use bear spray. If spray doesn’t work, get on your stomach, place crossed hands behind your neck and play dead. Never get up right away. Stay calm and lie still for a long time, even if it’s an hour.
Never run from black bears. Instead, back away slowly to create a safe distance. Make lots of noise and speak loudly but calmly. Use bear spray if you notice defensive behavior.
Never play dead or climb a tree. Black bears who attack feel threatened, so playing dead won’t work. They’re also excellent climbers, so don’t climb a tree.
If an attack is imminent, fight back. Make yourself big and loud; wave your jacket in the air and yell. Target eyes and nose with kicks, punches, and rocks.
Making loud noises and looking as large as possible also works for coyotes. Sticks and rocks can also be effective. If attacked, target eyes and nose with whatever weapons are nearby.
Look big while being loud and backing away slowly. Never crouch, run, or turn your back. If attacked, use bear spray and protect your neck and head as you target nose and eyes.