Claws, Teeth, Horns, and Hooves: Dodging Dangerous Wildlife
By F. Lynne Bachleda
Although deadly confrontations are rare, you should know how to react to any unlikely encounter with bears, mountain lions, or large, hoofed animals.
The outdoors, especially at night, seems full of thrilling and sometimes scary possibilities. What critters lurk out there? What can they do to you?
First, understand that deadly confrontations between humans and other mammals such as bears, mountain lions, and large, hoofed animals are actually very rare. And the right information will prepare you to know which animals can be dangerous and how to react if and when you encounter them.
Our comfortable lives often divorce us from the gritty reality that wild animals face daily. Consider the point of view of the animal to help both of you in a potentially dangerous situation.
The Bear Necessities
In the continental United States, your risk of encountering black or grizzly bears is small. As bear authority Kevin van Tighem has observed, "The risk of a car accident on the way to bear country far outstrips the chance of a close-range encounter with a bear."
It is true, however, that both species have killed people. And, under certain conditions, bears may have to range more widely for food, increasing the likelihood of an encounter with humans.
Bears have an extraordinarily acute sense of smell, so watch for bears and know your position in relationship to the wind. Leave strongly scented items such as soaps, deodorants, insect repellents, bacon, cheese, fish, and fresh meats at home or store them with extreme care.
Bears like snacks, such as gum and candy, too. Store these items in a bear bag, hung at least 12 feet above the ground and well away from your campsite.
Never, under any circumstances, feed bears!
Bears have astonishing strength. According to expert Stephen Herrero, "Trying to physically subdue an enraged adult black or grizzly bear is like wrestling with a tank."
Belying their lumbering gait, bears are also lightning fast. A provoked bear can knock you 15 feet in one blow and be on you before you stop rolling. They are capable of running for miles at 25 to 40 miles per hour over varied terrain. You cannot outrun a bear, and it is a grave mistake to try.
Both species are extremely bright and curious, and exceptionally maternal, too. Do not go anywhere near a mother and her cub. If she remotely perceives a threat, your encounter may turn swiftly violent.
But do not assume that interest from a bear means imminent trouble. When a bear stands up, it may only be gathering information by smell and sight.
Below are some actions to take when in bear country:
Black Bear Or Grizzly?
It is essential to distinguish between black and grizzly bears, because their strategies and your responses are quite different. Do not rely on size or color for identification.
Black bear attributes:
Grizzly bear attributes:
Fatal encounters with black bears are rare. Motivated by predation, they happen in the backcountry while individual humans hunt, pick berries, or fish. Most black bear encounters happen not around a campfire, but when people try to feed, tease, or photograph them at close range.
When startled, black bears may swat the ground, make loud blowing noises, or initiate a short charge that stops short of an attack.
If you are attacked by a black bear:
Call them mountain lions, catamounts, pumas, panthers, painters, or cougars, they are the most widely distributed cat in the Americas, a superbly athletic creature, the only cat of concern.
Chances of attack are rare. You are 80 times more likely to be struck by lightning than pounced upon by a mountain lion. Normally extremely shy, they only ambush people for food.
It is very unlikely you will see the cat in advance of an attack. Like house cats, they apply patience, cunning, stealth, and strength to hunt. To avoid mountain lion attacks, hike in groups and make noise.
If you encounter a mountain lion, do
If you encounter a mountain lion, do not
Moose, Elk, And Bison
Ungulates are hoofed mammals such as moose, elk, and bison. These animals are likely to charge when threatened or crowded. Ungulates can be especially aggressive, using antlers, horns, teeth, and hooves during mating season or to protect their young.
Although attacks can be fatal to humans, they are rare. You are, however, at greater risk in Yellowstone National Park of being charged by a buffalo than you are of being attacked by a grizzly.
Should you find yourself faced with an aggressive ungulate, quietly back away. Climb or stand behind a tree if you are charged. These animals are fast, so running is not an option.
Remember, the chances of a damaging or fatal wildlife encounter are rare. Knowledge can help you avoid confrontations and safely come away from any encounters that might occur.
F. Lynne Bachleda is the author of Dangerous Wildlife in California and Nevada: A Guide to Safe Encounters at Home and in the Wild, as well as two other volumes in the Dangerous Wildlife series from Menasha Ridge Press, Birmingham, Ala.
Copyright © 2004 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
Copyright 2012 by the Boy Scouts of America.
All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.