Hiking, backpacking, and exploring the wilderness of the world is an activity enjoyed by many people. There's a sense of peace and joy that comes from the physical activity, spectacular sights, and isolation that comes from a walk in the wilderness. However, there are many things that need to be done to ensure a safe hike, from carrying a whistle to hiking with others. If you are hiking in the Western United States, one safety concern is the handful of predatory animals found there, specifically black bears, grizzly bears, and mountain lions. There are three distinct strategies to dealing with these three different species of animals, and it's important to understand them in the unfortunate case you ever encounter one of these predators in the wild.
General StrategyAnytime one goes backpacking or hiking in the wilderness or remote area where predatory wildlife may exist, certain precautions must be taken. Here are some general things that should be done in any situation:
- Do not hike alone. Being with other people makes you more formidable and scary to wildlife, and therefore safer.
- Do not run/jog along the trail. Running is what prey does and may attract unwanted attention.
- Carry a whistle with you. This can be used to alert others of where you are in case of danger or if you need help.
- If you happen to run across any of these animals in the wild, respect them, give them their space, and see if they will move on without bothering you.
Black BearsBlack bears can be recognized by their somewhat smaller to medium size, for a bear, their lack of a hump on their back, and their general tendency to have black-colored fur. However, please note that some black bears can appear brown, and the easiest way to tell is by looking for a hump, or lack thereof, on the animal's back.
If you happen to run across a black bear in the wild and it appears that the bear may attack you, you and your fellow hikers should do all that you can to appear larger and more threatening. Wearing a large pack, raising your arms out and yelling can do this, and if a group of you do this, the bear will likely be too intimidated to attack. However, if the animal is cornered, try to give it a way to escape, as it will undoubtedly fiercely fight if it is cornered.
If the bear does attack, fight back as savagely as you can. Just like you, the bears don't want to get hurt either, and if you carry some rocks with you or pocket knives, you can use these to attack the bear and injure it. One of the most effective places to attack an animal is its face, as there is soft tissue and vital organs there. Strikes with rocks, feet, or knives may be more effective than attacking other places.
Do not run from black bears; they will simply just chase you and run you down and you have no hope of getting away safely. I understand that being intimidating and fighting a bear are not attractive options, but if you do encounter an aggressive black bear, it is your best option.
Grizzly BearsGrizzly bears, a species of brown bear found in Western North America, are the largest bear on the continent and can even weigh upward of 1000 pounds. As mentioned in the black bear section, grizzly bears have a telltale hump on their back, which is an easy way to differentiate between them and some of the more brownish black bears.
Grizzly Bears are by far the most aggressive and dangerous of the three animals listed in this article and extreme caution should be taken when out and about in Grizzly territory. If a grizzly bear is ever encountered, you should do your best to not draw its attention until it wanders away and moves on. If the grizzly does notice you and becomes aggressive or interested, you should not run or become aggressive yourself; in fact, you should do the opposite.
The best way to deal with a grizzly attack is to lie down in the fetal position, covering your face with your arms and hands and protecting your vital organs and "soft underbelly". You should not move or make much noise, doing your best to "play dead", as Grizzly bears will not eat what is already dead. It's likely the bear will come over and use its paw to attempt to flip you over so that you are no longer in the fetal position. As it attempts to roll you over, use your momentum to continue rolling and end up back on your side in the fetal position.
The whole experience will likely be terrifying and seem extremely long, but following this process increases your odds of survival.
Mountain LionsMountain lions, also referred to as pumas or cougars, are scattered throughout North America but found primarily in the drier, high-altitude areas of the Western United States. These animals are rarely seen, though evidence of them can clearly be seen if one looks close enough: tracks, scat, and fur can often easily be found in their habitat.
Due to the nature of cougars, you will most likely never see one in the wild in your lifetime, and if you are ever attacked by one, it is likely because the creature was surprised by you or is desperately hungry. The strategy to dealing with a cougar is very similar to that of a black bear. The animal does not want to be hurt and if you can intimidate or gang up on the animal, and it is not cornered, it may back away from the confrontation. It is especially important not to run from a cougar, as they are very likely to chase you as prey.
Carrying rocks with you, making plenty of noise when hiking, and always being aware of your surroundings are good tips to keep in mind while in cougar country, just so you don't become a candidate for a cougar attack. However, if you are attacked, be sure to fight back as hard as you can, throw rocks, and try to hurt it more than it can hurt you. There have even been reports of a small group of 10-12 year old boys fighting off a mountain lion that has attacked them.
The above are all strategies to dealing with various wildlife attacks while hiking and should provide some useful information for you in your outdoor endeavors. Happy trails!