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Seven Safety Tips for Unexpected Encounters with Wildlife

Spending time in nature has many mental and physical health benefits. However, it is important to remember that our wild places aren’t just there for our amusement, and instead are home for many animals, including predators like bears, wolves and cougars. Follow these expert tips to avoid having an unpleasant encounter with a wild animal.

1. Never feed wild animals

It can be tempting to share your snacks with the local wildlife, but you’re probably doing more harm than good. Wild animals who are fed by humans learn to view people as a potential food source, which can lead to severe bites and scratches.

2. Keep food secure while camping

Thoroughly wash all cooking utensils after each meal and store leftovers in airtight containers. Failing to properly store food items can attract bears to your campsite.

3. Carry bear mace and keep an eye out for predators

Watch for signs of bear activity, such as crushed plants, scat or fresh tracks. Be noisy as you walk to avoid taking any unseen bears by surprise.

4. Never hike alone

Always travel in groups of two or three. Before you leave, tell an outside party where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. Predatory animals will target loners and small children first, so be sure to stay together and keep any children in your party close by.

5. Avoid hiking at dawn or dusk

Many predators, including bears, are most active at dawn and dusk. Big cats such as cougars are nocturnal, so refrain from hiking at night in mountainous regions. If you do have to walk around after the sun goes down, carry large flashlights and a strong animal deterrent like mace.

6. Research the local wildlife before you go.

Proper animal identification is vital to knowing how to react to their behavior. For example, black bears and grizzlies are known to respond to humans in vastly different ways. With a black bear, experts recommend that you raise your arms and make noise to scare it off. With a grizzly, you want to avoid seeming like a threat at all costs. With grizzly bears, stand still and remain calm. If the bear hasn’t noticed you yet, quickly but quietly move away. If it has seen you, however, face the bear and talk calmly to it. If the bear fails to approach, then you are free to back away slowly until you are a safe enough distance away. Do not run. A bear can sprint up to 40mph and will instinctively chase fleeing prey. Only use your bear mace as a last resort if the bear charges at you.

7. Keep your distance.

If you spend any amount of time in the woods, it is likely you will encounter a wild animal at some point. One of the most effective ways of keeping yourself safe in the forest is by respecting the animal’s personal space. Always keep at least 50 yards between you and them. Don’t think that just because an animal is an herbivore that it is harmless. Elk and moose have known to be just as aggressive as any predator, particularly during mating season. While exploring the wilderness, it is vital that you take proper safety precautions to avoid unpleasant interactions with the creatures who live there. Remember that you’re in their home now, and treat all living things with the utmost respect and dignity.