As you spend more and more time outdoors in nature, you increase the probability that you will encounter a wild animal. These encounters occur quite regularly, even in relatively populated areas so it’s important to know how to respond when you find yourself in the presence of a wild animal.
The response that you should have will vary depending on a number of factors, so you should avoid the thought that there is only one right way to deal with every situation. Instead, it’s best to be aware of your surroundings and the situations you find yourself in and have a toolbox of responses that you can choose from in order to deal with the challenge.
If you’re going to spend time in the wilderness, it’s a good idea to have some kind of ranged self-defense capability. A pistol or bear spray are two of the best ways to ensure your safety. If you go the spray route, make sure to get a foam-based spray to avoid having the wind blow the aerosol-based spray back into your face. If you choose to carry a pistol, make sure to train with it and to train under stress that will simulate the conditions of coming face to face with a large hungry carnivore so that you can be as prepared as possible.
You should also familiarize yourself with local wildlife and the telltale signs of their presence. As you walk through the wilderness, be alert for those signs be they footprints, scratches on trees, matted down vegetation or any other indication that large animals are nearby.
Common Response Pattern
Many of the encounters that we’ll discuss have similar recommended responses. In all cases, do not run. In most cases, you should give a show of force, make a slow retreat, and as a last resort fight back.
Do Not Run
In every case, running from an animal is the wrong answer. Running makes you appear to be prey and can trigger the animal’s instinct to attack.
Give a Show of Force
A show of force is done to intimidate the animal into running away. The best way to do this is to stand as tall as you can with your arms over your head to look larger than you really are. Holding a backpack or coat over your head will add to the illusion. Making noise by yelling and growling will add to the effect.
Back Away Slowly
Slowly backing away from the animal while not turning your back is something that you should always try. Most often, it’s better to appear neutral and not aggressive while you move away. In all cases, you should avoid showing fear even if you feel it. Creating distance between yourself and the animal may allow you to break contact and will give you time to react if the animal attacks.
If the animal decides to try it’s luck at making a meal out of you, your best bet is to fight back. Use whatever you can get your hands on to hit at the animal’s nose, eyes, ears, throat or underbelly. If you have a walking stick, a knife, bear spray or a pistol, this is the time to use it.
The correct response to a bear depends a lot on the type and size of the bear. In all cases, running should be avoided. Sudden moves will frighten the bear and may trigger an attack.
Steer clear of baby bears! The mother bear is likely nearby somewhere and won’t understand that you just want to pet the cute little cub. A mother bear will fight to the death to protect her young. Skip the show of force and get straight to the slow retreat. Try to find a place that is as far away as possible while you can observe the cub to wait for it to clear your path.
Brown and black bears are the most commonly encountered small bears, but it’s possible that a small bear is simply a young grizzly. “Small” is generally defined as a bear that is about waist high when it’s on all four feet.
When you encounter a small bear, go through all the common response steps: don’t run, give a show of force, slowly retreat and if it attacks, fight back.
Grizzly bears are the most commonly encountered large bears, though some brown bears can grow quite large as well. The term “large” applies to bears that come up to your waist when they’re on all fours.
If you encounter a large bear, resist the urge to run, do not give a show of force, start backing away slowly and avoid making eye contact or appearing threatening. Put as much distance between yourself and the bear as possible. If you have a pistol or bear spray, get ready to use it.
If the bear attacks you and your spray or pistol don’t stop it, do not fight back. Fall to the ground and play dead. Curl up to protect your face and stomach. You may not have the choice, but if you do, now is a good time to poop yourself. Like humans, bears also dislike the smell of human poop and it will help convince the bear to leave you alone. Stay still and quiet while the bear investigates you. When it’s done, wait about 10 minutes before getting up.
Wolf encounters are uncommon and usually resolve quite quickly. Most often, the wolf will startle and run away. In the event that the wolf doesn’t run off, go through all the common responses: don’t run, present a show of force, retreat slowly and if the wolf attacks, fight back.
If the wolf attacks you, follow your instinct to protect yourself and lift your arms to cover your face and neck. It’s likely that the wolf will bite and latch onto your forearm. Biting and shaking is the only weapon that the wolf has in it’s arsenal and it just used it. Let the wolf keep it’s bite on your arm so that you can fight back with your free arm and kick with your legs.
Encounters with a cougar or mountain lion should follow the common response pattern: don’t run, give a show of force, retreat slowly, and fight back if attacked. With cougars and mountain lions, however, you should be sure to make and maintain eye contact to make it clear that you are not prey.
During mating season, bucks often perceive people as threats. Similarly, does will defend their fawns if you stumble into them. The common response pattern is correct for a deer encounter. If you find yourself fighting a deer, try grab and control the antlers. If you end up on the ground, curl up and protect yourself. The deer may stamp on you with its hooves and try to stick you with its horns, but it will lose interest and move on.
Moose are mean animals. They’re also very big. Follow the common response pattern, but tone down or skip the show of force. Focus on trying to back away and putting obstacles between you and the moose. Hiding behind a tree or a large rock will often be enough to stop the moose from getting close to you.