Does the slightest rustle outside your bivy cause you to recreate the tent scene from the Blair Witch Project? Find out more about what you should and should not fear next time you venture into the wild.by Adam Riser
It’s logical to be afraid of bears; there are about a dozen bear attacks in North America each year. Brown bears like Grizzlies are very dangerous, whereas black bears tend to prefer vegetarian lifestyle. It is really only the brown bear who will protect its young at the expense of your life. The brown bear habitat extends through the northwest United States, western Canada, and Alaska. Many people carry pepper spray and bells as a marginal deterrent in wilderness inhabited by brown bears. If you’re unsure of the type of bears nearby, examine their droppings—brown bear droppings often smell like pepper spray and are full of bells—better yet, contact the local Forest Service and understand the best preventative measures to avoid attack. Brown bears are not scared of you. If you find yourself in a close encounter, act as non-threatening as possible. Lower your eyes and back away slowly so the bear does not think you are going to attack. Unless threatened, it won’t feel obligated to defend itself. Brown bears have bad eyesight and sometimes rear up and/or charge to determine if you pose a threat—stand your ground. Don’t run, even if it means soiling your britches. Running triggers an instinctive response to attack. In the very rare case of an attack, play dead; curl into a fetal ball and clasp your hands over your neck. Resistance is futile.
Sasquatch, Bigfoot, Yeti
These animals, though known to accomplish amazing feats of strength, exhibit no documented threat to humans. They possess advanced technology, evident by their obvious use of cloaking devices to avoid detection. The best way to scare them away is to get out your video camera and point it at them using a shaky motion that renders the recorded images worthless. Apparently, they are very camera shy.
Mountain lions, or cougars, are extremely dangerous. Though mostly encountered around rocky areas in Colorado and California, they are also present in the Northwest. Mountain lions are very unpredictable. As with bears, avoiding mountain lions can be as simple as traveling in large groups. Make noise as you hike, mountain lions are naturally scared of humans and prefer to avoid an encounter even more than you do. If you see one, act aggressively, while working to control your bladder—they are usually seeking food, not a fight. Once again, do not run, this will likely trigger an attack. Always remain upright, open your coat, and hold up a pack to appear bigger and less appetizing. Unlike with bears, if a big cat attacks you, fight for your life—it’s your only hope.
Though they look fierce, wolves are not a threat in North America. There has never been a wolf attack in the wild on this continent. In fact, they are the only animals in the world that leave their young behind to flee from a human. In Siberia, however, rabid wolves kill hundreds of people each year—seriously. Over there, it’s cool to be afraid of wolves.
Be afraid of ticks. These pests burrow into your skin and drink your blood until they explode. Several species of ticks, many of which are harmful to humans, live in nearly every state and are most active in the spring and summer. If you find a tick on your skin, gently pull it out—pulling too hard may leave its head in your skin, possibly causing infection. Pouring cooking oil on ticks also makes them retreat. Don’t try to burn a tick off, as it may throw up before coming out. Ticks can transmit a variety of diseases, so if bitten, be sure to monitor the affected area. Contact a doctor if you notice anything peculiar, including flu-like symptoms, which occur after contracting Lyme Disease.
Less than 1% of the snakes in North America are poisonous, but there are 15 deaths a year caused by snakebites. Pit vipers (including Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes) and coral snakes are the ones to worry about, and are found in nearly every state. The differences between species of snakes are often too subtle for anyone but the Crocodile Hunter to see, but avoid anything with a triangular-shaped head, red-and-yellow coloring, or a rattle. Wearing high-top boots (especially at night when snakes are more active) is good prevention against a bite as most bites happen at or below the ankle. If you encounter one of these snakes, freeze; as soon as you’ve visually located it, back away slowly. Though it may sound like an urban legend, snakes can strike you even after they’re dead. If you’re bitten, get to the hospital immediately, but try not to overexert yourself.
Black widow and brown spiders are two of the most feared arachnids in North America. Spiders are defensive and only bite if threatened. Black widows average 1.5 inches in length and have a black spherical abdomen. Avoid anything matching this description; the well-known hourglass marking is not always present. Found all over the US, these spiders prefer dark, stagnant places like woodpiles or outhouses. Black widow bites may be deadly to small children and, in adults, produce painful muscle spasms and shock-like symptoms that last up to four days. Brown spiders (AKA violin or brown recluse) are rarely encountered outside the southeastern and south central United States. Brown spiders are famous for the flesh-eating nature of their bites. Unlike many other spiders, brown spiders have only six eyes in a triangular arrangement of three pairs. If possible, capture any spider that bites you so specialists and doctors may identify it and act accordingly. There are plenty of other creatures out there that can freak you out and cause you harm. Research to find out what animals you should be concerned with in your area, and pay attention as you hike, climb, and paddle. Your knowledge will minimize the risk of being bitten, stung, mauled, and embarrassed in front of your friends.