Safety Tips for Encountering Wildlife on the Trail

Safety Tips for Encountering Wildlife on the Trail

Nothing is better than experiencing the great outdoors, but it is important to remember that the wild is just that – wild. Whether you are taking a leisurely walk through the woods or hiking in a national park, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times because you never know when you might come across a wild animal.

Some animals will shy away from humans but others will go on the defensive and may go so far as to attack. Keep reading to learn some safety tips for encountering wildlife on the trail.

Basic Safety Guidelines to Keep in Mind

It is unfortunate, but accidents do happen and there are countless stories of wildlife encounters taking a deadly turn. There is no reason to let fear prevent you from enjoying your time in the wilderness, but you do need to keep some basic safety guidelines in mind:

  • Never feed the wildlife. Even if a cute little squirrel comes up to you, begging you for a snack, it is better to keep your distance – feeding the wildlife will only encourage them to come closer to humans and that is how accidents happen.
  • Don’t interfere. As you explore the great outdoors you may encounter wildlife exhibiting fascinating behaviors like hunting or mating – don’t get in the way!
  • Keep your distance. Avoid the temptation to sneak as close to the animal as you can for the sake of getting that perfect picture – maintain a safe distance of at least 30 meters from most large animals, and 100 meters from bears (though more is better) as recommended by Parks Canada.
  • Don’t leave anything behind. When you enter the great outdoors, you are entering a wild world where animals rule – be respectful and leave the wilderness just as you found it.

These guidelines may seem like common sense to you, but it is easy to throw common sense out the window when you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation. Keep reading to learn what to do if you happen to encounter a wild animal during your trip.

How to Handle an Animal Encounter

There is a great deal of misinformation out there regarding how to handle a wild animal encounter and, unfortunately, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time could be a deadly mistake. Here are some safety tips for how to handle an animal encounter in the wilderness:

  • Make a lot of noise. Animals do not like being caught unaware, so it is a good idea to make noise while you are hiking so the animals around you know you are there. This is especially important when you are hiking near a water source, going through thick brush, or when you can’t clearly see the path ahead.
  • Always stay on the trail. Marked trails are marked for a reason – to keep you safe. Even if there isn’t a sign posted, you will probably be able to tell which path is more frequently traveled and that is the path you should take.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. It is easy to get distracted by the beauty of the great outdoors, but you need to remain alert and aware at all times because you never know what might be lurking ahead. Don’t forget to keep one eye on the ground as well, looking for droppings or other signs that an animal might be near.
  • Always hike with a friend. The worst thing you can do is set out on the path alone – traveling in a group of three or more is your best bet. This is especially important during dawn and dusk hours when predators tend to be most active.
  • Make yourself as scary as possible. If you happen to come face-to-face with a wild animal, avoid the temptation to turn tail and run – this will only entice the animal to make chase. Instead, make as much noise as you can, wave your arms, clap your hands, and jump up and down to make yourself appear larger.

Hiking is a wonderful way to experience the great outdoors, not to mention excellent exercise. But there is a certain degree of risk that comes with the wilderness. Follow the safety guidelines above to keep yourself and your group safe and follow the tips provided if you encounter wildlife.

  1. Rob WalkerRob Walker08-03-2017

    I like “Basic Safety Guidelines”. My problem is with “How to Handle an Animal Encounter”.

    I see two issues with “How to Handle an Animal Encounter”.

    My second problem (I’ll save the best for last):
    “Take the busiest trail” may be great advice if you’re headed to the mall or you’re in a Disney movie. You can even ask people or the birds etc. for directions along the way, nice soundtrack, you get the cool, funny sidekick and the works. You’re pretty much guaranteed to be OK (unless you’re Bambi or Old Yeller). I’ll say this much: the fact that there’s a trail in front of you doesn’t mean you’re still in Kansas. In fact, if you need to have the trail in front of you to know that you are where you think you are, then sooner or later you are headed over the rainbow. Only you won’t know that you’re not in Kansas anymore until you’re lost – even if there’s a trail right in front of you all the way. I would argue that too much faith in the trail can be misleading. So if you’re headed over the rainbow do yourself a favor: go home and watch it on Netflix.
    There are all kinds of other problems with “stick to the trail”: when I’m camping, or if I have to bivouac, for example. Parks Canada posted this video, the author may find it informative and entertaining.
    OK. So I’m not on board with the “stick to the busy trail” part of this article.

    Now I’ll get to the part that I really, really don’t like. It’s what the article misses.
    ** BEAR SPRAY**
    I have seen all kinds of wildlife – bears, moose, cats, elk, wolves. I always try to make lots of noise and don’t believe that I’ve ever really surprised an animal. When I see wildlife it’s a treat. It’s usually from a distance and they scamper off as I approach. My first, real problem was just recently, in Waterton (Alberta), and it was with a large, color-phase cinnamon bear. My GF and I backed up the popular Cameron Lake trail and continued collecting hikers until our party was seven strong and this bear still pursued. The whole incident took place over about 15 to 20 minutes, 650 m (by my GPS), and it was the bear spray that discouraged the charge. Nothing else would, and we did everything: screamed, threw stuff, whistled, you name it.
    Here’s that bear:
    It’s not a grizzly. But believe me, it was big enough.
    I really hope that someone fixes this article.

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