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Safety Tips for Encountering Wild Animals on the Trails

September 05, 2018

Safety tips for encountering wild animals on the trails. Visit to learn how to protect yourself and the animals.

Everyone who enjoys spending time in the beautiful outdoors should be aware of the wildlife they could encounter.

It is important to know what wildlife may be present in the area in which you are hiking, whether it be rattlesnakes, bears, mountain lions, squirrels, or a flock of birds flying overhead.

In addition to being aware of your surroundings and the animals in your environment that could pose a threat, remember to never feed wild animals.  Keeping them wild will reduce the risk of attracting predators.

Keep these 11 safety tips in mind to protect yourself and those around you from being attacked by wild animals on the trails.

1. Make noise.

As you are hiking, be loud to let wildlife know you are nearby.  It is better for them to be aware of your presence than to be surprised.  That way, any nearby predators know to vacate the area.

2. Eliminate strong odors.

Bears and other animals have a strong sense of smell from far away.  Avoid carrying food and drink with strong odors on the trail, and don't wear scented lotions, perfumes, or deodorants. Dry foods have a much fainter odor and are a great option for your hikes.

3. Be on the lookout.

Keep a watchful eye for signs (such as tracks, fresh scat, and digs) of animals that are present in the area. This will not only aware you of their activity, but it will inform you of the types of animals that may be nearby. 

Check out Falcon Guides' book, How to Identify Animal Tracks, for more information.

4. Stay on the trail.

If you are on a trail where wildlife signs are posted, this is especially important.  Do not veer off the trail; this is for your safety and the safety of the surrounding habitat.

5.  Carry bear spray.

If you are hiking in bear country, always carry bear spray.  But do not simply throw it in your pack and call it good.  Make sure you learn how to use the bear spray ahead of time.  Keeping it in a belt holster will make it easily accessible at a moment's notice.  

6. Have a plan.

Make a detailed itinerary of your day and leave it with a friend or family member.  Include specific details, such as when you plan to depart and return home.  Leave your cell number, and be sure to update your contact throughout the day (if you have service), especially if your plans change.  

7. Hike with a buddy.

Avoid solo hiking on trails that are known for wildlife encounters.  You are more likely to make noise and deter wildlife if you have a group of three or more people.  Remember, mountain lions and bears are the most active at dawn, dusk, and night. 

If you must hike alone, make sure someone is informed of where you are going and when you plan to be back.  Remember to carry the top 10 essentials, including a first aid kit and a fully charged cell phone.

8. Make a plan for your furry friends.

Many hikers enjoy taking their pets on hikes for some much needed exercise.  It's important to note, however, that pets may attract bears and cougars and are not allowed on National park trails.  If dogs are permitted where you are hiking, just remember to keep them on a short leash so that they can't wander off the path.  

If you do love hiking with your pets, make sure you know about the 7 essentials you need to keep them safe.

9. Leave dead animals alone.

Avoid dead animals you see along the trail, and make sure you report them to the nearest ranger station. Do not go near the carcass; a predatory animal may be hiding nearby, guarding its food.

10. Stay close to your group.

Don’t hike ahead or let someone in your group fall behind, especially children or pets.  Animals are known to go after the easiest target.

11. Remain calm and don't run.

If you do happen to come across wildlife, do not panic and always walk.  Running away from wildlife is asking for trouble.  This screams "prey" and will stimulate a predator's instinct to attack.  You could also risk tripping and getting hurt.  Know that most wildlife naturally avoids humans.  If you spot wildlife, simply let a ranger or local agency know.

Remember to keep these 11 tips in mind...

  • Make noise
  • Eliminate strong odors
  • Be on the lookout
  • Stay on the trail
  • Carry bear spray
  • Have a plan
  • Hike with a buddy
  • Make a plan for your furry friends
  • Leave dead animals alone
  • Stay close to your group
  • Remain calm and don't run

Wildlife is an enjoyable part of nature that we are blessed to experience.  It is important that we know how to enjoy it in a safe way, to protect not only us but also the wildlife.

Put these 11 safety tips to use the next time you're enjoying wildlife on the trails.  What tips would you add to the list?  We would love to hear your thoughts.

Wildlife is a wonderful part of nature, and being able to observe and encounter it is awesome. However, doing so in a safe way is important for both you and the wildlife you may come across. Use these wildlife safety tips the next time you are in the great outdoors and the animals will surely be thankful.

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