Safety Tips for Unexpected Wildlife Encounters

Safety tips for wildlife encounters

When you go hiking or mountain biking you expect to see great views. You probably even expect to meet other hikers or bikers. But you may not expect to meet a deer, bear, moose, or snake. These kinds of wild animal encounters can range from awe-inspiring to scary, and knowing ahead of time what to do can take some of the fear out of seeing animals on the trail.

Remember, it’s far more likely you’ll have a safe experience when you see an animal and not an unsafe one. Here’s what you need to know about wildlife encounters in the great outdoors.

Wildlife safety tips

Squirrels might look cute. You might want to pet them. Maybe you just want to slip some nuts to the chipmunk that’s eyeing you during your rest stop. Although animals in the great outdoors look adorable, they’re still wild.

  • Don’t feed the animals. Any animals. It’s not great for them, and it can be potentially dangerous for you. From a slight nip to an all-out attack, giving food to wild animals can set you up for an injury or worse.
  • Don’t try to pet the animals. That beautiful baby moose walking across the road probably has a mama moose nearby who’ll attack. Don’t even go near any cute and cuddly animals. Avoid touching any wildlife you see. It’s not safe for you or them.
  • Don’t get too close. Believe it or not, you’re in their territory. Most wild animals don’t love it when you invade their space.
  • Don’t provoke, sneak up on, or scare animals. Wild animals are unpredictable and that innocent-looking deer will protect itself at all costs. Trying to provoke them is a recipe for disaster.
  • Don’t wander off the trail after dark.
  • Don’t surprise a mother who’s with her babies.
  • Do make noise. It’ll let animals know you’re nearby so you don’t startle them.
  • Do watch for animal tracks and poop. They can let you know what might be around.
  • Do carry bear spray if you’re in an area known to have bear.
  • Do tell a park ranger if you have an encounter with a wild animal or have a close call or sighting.

Here's what to do if you encounter a wild animal

  • Snake: back away. The most common snakes in Utah are rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. Give it as much space as possible. Be calm and quiet and move away from the area where the snake is located. If you’re bit, seek medical attention as quickly as possible. You can avoid snakes by checking logs and rocks before you sit down. Don’t stick your hands inside logs or large piles of rocks. When you step over a log, do so carefully.
  • Moose: give it space. Unless it has a baby nearby, it’ll likely leave you alone. Moose will usually give you warning signs before charging like urinating, tossing its head, or smacking its lips. When a moose charges, run. Try to put a tree between yourself and the moose as that will deter it. If you get knocked down, get up and run again. A moose’s hooves are much more dangerous than their antlers.
  • Deer or elk: give it space. Much like a moose, deer and elk would rather run away than deal with humans. They’ll only charge if provoked. Run away or climb a tree. If a deer is attacking you and you can’t run away, play dead. If you get knocked down by an elk, get up and keep running.
  • Bear: back away slowly if it hasn’t seen you. If it has, talk to it in quiet tones. If it charges, use bear spray and stand your ground. Act like the predator and not the prey. Often, a bear charge will be a bluff. If the bear makes contact with you, drop to the ground and play dead by covering the back of your neck with your hands and your face with your elbows. Play dead longer than you think, as a bear will try to sniff you. Getting up too early will catch the bear’s interest again. In the rare case a bear starts biting you, fight back with all you have.
  • Mountain lion: stand tall and make loud noises while backing away slowly. Again, you don’t want to give the lion any reason to think you’re prey. You must act the part of a predator. Don’t turn your back, run way, or crouch down to pick anything up in front of a mountain lion. If a mountain lion attacks, fight back and protect your head and neck.

In the majority of cases, wild animal encounters are a non-issue. While you’re on the trail, it’s fun to see animals. But you should always use common sense and know what to do if an animal encounter goes wrong.