Encountering wild animals while camping or hiking is an unforgettable experience, for better or for worse. While some encounters are relatively harmless, others can lead to attacks that could end in looted campsites, trips to the ER or even death.

The truth is, real wild animals are a far cry from the cute and cuddly creatures you see in kids’ toys and cartoons. When agitated or threatened, animals can and will attack.

Many factors precipitate these attacks, but animals usually end up hurting humans because we don’t know how to act around these beasts in the first place.

Here at Tactical, we’d like to prevent our readers from getting mauled, bitten or attacked by wild animals, so here’s an extensive guide to help you understand what to do before and during a wild animal attack:

General Guidelines To Avoid Animal Encounters and Attacks

The best way to prevent an animal attack is to avoid crossing paths with them in the first place. Whether you’re facing a deer or a bear, remember the following guidelines to avoid encounters:

  • If the animal becomes aware of your presence, you probably are too close already. Give animals a wide berth when out in the wild. If an animal like a bear or moose doesn’t see you, come back the way you came or take a detour.
  • Keep your campsites clean. Animals have a very keen sense of smell. If you leave food out in the open or fail to store or dispose of them properly, critters can track it down. You don’t want to see a bear or a pack of wolves rummaging through your food in the middle of the night.
  • Wash your camp utensils properly.
  • Don’t sleep in the clothes that you cooked your food in. Always change your clothes before turning in for the night.
  • Always set your bear lines. Store food in animal-safe containers. Don’t store or eat food in your tent.
  • Do not feed wild animals. Once animals see your campsite as a food source, they’ll most likely come back for more and be agitated once you stop giving them the goods.
  • Be aware of animal advisories while out camping or hiking.

Now that we got the basic parts covered, let’s dive into the details. Here’s are the most common wild animals and insects you’ll encounter while hiking or camping in North America:

Bees, Hornets, and Wasps

Don’t be fooled by these tiny insects— an attack from a bee, wasp or hornet is not only painful; it can also trigger anaphylactic shock in people who are hypersensitive to their stings. According to a study, bee, wasp, and hornet stings have collectively killed more than 900 people in a span of 15 years. That’s a hundred times more than people who died from alligator attacks during the same timeframe.

If you want your outdoor trip to be fun and safe, watch out for these insects.

How To Avoid An Attack

Know when they’re most active and where they nest. These insects are especially active during the spring and summer when many plants are in full bloom. During this time, watch out for nests atop trees, in high grass, and in meadows. Other wasp species even make nests underground, so don’t take your chances.

Don’t disturb the hive. If you see or hear one, leave it alone.

What To Do If A Swarm Attacks

  • Run away from the swarm as fast as you can. Use your hands or shirt to protect your face.
  • Do not swat at them. Movement can encourage the insects to attack more aggressively. One embedded in your skin, bee stingers in particular release a chemical that attracts other members of the hive to attack.
  • Do not jump into a body of water. This only works in the movies! Take shelter indoors instead.
  • If you’re especially allergic to stings, always carry an EpiPen to fight severe allergic reactions

Bears

North America is home to three bear species: the black bear, the grizzly bear, and the polar bear. In the US, only 10 states are uninhabited by bears— the rest is considered bear country, so it’s important to know what to do when you encounter these large predators in the wild.

An adult bear can easily weigh between 400 to 800 pounds (around 200-400 kg) and can run as fast as 30-40 miles per hour. They’re also good climbers in general.

While bears are considered socially developed animals, they’re capable of inflicting serious harm when threatened. This usually happens when humans breach their “critical space”, which could range from 3 to 20 yards.

How To Avoid An Attack

  • Be noisy. Play some music while hiking, sing a song or walk with a group. Bears don’t like to interact with humans either, so if they hear you, they’ll most likely avoid you.
  • Never come between a mother and its cub. If you see a “lost” cub, leave it alone. Its mother will come back for it, and you don’t wanna be anywhere near when she does.
  • If you encounter a bear, keep calm. Bears are curious animals and will naturally want to know the type of creature it’s dealing with. A bear standing on its hind legs is not a sign of aggression; it’s just the bear wanting to look around and know more. If that’s the case, let it know that you’re a human and not a snack who aimlessly wandered into its path. Wave your arms and talk in a low, calm voice.
  • Learn to identify the type of bear you’re dealing with. Black bears have shorter, darker claws and tall ears. These bears are relatively less aggressive compared to their grizzly cousins, probably because they’re more accustomed to humans. They’ll most likely retreat rather than attack. Still, it’s important to note that black bears are good climbers, so if you encounter an angry black bear, don’t climb a tree in an attempt to escape.
  • Grizzly bears have a more rounded profile compared to black bears. You can tell a grizzly from a black bear from the hump on its back. They have also have longer, lighter claws but shorter ears. Grizzlies are not as friendly as their black bear cousins. When faced with a threat, it will most likely attack.
  • Do not turn your back from a bear. Instead, back away slowly.
  • Appear bigger than you actually are by standing tall, lifting your backpack above your head or opening your jacket wide.
  • If you encounter a black bear and it doesn’t go away, scare it off by banging large pots and pans and making lots of noise. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with grizzly bears. Be ready to use your bear spray, instead. Target its eyes and nose.
  • Aside from displaying behavior like pawing the ground and grunting, bears can also bluff a charge. When it does, stand your ground. Most of the time it backs away at the last minute.

What To Do During An Impending Attack

  • If undeterred and it starts to come at you, don’t run away—bears can easily outrun you.
  • Don’t climb a tree or run downhill— these are myths and will not help you in any way.
  • Play dead. Drop into a fetal position and protect your head and neck.
  • If it starts attacking despite your efforts, fight back with everything you’ve got. Use sticks, pans, and rocks.

Mountain Lions

Like most wild animals, mountain lions would rather avoid humans. They hunt during dusk or dawn and stick to areas with dense vegetation. Attacks and encounters are extremely rare.

Still, these powerful predators have a knack for stalking small, easy-to-target prey like pets or even small children. They also have a wide habitat range; you can find them all over North America, so it’s a must to know what to do before and during an encounter.

How To Avoid An Attack

  • Know the animal’s usual behavior and patterns. Mountain lions are nocturnal hunters who like to prey on deer, so they’re especially active during the deer season. Avoid hiking during the dusk or dawn when in mountain lion country.
  • Mountain lions are known for targeting small prey. When hiking, keep kids and small dogs between the adults.
  • These big cats love to save their food for later. If you see any animal carcasses, take a detour— a mountain lion will most likely be nearby.
  • Keep away from mountain lion kittens. Mothers are highly protective and will attack any threats to her cubs.

What To Do During An Encounter or Impending Attack

  • Intimidation is the name of the game. When dealing with mountain lions, you have to let them know who’s boss (that’s you!). Keep calm and maintain eye contact.
  • Make yourself appear bigger. Scare it off with a firm voice. Make sounds using your trekking poles.
  • Hide small children and pets. Better yet, carry them so you can appear larger while protecting the small ones at the same time.
  • Do not run, lie down or crouch. These actions will trigger a hunting response and will cause the mountain lion to chase, pounce or attack.
  • If attacked, fight back. Protect your neck— these cats go for the jugular to incapacitate their prey.

Snakes

You can find snakes in all corners of the globe. These reptiles can live anywhere: caves, burrows, tall grass, swamps, deserts, the rafters of your house— if living conditions are ideal, they’re there.

Snakes generally fall into two categories: venomous and non-venomous. Each year, venomous snakes bite around 7000-8000 people in the US alone. Rattlesnakes are especially common in North America. Their bites release a hemotoxic venom which kills tissue and prevents your blood from clotting. Non-venomous snakes may not have poison, but their bites are painful nonetheless.

How To Avoid An Attack

  • Do not agitate the animal. Most of the time, snakes would rather avoid humans than confront them. A snake might be more scared of you than the other way around, so if you spot a snake, leave it alone.
  • Know where their usual habitats are. Avoid these places whenever possible and be mindful of where you camp.
  • If you’re hiking in rocky or grassy terrain, probe ahead with a walking stick or your trekking pole.

What To Do During An Encounter or Impending Attack

  • If you encounter a snake, give it wide berth. Don’t back it into a corner or it will strike!
  • Get out of its striking range.
  • If you get bitten by a poisonous snake, do not attempt to suck the poison out or use a tourniquet. Call for help instead.
  • Identify the snake or have someone take a photo for identification if possible so medical personnel can administer the correct anti-venom.

Moose

Moose may appear slow and harmless, but they can be quite aggressive during the mating season. They’re usually found in many parks and backcountry camping spots. Some can even infiltrate neighborhoods and suburbs in states like Alaska, so it’s key to know how to deal with these large beasts.

How To Avoid An Attack

  • Some people would rather face a bear than get in between a nursing cow and her calf. Females usually tend to their young in the spring, so watch out for them.
  • Moose are generally calm animals and will only attack when provoked. Keep dogs on a leash and prevent them from barking at moose so these large animals don’t get agitated.
  • Don’t feed them. They can get angry if they don’t get enough food or if you abruptly stop feeding them.
  • They like to stay cool and away from the sun so watch out for moose during the dawn and dusk.
  • If you encounter them on the road, let them pass. Don’t honk at them.
  • Stay clear from moose or elk during the rut or mating season (fall to winter). Males can get pretty aggressive. Know their warning signs: if their ears lie flat on their head, their hairs are raised and they start licking their lips, it’s time to get away.

What To Do During An Encounter or Impending Attack

  • Run! Moose can move fast, but they’re not as fast as a bear or mountain lion. Get behind a tree, fence or building. Watch out for the bull’s antlers!
  • If it knocks you down, roll into a fetal position and protect your head until it lets up. Don’t attempt to fight it— it will just continue stomping on you.
  • Don’t move until the moose is far away. Seek medical attention immediately.

Wolves

Wolves usually keep to their own pack, so attacks on humans are actually extremely rare. But in the off chance that they do happen, wolf attacks can be deadly.

Wolves are not only physically formidable; they’re also one of nature’s most intelligent and coordinated animals. Hunting in packs allows them to take down bigger prey like bison, buffaloes and on rare occasions, humans.

How To Avoid An Attack

  • Keep your campsite clean. Like all dogs, wolves have a very keen sense of smell. If you don’t dispose of your trash properly, wolves can track the scent down and hunt for it.
  • Be aware of wolf warnings and advisories in the area.
  • Do not imitate wolf sounds— you’ll risk attracting lone wolves or the entire pack.

What To Do During An Encounter or Impending Attack

  • Appear bigger than you actually are. Stand up straight and maintain eye contact.
  • Do not crouch or turn your back to the wolf.
  • Slowly back away. Do not run. This will trigger the wolf’s predatory instincts and would lead to a chase. You can’t outrun a wolf— they can go as fast as 60 mph.
  • Intimidate the Alpha wolf by making loud noises. Shout, bang some pots and pans if you can. The rest of the pack will follow the Alpha’s actions, so if you’re successful in warding it off, the rest of the pack should follow.
  • If the pack is undeterred and starts attacking you, fight back with all you’ve got. Use whatever you can as a weapon. Watch out for your neck and face.
  • If you sustained a bite, treat the wound and immediately call for help. Wolves are known to carry rabies, so make sure to get medical attention for that.

Jellyfish

Animal dangers not only exist on land; sometimes deadly creatures can be found in the water as well. We’re not talking about sharks— although sharks have a reputation for eating humans, attacks are actually extremely rare. Jellyfish stings, however, affect millions of people each year. In June 2018 alone, about 800 beachgoers in Florida were treated for mild to moderate jellyfish stings.

Some jelly species are less forgiving than their cousins in Florida, too. Case in point: the notorious box jellyfish. Known to be the deadliest jellyfish in the world, a box jellyfish can paralyze and kill a person within minutes. Its venom causes potassium levels in your blood to increase, leading to cardiovascular collapse.

How To Avoid Jellyfish Stings

  • Watch out for jellyfish warnings. Some beaches are prone to jelly blooms more than others
  • Simply don’t get in the water if you know that the area is infested with jellyfish.

What To Do If A Person Gets Stung

  • Get the person out of the water immediately.
  • Call for medical help if the sting is severe.
  • Apply vinegar to the area. This prevents the venom from entering the body. Hot water and compresses also help.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to keep in mind that we humans aren’t the only inhabitants of this world. We share the great outdoors with animals and insects— be respectful of these creatures’ boundaries and they’d most likely leave you alone.

Still, it pays to know how to interact with these creatures to have a safe and fun time outdoors. Learn to spot warning signs and master what to do before and during animal attacks to avoid injury or even death.

What’s your closest encounter with wild animals and how did you manage it? Let us know in the comments below!

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