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Trailblazers: Watch your back in the backcountry

With hundreds of people introduced to backcountry hiking and camping each year, it is always good to reflect back on some tips and tricks for dealing with different wildlife you can encounter. Be prepared for any encounter you might have in the backcountry. While not all wildlife is deadly, all wildlife must be treated with respect. Black bear: 

  1. The biggest piece of advice for bears is to always carry UDAP bear pepper spray (can be bought at any outdoor outfitter for $50-$60). This spray is highly concentrated and is used only for extreme situations where the animal is hostile or charging. You can use it by aiming the can at the ground and spraying it. A cloud will appear and rise up from the ground, engulfing the animals head. This will give you about 30 seconds to escape the area.
  2. Stand your ground while making lots of noise: Black bears are known to perform “fake attacks,” meaning they will charge but won’t attack. If they know that you’re not going anywhere, most black bears will back down.
  3. DO NOT CLIMB A TREE: In the bear world, black bears are the champions of tree climbing. If you climb a tree, you are already losing the battle against an excellent climber.
  4. If all else fails, fight back: Throw rocks, sticks and anything else you can get your hands on. Use hiking poles or knives. This is the last resort, but you must be prepared. Aim for the eyes and nose.
Store all food in bear safe containers or in a bear bag, which is hung from a tree. This will keep bears away from your campsite and out of your food. More bear survival tips can be found here. Brown bear (grizzlies): Don’t run. Bears will now see you as prey and will chase you.
  1. Drop to the ground in the fetal position while covering the back of your neck. This is your next best offense if the bear continues to charge or you are not carrying UDAP pepper spray.
  2. Play dead: Brown bears will stop attacking when they feel there is no threat. If they believe you’re dead, then you are no longer a threat. But be careful. Grizzlies are known to wait around their victim to see if they move so you must lie very still.
Store all food in bear safe containers or in a bear bag, which is hung from a tree. This will keep bears away from your campsite and out of your food. More bear survival tips can be found here. Skunk: Skunks are small, black animals with a vibrant white stripe down their back. Skunks are prevalent in the backcountry, but don’t worry too much about them. They will stay as far away from you as possible. If you come across one, back away slowly and walk in a wide arc around it.
  1. If you are sprayed: Hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap are proven to be excellent skunk smell removers. If you are sprayed in the backcountry, I would put all your clothes in a sealed plastic bag and use biodegradable soap to wash off as best you can.
Mountain lion: Be aware; Always listen for low growls or sticks breaking, Look for signs, like paw prints or possible animal carcasses. Dawn and dusk are peak activity times for mountain lions. NEVER HIKE ALONE.
  1. Never approach a mountain lion
  2. Carry UDAP bear spray
  3. If you have a run in, make yourself look big, never run, fight back
More mountain lion tips can be found here. Cougar: Be aware: Listen for low growls and snapping sticks, travel in groups, dawn and dusk are peak times for them. Look for signs like paw prints or carcasses.
  1. Never approach a cougar
  2. UDAP pepper spray is a great weapon against them
  3. If you have to stand your ground, throw sticks and rocks, get big and be very loud. Smile and show the cougar your teeth. To the cougar, these are your “weapons”
  4. If an attack is imminent, fight for your life. Aim for the eyes, nose and ears.
More cougar tips can be found here. Mountain goat: Found in the upper reaches and sheer cliffs of mountain ranges, the mountain goats are nice creatures. Even though they look nice, never approach one.
  1. If you are hiking in high elevation areas and need to urinate, pee on a rock. The goats do not have access to sodium in the higher elevations, so they crave pee. It is very common to be surrounded by a group of 10-15 goats while you use the bathroom. Once you walk away, they will swarm the rock.
Gray jay (camp robber): These pesky birds are nicknamed “camp robbers”, due to their ferocity when it comes to food. Make sure all of your food is packed away or is heavy enough to not get carried away. Lots of people feed these birds, but I don’t recommend it. Even though these birds will swoop down and eat food out of your hands, off your head or off your face, it is never good to feed wild animals. They become too comfortable and will cease finding food for themselves. Raccoon: During daylight hours, these pesky creatures are hard to find. But as soon as the sun goes down, you will hear them crunching through the underbrush. Make sure you do not have any food in your tent before you sleep. Small animals of all kinds will do anything to get to your food. Deer: DO NOT FEED ANY DEER YOU FIND. Even though most deer will bound away from you as soon as they know you’re there, give them a wide berth and do not approach them. Mosquito: Bug spray is a must. Mosquitos can carry deadly, blood borne illnesses.
  1. If you kill a mosquito that has blood in it, make sure to wash the area thoroughly, including your hands.
  2. Don’t scratch the bites


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