OUTDOOR BASICS

How to Avoid Wild Animal Attacks: Survivor’s Checklist

Avoid animal attack
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

Have you ever met with a bear face-to-face? Alternatively, maybe your hiking path intersected with a stag that looked threatening enough to give you a good scare. How do you think you would react in such a situation?

Wild animals are not harmless or defenseless and they can launch an attack if they feel threatened or you’ve stepped in their territory. That is why knowing how to avoid wild animal attacks is paramount.

We are not here to scare you, but an animal attack can happen regardless of your location in the outdoors. Whether you are on a well-planned trek through the woods, work in the woods, are camping or simply taking a common stroll through a wooded park, an animal attack is possible. Therefore, to make sure you make it safe home, we will discuss how to avoid provoking an attack.

Prevention Is The Best Safety Measure

Before we talk about actually avoiding an attack, let us see how you can make sure one does not happen. Below is a simple six-question checklist to ask yourself so that you’ll know how to minimize the risk of an animal attack.

#1 What is your purpose for being in the wilderness?

Will you be camping, hunting, fishing, working, going on a nature walk, or surviving and/or living in the wilderness? Each of these purposes can yield differing attack potentials as well as potential ways to avoid them.

It can be very beneficial to do your research on the location and the animals that are native to that area before embarking into the wilderness. As surprising as it seems, your purpose for being there could bring on or deter an animal attack.

In the wild

Take hunting for example. Whether it’s for sport or survival purposes, animals can sense our fear and other intentions through the release of our hormones and pheromones. Some believe if certain animals perceive your demeanor as careless or harmful, they will give in to their natural instinct and won’t let you out of their sight or range of hearing.

Some wild animals can even sense the existence of gunpowder and connect that smell to you as a potential threat to their life if they have been exposed to the smell on a prior occasion. Some predatory animals may take this as an initiation for confrontation regardless of their size.

A good rule of thumb for hunters is if you can help it, don’t clean your kill close to where you will be sleeping. Predators take signs of a kill as opportunity.

Other less confrontational animals tend to retreat when a perceived threat approaches. Some animals, such as snakes, will hold their ground and even attack if you continue towards them. This leads us to another important thing to do when in the wilderness: watch where you step.

#2 Location – Where are you?

Where are you in the wilderness? No matter where in the world you are in the wilderness, understanding these basic principles can help you avoid an animal attack.

Know your surroundings:

  • Know your animals and their behavior.
  • Have a plan of action in case of an attempted attack.
  • Have a last resort weapon of defense like loud horns, pepper spray, sticks, etc.
  • Respect their territory.
  • Remember your way out.

One thing to consider first is your location. Location can be one of the most influential factors when trying to prevent an animal attack. If bit, you need to know the proper treatment for that attack, and that means knowing what kind of bite you’ve received. Make sure to do your research.

Where are you

Based on your geographical location, consider and take note of the primary animals that may be native to that environment. It is also helpful to be aware of the animals that are the most likely to attack a human. The idea is to be aware of the potential, have a plan to avoid confrontation, and know what to do if a confrontation occurs.

#3 What did you bring with you?

Take inventory of everything that you have with you. Take note of and separate the things that could peak curiosity or other interest in animals. If you bring something of potential value (such as food) or something that suggests a threat to the local animals, you could quickly have a predicament on your hands.

In many semi-wild places, local scavengers like bear, deer, raccoons and opossums are already accustomed to following humans for food. Due to prior instances of direct or indirect feeding, some have evolved to think humans are a consistent source of handouts.

Choose what you bring with you carefully and if possible, avoid feeding the animals. Because most animals have a strong sense of smell, we suggest you pack your food in a type of container that mutes or hides the smell.

This could also aid in the prevention of ant attacks. When you stop and eat something, try not to drop any crumbs, or leave trash. You might even consider not stopping to eat, but to eat while on the move.

Gear fot the wilderness

In some severe cases, if you have no choice other than to confront the animal such as a bear, you might have to have a “peace offering” ready for the animal. This method should be a last resort on the list of solutions, as it could open the animal to harass and potentially attack you because it wants more offerings.

In most cases, simply keeping your distance from the animals is the safest route. Being aware of your surroundings can prevent the interaction from happening all together.

#4 Are you alone?

In some cases, being in a group in the wilderness can help ward off potential animal attack threats. When you are alone, some predators may perceive this as a weakness. Therefore, whether you are alone or with a group of people, scuffing about through the woods loudly and conversing loudly can help scare off some predators before they are too close.

The primary objective should be to avoid direct interaction with the animals at all costs. Attempting to provoke or outrun any wild animal will potentially initiate a confrontation. Read your surroundings and decide the most logical response based on each circumstance that arises. A simple rule to go by is to keep your distance.

Are you alone

If you are injured or become injured it would be a good idea to remedy the injury as soon as possible, especially if bleeding occurs. Ultimately, natural predatory instinct suggests that a bleeding animal is weakened, making it more likely that an injured person will be attacked.

#5 What do you smell like?

Your personal scent can attract or deter animals in the wilderness. Your pheromones can make you a target for potential animal attack. In many cases, women have a heightened risk for harassment or attack during menstruation.

In addition, cologne, perfumes, and things like bug repellent can irritate and/or attract unwanted encounters by animals. It can be beneficial to consider what animals you may have had interactions with before your journey into the wild that could potentially peak a wild animal’s interest.

#6 Are You Close to a Nest or Den?

Something that could decrease the potential for an animal attack is to understand how to pick out signs in nature that suggest the existence of different types of nests and dens you may be too close to. Mothers protecting nests and dens are responsible for many attacks on humans.

If you find that you are close to either of these and see the opportunity to retreat, calmly back away in the opposite direction and try to go around. Sometimes, all of the preparation and prevention methods are applied and an animal attack will still happen. In such a case, you might find yourself having no choice but to defend yourself.

Too close

Some of the usual suspects responsible for attacks on humans are as follows:

Snakes:

Statistically, snakes are responsible for more human fatalities than all other animals combined.

Snake encounter

In most circumstances, you can avoid contact with a snake by following a few quick rules.

Prevention:

  • Know the area and potential attack suspects.
  • Wear boots and protective clothing.
  • Watch where you step and stay out of areas that snakes typically dwell.
  • If you do encounter a snake, maintain your distance.
  • Try backing away slowly.
  • Have a “snake stick” in case the snake keeps approaching or is already too close.

Treatment of Encounter:

If a snake does bite you and does not retreat after striking, you should do the following:

  • Identify the snake and try to see if it is venomous, at a distance of at least six feet.
  • Slowly move away from the snake.
  • Wrap the bite with a shirt or piece of clothing to slow venom absorption.
  • Do not attempt to suck the venom out. Contrary to popular belief, sucking the venom out of the wound does not remove the venom. Doing so can actually worsen the injury.
  • Try to keep your heart rate as neutral as possible, i.e. don’t panic. For example, turning and running could not only bring on another animal attack, but if the snake is venomous, raising your heart rate can speed up the absorption of the venom. If the snake was venomous, go to the hospital as soon as possible.

Bears:

Bears are one of the largest and more dangerous land based carnivores in the world. If possible, identify the bear based on appearance and the knowledge of the typical bears for that geographical location that you should have found in your preliminary research on your location.

Bears encounter

The polar bear is the only bear species known to hunt humans actively. There are other species like the black bear that are known to attack any time they feel threatened, whereas brown bears tend to require more provocation in order to attack.

Some things you can do to avoid a confrontation with a bear are as follows:

  • Maintain your distance. If possible, try to keep the bear out of striking distance by slowly backing away while keeping an eye on the bear.
  • If you cannot retreat without drawing more attention to yourself, in a warm and calm voice suggest aloud to the bear that you are not a threat. Some people have found it beneficial to speak to the bear saying something like, “I mean you no harm”.
  • Try to decipher what the bear is planning to do. It is possible to cross paths with a bear and one simple solution to avoid confrontation would be to move out of the way calmly, while keeping an escape route in mind.

Treatment of Encounter:

If you have no other choice and the bear is getting too close, you can try the following:

  • If the bear is some distance away, use something loud like an air horn or yell loudly to scare it off.
  • If the bear continues to come toward you, continue backing away and use pepper spray if you have it. It may be temporarily beneficial to throw a rock to try to deter the bear.
  • Appear dead by laying in fetal position. If the bear tries to flip you over, roll with it and try to remain face down.
  • Although it is best not to engage with a bear if you have no choice and your life is at risk, grab anything you can and try your best to cover your face and neck while doing what is necessary to get away from the animal. However, similar to baboons and big cats, punching or kicking at the animal could worsen the attack.

Sharks:

Sharks, like polar bears, alligators and mountain lions, also hunt humans routinely. Whether you are surfing, boating, swimming or fishing in the sea, you should have respect for these magnificent creatures. Sharks are attracted to blood, shiny things, and thrashing in the water among other things.

Sharks

They can attack for exploratory reasons, since they can’t see very well, as well as when they feel threatened. The availability of food can be a cause for an attack. Like other animals, they will protect their nest areas and attack if they feel danger is present. Some rules you can refer to are as follows:

Prevention:

  • Avoid getting in the water with abrasions or cuts that are actively bleeding.
  • If you are fishing, do not get in the same area of water as your chum or bait.
  • Try to avoid excessive splashing while swimming in shark-populated areas.
  • Keep an eye out for dorsal fins and disturbances on the surface of the water.
  • Watch for schools of baitfish on the surface. Try to avoid swimming in them. Predator fish tend to follow the schools.

Treatment of Encounter:

If for some reason your attempts to stay away from the shark have proven to be ineffective and it is attacking you, there are a few things you can do to try to stop the attack:

  • Stay calm and avoid trying to flee. Movement will only make the thrashing worse.
  • Some suggest punching the shark directly on the nose or the eye. This is risky because it can be difficult to see where you are punching and you could stick your hand in the shark’s mouth.
  • Slowly make your way out of the water away from the shark to stop further attacks.
  • If possible, wrap any bleeding wounds and make sure to stay away from other predators if possible, and go immediately to the hospital.
  • Try to avoid running as raising your heart rate will increase blood flow and lesson your chances of survival.

Alligators:

Alligators will eat almost anything that comes within striking distance but they do not always attack humans.

Alligators

Some things you can do to prevent an attack from an alligator are as follows:

Prevention:

  • Stay out of the water where you see signs of alligators.
  • Avoid walking close to the water’s edge.
  • Look for signs like eyes or snouts poking out of the water or water disturbances.
  • If you fall in, get out of the water as quickly as possible trying to avoid extra attention from the alligator.
  • If you must be in the same body of water as alligators, try to move slowly without too much splashing around.
  • If you have to swim, try to avoid appearing like an injured fish. Use smooth, graceful movements.
  • Keep food hidden if possible and if you have to eat something you have killed on location, clean your kill far away from the alligators or crocodiles and the water’s edge. While you are cleaning your kill, always watch your back and be quick about it.
  • Do not feed the alligators.

Treatment of Encounter:

  • When you are on land and far enough away, you can easily run away from a crocodile or alligator.
  • If you are in the water and are attacked by an alligator or crocodile, get to land as soon as you can but make sure to move slowly, keeping eyes on other potential threats.
  • If the alligator is still actively hunting you, you might have to look for floating debris to fend off the approaching attacker.
  • Try shoving a stick down the alligator’s throat
  • If possible, once you neutralize the immediate threat, wrap any bleeding wounds, stay away from other predators, and make your way to the hospital.
  • If you are in the alligator’s jaws and they are about to perform a death roll, fight like you have never fought before. Some have survived alligator attacks by fighting back.

Wolves/Coyotes/Wild Dogs:

Coyotes and wolves do not typically attack humans and will normally be on the move before you see them. However, there are some cases where you might have a run-in and need to know how to handle the situation. Before you turn and run, think about the basic principles discussed above which are: know your surroundings, know your animal, have a plan of action, respect their territory, and remember your way out.

Wolf encounter

If you do have a face-to-face encounter with a wolf or coyote, one of the first things you should do is to decide what the intention of the animal is. Decide what type of body language they are communicating.

Is it confrontational or curious? In some cases, they may just be curious and you can make a loud noise, use an air-horn or hit a stick against a tree to try to scare them off. Try to maintain your distance and never advance towards them or run.

They will assume that you are prey and give chase. If you have food with you, try to avoid bringing attention to it.

Prevention:

  • Avoid running in the open at night.
  • Do not advance towards the animal.
  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Avoid showing your teeth as a predator may interpret this as a challenge. Bowing your head down, is suggestive of a submissive and non-threatening demeanor to the animal.
  • Avoid being in a pack of prey animals for long periods.
  • Avoid dens.
  • If you have to eat something, you have killed, clean your kill far away from where you plan to be sleeping.

Treatment of Encounter:

  • If you have done everything you can to avoid a wolf or coyote attack but you still find yourself in a scuffle, the best thing you can do is try to find a stick or anything to try to fight your way out of the situation. It would be best if you can get away without running so you do not provoke an escalation of an attack.
  • Guard your neck and your chest and get away, any way possible, without running.
  • Wrap any bleeding wounds with your shirt or other clothing and go to a hospital immediately.

Get Home Safely from Your Stay in the Wilderness

There sometimes comes a point when no matter how prepared you are, an attack will happen and it will benefit you to stay calm and enact a plan.

Return home safely

If you are observant and knowledgeable about the animals in the environment you plan on being in, you can avoid and prevent an animal attack.

  • Know your animals – Research the animals in that area before you go.
  • Have a plan of action in case of an attempted attack.
  • Have a last resort weapon of defense like loud horns, pepper spray, sticks, etc.
  • Respect their territory. Understand the terrain and avoid nests and dens.
  • Remember your way out.

Whether you are enjoying or surviving the wilderness, keep your distance, and respect nature.

Please feel free to leave comments, questions or feedback about this article. If you’ve experienced an attack by a wild animal, we would love to hear about it! Please share any tips or tricks you have that have prevented an encounter with a wild animal from going terribly wrong.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Abbie Knight

    Very insightful article. Luckily, I’ve never had to use any of these techniques but I know a couple of people that have had lucky escapes! Is there any way to identify a ‘bluff charge’ before it happens? As far as I’m aware – from what I’ve read – a ‘bluff charge’ is when a bear tries to intimidate you by standing on it’s rear legs and making noises before charging… but veering off at the last moment. Is this common?

  • Jerry Mueller

    Based on my experience, I don’t see it as “bluff charging”. I think most bears stop charging because it read our body language. In other words, when the bear sees the person standing still, it reads “I’m ready to protect/defend myself.”

  • Jay Cooley

    This article speaks to a lot of thing that many people have gotten out of touch with. As creatures who have done an excellent job of developing ways to protect ourselves, whether through the development of the places we live, the information we share to warn one another, or the tools we have at our disposal to keep ourselves protected. Many of us now find ourselves in positions where we would not be able to survive if those things were taken away. It’s good to have resources like this to remind ourselves that we have the potential to be capable in these situations if we use the one thing that can’t be taken away from us, our minds.

  • Jerry Mueller

    HI Jay! Being proactive especially when planning camping trips is crucial to one’s survival. This includes getting those first aid kits ready or practicing on survival skills PRIOR to the trip. Information is vital and in today’s world, it’s readily available for consumption. Just make sure that you get those information from reliable sources so you’ll be able to apply it when the need arises – like this article. 🙂

  • Julie Stuart

    Where I live coyotes and rattlesnakes are the big ugly creatures of the desert. Although I much prefer those over the bears in the mountains of the Carolinas. I do think being respectful and understand how to communicate can really help, though.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Being proactive can be a lifesaver. Make sure you are familiar with the place you’re going to camp, and what animals live there. Best to be prepared than sorry. Also, have those snake traps on standby and a can of pepper spray/weapon for good measure. It would be wise to travel with a group and make plans for any eventuality.

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