As the temperature begins to rise and the snow melts away, our thoughts turn to the great outdoors. Hikes in majestic forests and along flowing streams are quickly worked into our free time. It is important to remember, though, that we are not the only ones rising from a winter slumber. As temperatures come up, nature’s creatures come out. By educating yourself about the dangers you may face in the wilderness, you have a much greater chance of avoiding or escaping a deadly attack on the trail.
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Snakes are an inseparable part of outdoor activities. They are found in every state and range from benign to deadly. In the spring and early summer, snakes will move from their hiding places to find sun. As cold-blooded creatures, they must use the sun to warm themselves. It is during these times that hikers and campers see the most snakes. They are very active and are more focused on a warm rock than they are a possible hiker.
The United States has approximately 20 different species of venomous snakes. At least one venomous snake can be found in every state except Alas- ka. It is estimated that 7,000 to 8,000 people a year are bitten
by venomous snakes. As a rule of thumb, you should treat every snake you come across as dangerous. With this mentality, your chances of being bitten on the trail drop dramatically.
The painful truth is that many people are bitten each year because they tried to interact with the snake, ranging from trying to pick it up to attempting to scare it off with a stick. Snakes can strike a distance equal to two-thirds of their body length at incredible speed. By getting too close you are asking for trouble. Additionally, it is important to watch where you are walking. While not nor- mally aggressive, any snake is prone to biting if it is stepped on or startled. When stepping off of rocks or over logs, give yourself plenty of room on your step. There is always a chance that a snake is on the other side. By giving yourself room you can avoid being bitten. Lastly, avoid moving logs and large rocks. These are natural sanctuaries for snakes and can present a dangerous scenario.
Another creature that rises from hibernation each spring is the bear. Slowly making their way out of their winter dens, bears are immediately in search of food. As with any wildlife, it is best to avoid these creatures if at all possible. Bears usually avoid people all together and encounters are usually a surprise to both parties. With this in mind, there are certain practices that you can follow to help avoid bear problems. First is to avoid trying to move quietly through the woods. If a bear hears you coming, they will usually take off before you get close. Try to always hike with a friend or travel in a group. Feel free to talk at normal conversational tones and make plenty of noise as you walk among leaves and broken branches.
If you do come across a bear, it is essential to stay calm. If you are with a friend or in a group, move close together to appear larger. If possible, go back the way you came. If you must go forward,
give the bear a great deal of room and watch it closely. Do not be tempted to approach the bear for any reason. It may look to be the perfect photographic op- portunity, but that could be a very deadly choice. If the bear is eating or with its cubs, it can turn aggressive very quickly. Bears are fast and can cover the ground between you and them in a hurry. Keep your distance. This is the perfect time to recommend that if you are hiking in bear country, you should arm yourself. Ranging from bear spray to firearms, there are many choices available for use as defensive tools on the trail.
Signs of bears are also signs to turn around. This is especially true for what may appear to be a dead animal. Bears are protective of their meals, and taking time to investigate a dead animal can have unintended consequences. The same rule holds true for what may appear to be a bear den. It is never wise to go poking around the home of a large mammal with teeth and claws. This will rarely end well. Keep to the trail and enjoy the scenery.
The spring and early summer is a time for all the animals in the wild to increase activity. From wolves and mountain lions to deer and groundhogs, they are all more active. The best rule to follow is to avoid contact. While they may appear friendly, attempting to get close to any wild animal can put you in much more danger than you originally bargained for.
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.