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Tempting though it may be to chase after animals for that fantastic Instagram photo, the wildlife in Grand County can pose a serious risk to hikers and bikers. When provoked, an animal attack can be deadly, both to you and the animal, so if you’re lucky enough to spot one, please observe from a distance!
Here are a few tips for hikers who want to avoid hostile animal encounters in the wild.
- Stick to the trail. This will not only keep you from getting lost, it also preserves the natural ecosystem and prevents you from waltzing into an animal’s territory.
- Let them know you’re coming. Now is not the time for stealth-hiking. Converse with your hiking buddies and make a little noise. That doesn’t mean you have to shout! Lots of animals have acute hearing, and your ordinary hiking sounds will prevent you from accidentally sneaking up on a mama bear.
- DO NOT THROW FOOD. You see signs everywhere saying “pack in/pack out” and that means don’t feed the wildlife. This trains animals to become dependent on human litter, which we definitely don’t want. Yes, that includes your apple core. We know, it’s natural, but we don’t care. Don’t be that guy!
So, what to do if you accidentally cross paths with a potentially dangerous animal? If avoidance doesn’t work, your next steps can save your life.
Moose: These guys can be unpredictable, and are perhaps the most dangerous of encounters you may have. They’re enormous, and faster than you. If you see a moose, wait patiently for it to move along, or slowly retreat the other way. If the moose appears agitated (ears back, lips smacking) it’s time to retreat. Get between two trees and wait for the moose to leave. If he charges, RUN. DO NOT STAND YOUR GROUND. More information on moose encounters here.
Bears: You may notice that locals differ in opinion on what to do if you encounter a bear. Most encounters with our county’s black bears will be peaceful and non-aggressive. Still, it’s best to avoid contact to prevent an attack. If you see them from afar, make some noise to alert them to your presence so they can retreat. Respect its space, and always give the bear an escape route. If the route isn’t clear, as a last resort you can try to “move” the bear by “getting big,” that is, lifting your jacket over your head and demanding that the bear “GET OUT OF HERE.” If the bear is acting aggressively (say, a mama bear defending her cubs), listen to her message. You’re too close and she wants you to leave, so the polite thing to do is comply. More information on bear encounters here.
Lions: If you see a mountain lion, she has already seen you (so they say). Take this encounter very seriously. It’s time to create some distance, backing away while facing the lion. “Get big” with your jacket, and speak slowly, firmly and loudly to let this predator know that you’re a big guy too. If the lion lunges, fight back by any means possible. Protect your neck and throat, and use whatever tools you have on hand to fend off the lion. More information on lion encounters here.
Now, hopefully we haven’t scared you! Animal encounters are rare, but it’s best to be prepared just in case. Sometimes on a quiet evening, you get the chance to see a fox or an elk walk through your back yard, and there’s truly nothing better than watching them from a distance.