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#177893 - 06/19/13 03:17 AM Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational?
MountainJoe Offline
newbie

Registered: 06/19/13
Posts: 10
Loc: Wasatch County, Utah
I am an aspiring long-term backpacker and currently an avid hiker. I tend to go on my hikes with at least one person as of now given my fear of some sort of attack.

I currently live in Utah(beautiful place!) and my hiking primarily consists of driving to a National or State forest boundary (usually lower elevation Uinta's, not quite to the Ashley national forest) and just hiking in, in that i do not follow trails and sometimes end up in somewhat dense areas.

Sometimes i wish to go hiking by myself simply for the solitude, but I am severely inhibited by my fear of predatory creatures. I have done reading and am aware of the incredibly low odds of being attacked and killed, but when it comes to hiking off-trail by myself, how viable is the fear of being attacked and killed? this includes bears, cougars, feral dogs, wolves, etc.

Anyone else have had this issue before? any tips or food for thought, or simply logical reassurance? precautionary measures you'd suggest? thanks!

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#177898 - 06/19/13 09:05 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: MountainJoe]
Pale Ale Offline
newbie

Registered: 06/18/13
Posts: 13
Loc: Northern California
Hi Mountain Joe. My wildlife professor used to tell us that most bears or animals have to be starving before they'd consider us as a meal, for we probably smell and taste terrible to these animals. As a kid in British Columbia we'd wander around the Cariboo mountains never bothering to worry, and here in Northern California I'm not much concerned either. I do carry pepper spray, but the mountain lions like to pounce from behind, so I try and keep vigilant, look about at my surroundings, hike with a partner (but not always.) For decades I would hike off trail with my two well-trained dogs who would fan out in front of me, and I of course never worried then.

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#177900 - 06/19/13 09:13 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: Pale Ale]
Pale Ale Offline
newbie

Registered: 06/18/13
Posts: 13
Loc: Northern California
Oh just remembered. My great grandmother came face to face with a mountain lion up in British Columbia on our ranch near the Fraser River. She sang to it, the old timey song "Old Joe Clark," and the mountain lion tensed and sprinted off by the second chorus. If I meet one in the Sierras, I'll try the same tactic methinks, probably scaring away all wildlife and stressing most of the flora, too.

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#177903 - 06/19/13 09:39 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: MountainJoe]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3569
Loc: Texas
I'm currently reading a book called "Death in Big Bend" by Laurence Parent. I've been hiking this park since the 70's, about 50 trips now. According to Parent's statistics, the most dangerous animals in the park (besides humans) are deer. They cause the most traffic accidents. There have been no bear attacks. There have been a couple cougar attacks that resulted in minor injuries, from sick cats. I've never been lucky enough to see a cat in the park.
My wife and I have had 5 black bear encounters, in Texas and Canada, all which turned out to be fun. Black bear usually run like heck if they see you. If they are human hibituated, they go about their business...you just walk on. They can wreck your camp looking for improperly stored food, but generally you are lucky to see one.
Grizzly bears are a different story but still, deaths are rare.
Read up on your predators. Turn your fear into respect and hike on.


Edited by Dryer (06/19/13 09:39 AM)
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#177905 - 06/19/13 09:59 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: MountainJoe]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
There is a freely available statistical analysis of deaths caused by animals. Animal-Related Fatalities in the United States by Ricky L Langly, MD. Published in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 16, 67-74. (2005)

You should statistically speaking worry far more about domesticated dogs, hornets/wasps/bees if you are allergic, and hitting a deer with your car.

Domesticated cows, horses, and dogs kill far more people than wild creatures do.

Wild bears, mountain lions and snakes kill a tiny fraction of all those dead due to animal attack.

My night hiking tactics are singing and an umbrella. Weird? Yes, to you - animals are terrified of an umbrella. Everyone is terrified of my singing...
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

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#177907 - 06/19/13 11:14 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: lori]
balzaccom Offline
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1718
Loc: Napa, CA
Originally Posted By lori



My night hiking tactics are singing and an umbrella. Weird? Yes, to you - animals are terrified of an umbrella. Everyone is terrified of my singing...


I LOVE it!

This is from our website:

Wild Animals!



Ah! This is the stuff that everybody wants to talk about. Wild bears who attack campers in the middle of dinner. Ferocious pumas who lie in wait behind every tree. Snakes that crawl into your sleeping bag at night!



Sorry. Doesnít happen. Since 1980 there have been a total of twelve reported attacks by black bears in California. Thatís an average of less than one attack every two years. Most occurred in developed campgrounds or rural urban interfaces, not in the wilderness. None were fatal. In that same time period, there have been exactly the same number of reported puma attacksómost near the rural urban interface, and none in wilderness areas. Almost all involved children or small adults. Roughly 800 people this year will be bitten by rattlesnakes, and one or two of those bites will result in death. Most of those bitten are young men who are bitten their hands or arms. Enough said. And just at evening--an ursine visitor, backlit in the sun.



So you are not going to get killed or eaten by wild animals. In contrast, some 370,000 Americans are bitten by dogs badly enough to need treatment at the emergency room, and nearly 4,000 people will die in traffic accidents in California this year. And about 30,000 people will die from gunshots of one kind or another in the US. If you want to be safe, get out of the city, get out backpacking in the High Sierra and STOP DRIVING YOUR CAR!



Actually, the only death attributed to a wild animal in the history of Yosemite National Park was a young boy who was killed by a deer. The boy was attempting to hug the deer to pose for a photo, and the deer kicked him, slicing open an artery.



Again, we have a few solutions. When you are in the wilderness, understand that you are in wild country. Pay attention. Bears are attracted by odors of food, so limit the food smells you create. (See the bear in the photo at right? That's the only one we've seen in the backcountry. Zoom in. He's there.) Store your food in bearproof containers to keep them from getting used to the idea that hikers mean food. Most developed campgrounds in our parks these days provide steel bear boxes for your food, and since those have been installed, bear damage to vehicles and camping equipment has drastically declined.



Pumas generally attack small people who are alone. They attack from behind. If you see a puma, stand up tall and face it. Fight back. Scream for help from nearby hikers. Write about it later, and make lots of money from the TV movie.



Rattlesnakes generally try to avoid people, and often will start to take defensive action when they feel your footsteps approach. Leave them alone. Donít put your hand where you canít see, and donít climb cliffs blindly.



Want some really interesting statistics? 130 Americans are killed by deer every year. 65 are struck by lightning. 100 are killed by bees. 20 are killed by cows. Makes you wonder, huh?



Most importantly, drive very carefully to the trailhead. Your chances of dying are 4,000 times higher on the highway than they are on the trail.
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#177908 - 06/19/13 11:35 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: MountainJoe]
aimless Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/05/03
Posts: 2835
Loc: Portland, OR
Joe, if you fear mountain lions just remember that cats are very picky eaters. wink

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#177909 - 06/19/13 11:35 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: MountainJoe]
wandering_daisy Offline
member

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2742
Loc: California
Some fear of bears and cougars, or any wild animal for that, is rational. Wild animals are unpredictable. You can mitigate the probability of bad outcomes with smart behavior, that others have cited above.

Statistics from years past may not indicate current probabilities. Particularly with cougars. There has been an uptick in people/cougar encounters as civilization pushes its way more into their territory. Probabilities are still low, however. The number of people killed by deer in the US is not particularly relevant, in my opinion, because there are far more people exposed to deer than backpackers. The specific statistics regarding backpackers are more relevant. To me the number of injuries, not just deaths, need to be considered.

I always check with the land managers (usually when I pick up my permit I ask) regarding any "problem" bears that have been reported in the area that I plan to hike. And if bear spray is recommended, I take it.

I have had numerous bear encounters and they have not in any way been "fun". I hike in the area in northern Yosemite where they relocate the problem bears from Yosemite Valley. One hike I saw one bear per mile! They do NOT all run away, particularly if you are hiking solo or if they have a cub nearby! Most people's fear is overblown, but on the other hand, the casual attitude that all is "fun" or OK is also in error. Read up on animal behavior, stay informed of local conditions, and have a healthy respect for wild animals.

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#177911 - 06/19/13 12:02 PM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: wandering_daisy]
finallyME Offline
member

Registered: 09/24/07
Posts: 2710
Loc: Utah
Last year in the Uintas, they were requiring everyone to hang their food. I am sure that is the requirement this year as well. There are definitely black bear there, although I have never seen one there. There are also rumors of a few grizzly that wandered in from Wyoming. The Wasatch and Uintas are filled with cougars and moose. I am more scared of moose than cougar. I have seen cougar tracks in the Uintas, but never a cougar. I have only seen 2 moose so far. I always bring bear spray.

Having a fear of animals is natural. Just don't let it consume you. Practice safe animal avoidance techniques, and you will be fine. I think bringing a dog helps in this regard. Usually people stop worrying about it as they gain more experience. If you need to always bring a friend, then I would say do it.
_________________________
I've taken a vow of poverty. To annoy me, send money.

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#177925 - 06/19/13 03:34 PM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: MountainJoe]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3865
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
It sounds like your fears may be exaggerated a bit, but that's pretty common. Like anything else, you'll acclimate with time and your fears will naturally become more in tune with the realities of your experiences.

I've never seen a cougar up close, and only maybe seen a glance of one from a distance. I have only seen two black bears in all my years of hiking on and off trail. Both times they were doing their best to avoid me.

One of those times was a very close encounter, I stuck my head into a spot where the bear was hiding. I backed away slowly without a sound, put my pack back on and left. The bear stayed put.

I guess the best advice I can give you is to always give the critter a way out. If you run into one and it feels boxed in it will attack, but if you back off and give it an escape route it will use it.

If you stumble onto their den a critter will defend it, so again, back off. Don't make noise or act aggressive, just back off. In most cases they will stay put. I have a son and daughter who met up with a cougar at her den. She was clear in telling them to leave. They backed off and she stayed put.

Don't make the critters mad. I've gotten chased off by a groundhog whose den I was messing with. It gave me plenty of time to back off but I didn't. That made it mad and it started coming after me looking really mean so I ran as fast as I could screaming for help from God. The groundhog didn't keep chasing me though, it stopped just a little ways from it's front door and yelled obscenities at me. I had a vision when I finally stopped running. God was laughing in it. That's all there was to it.

So you have to learn from your mistakes, both big and small, to get comfortable out there, and you have to be out there to do that. Over the years I've learned not to poke my hiking stick into critter dens, not to stick my head into every crack in a bluff, always give a critter an easy escape route, don't pee on a moose, and God has a sense of humor.

I've also learned that it's me I have to fear the most out there when I'm hiking solo. Resisting the urge to do something stupid can be a challenge and it's really your biggest danger out there. I still haven't mastered that yet, but trying is part of the fun.

I'll also offer that you start off easy with your solo hikes. Do some day hikes in familiar places. Plan an overnighter there and make it someplace nice but still easy to bail out on. Then do a couple nights there. Find a park or an area and explore it a little at a time until you know it all very well and then spend a few nights or a week rambling around there.

A few of those and you'll be comfortable out there and after that you can go explore other areas the same way and enjoy it more because your fears will be more in proportion to the realities.




_________________________
--

"You want to go where?"



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#177995 - 06/22/13 03:08 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: MountainJoe]
MountainJoe Offline
newbie

Registered: 06/19/13
Posts: 10
Loc: Wasatch County, Utah
Thanks guys for all the great info. The stories and advice have helped me a great deal. This puts me to great ease.

One more quick question, iffin you guys wouldn't mind: Would bear spray also work on cougars, etc? Understanding the basics of how the spray works (rendering the bear's sense of smell, his main sense of navigation, obsolete), do cougars, etc. rely on their nose as much as bears do?

thanks guys.

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#178013 - 06/23/13 09:09 PM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: MountainJoe]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By MountainJoe
Understanding the basics of how the spray works (rendering the bear's sense of smell, his main sense of navigation, obsolete), do cougars, etc. rely on their nose as much as bears do?


Um... the spray works the same as it does on every other mammal - it gets in the soft tissues, ideally the mucous membranes, where it causes an intense burning sensation and drives away the bear.

Yes, it would work on a cougar, but first you have to see the cougar and have enough time to deploy the spray. Which you probably won't since the cougar's main method of hunting is stealth. I'd bet you have, if you hiked any miles at all, walked right under a curious cougar or ten.... Far more of them have seen/smelled you than you will ever know are there.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#178014 - 06/24/13 12:28 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: lori]
rockchucker22 Offline
member

Registered: 09/24/12
Posts: 749
Loc: Eastern Sierras
Originally Posted By lori
[quote=MountainJoe]

Yes, it would work on a cougar, but first you have to see the cougar and have enough time to deploy the spray. Which you probably won't since the cougar's main method of hunting is stealth. I'd bet you have, if you hiked any miles at all, walked right under a curious cougar or ten.... Far more of them have seen/smelled you than you will ever know are there.
absolutely!
_________________________
The wind wont howl if the wind don't break.

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#178015 - 06/24/13 07:21 AM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: lori]
DTape Offline
member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 654
Loc: Upstate NY
Originally Posted By lori

Yes, it would work on a cougar, but first you have to see the cougar and have enough time to deploy the spray. Which you probably won't since the cougar's main method of hunting is stealth. I'd bet you have, if you hiked any miles at all, walked right under a curious cougar or ten.... Far more of them have seen/smelled you than you will ever know are there.


A friend of mine, a Lakota indian who grew up in the Black Hills, once said to me... if a cougar were to stalk and attack someone, they would never know it.
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#178017 - 06/24/13 01:22 PM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: lori]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3865
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Quote:
Far more of them have seen/smelled you than you will ever know are there.


That is for sure. Over the years I've smelled some pretty strong cat whiz while bushwhacking around here but I've never seen a cougar up close and I've only seen glances of bobcats a couple times.

They do get caught on game cameras here now and then though. A photo of one taken not far from us was confirmed by the Conservation Dept not too long ago.

Hmmm... I suppose I should learn to get away and stay away from places that smell like big cats. crazy


_________________________
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"You want to go where?"



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#178032 - 06/25/13 03:45 PM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: billstephenson]
JPete Offline
member

Registered: 05/28/09
Posts: 304
Loc: Eastern Ontario
Back to the original concern, for whatever it's worth, here's my story:

I've been in the woods off and on since I was about 10 (I'm 77). I've seen a great deal of large wildlife over those years, and been aware of more. I actually walked up on a couger on the ground and was so startled I forgot I was not supposed to look it in the eye. In about ten seconds, the cat took off on a series of beautiful, fluid leaps, tail flying, and was out of sight on the third one.

I've seen bobcats, mostly as balls of fur headed the other direction, fast. I've seen a number of bears, again, mostly fur going the other way, though I got caught between mom and cubs once. She was so close I could smell her, but she didn't even threaten to bother me. I saw another sending her cubs up a tree, but again, showed no interest in bothering me. I've never had a bear bother my camp (I tend to be by myself and away from regular camps, also, I should say that all of these have been the relatively small and shy Eastern black bears, no griz).

I've seen hundreds of deer, and never been threatened. The only critter that ever actually attacked me was a moose. He hit the tree that I stepped behind, shook himself off and headed back to his pond (yes, it was rutting season).

The only other critters that have scared me are skunks and drunken redknecks. Caution and common sense (as others have noted above) is appropriate, fear is not.

But a couple of provisos: Bill, when I was a kid, we'd hear the big cats and bring the goats in. They never got any of ours, but a neighbor had sheep and lost several, very close to their home.

Also, Tim Ernst reports in the Highlands Trail guidebook that a backpacker on the trail was attacked in his tent by a bear, but survived. Ernst says this was the only reported bear attack in Arkansas. Again, caution and common sense.

best, jcp

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#178115 - 06/30/13 10:19 PM Re: Fear of Bears, Cougars, Etc... is it rational? [Re: billstephenson]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3938
Loc: Bend, Oregon
after maybe a thousand nights camping in the Sierras I've had 2 big cats come to my camp, one by mistake, and one was stalking my wife and I, both ran away but the one I had to yell at 3 times and wave my arms to frighten off. Both of these incidents together gave me a life total of about 6-7 seconds of seeing wild cougars. I HAVE been threatend by deer though.
Jim
_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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