#happylife: What to do if you encounter an animal on a hike

#happylife: What to do if you encounter an animal on a hike
FILE PHOTO: A grizzly bear sits in an exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo May 18, 2007 in San Francisco, California.

Let’s be honest. Most of us hope to see an animal while hiking so we have a good story to share with our friends when we return. As for anything more than that, well let’s avoid that at all costs!

While encounters are rare in the Inland Northwest, they can happen. Staci Lehman with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the best way to stop up close and personal encounters from happening is to be prepared. Lehman recommended hiking in groups, talking, singing or stomping on sticks and leaves extra hard to make your presence known!

Animals you might see on local trails include deer, birds, moose, bears, cougars and wolves. Remember, animals are more afraid of us than we them. If you see one, give them the opportunity to back away. Most will leave when they encounter a human. If they don’t, avoid an attack by making yourself look big, making eye contact, yelling and throwing things.

If the animal does not go away and begins to attack, the way you should respond is different for certain animals. When it comes to a bear, play dead. Roll on your stomach and cover your neck and the back of your head. Be sure to keep your legs and your elbows wide so the bear can’t flip you over. If the bear does not leave, fight back by targeting the face.

For a cougar, you would want to do the opposite. Do not play dead. Remain standing and protect your neck. Fight back with anything you can hit with and aim for the face.

Most animals attack when they are protecting their young. It often happens with bear and moose. If a moose approaches you, find something to hide behind like a tree or car. If you can’t find anything to hide behind, run. Moose don’t chase for long. If they knock you down, curl into a ball, protect your head and hold still.

The rarest encounters and attacks involve wolves. It’s been over 100 years since one was recorded in Washington. If you happen to find yourself with one, you’ve probably stumbled on it’s den. Like with a moose, curl up into a ball and protect your face should it attack.

Important items to bring when hiking include:
– Bug spray (you are more likely to get a bee sting than encounter a moose or bear)
– First Aid kit
– Compass
– Whistle
– Garbage bag (never leave garbage on a trail where wildlife can find it)

Officials recommend bringing bear spray and keeping it accessible. That means attached to your belt buckle where you can easily grab it should you need to use it. You might not have enough time to dig through your backpack if a bear is charging at you.

Lehman said that spray can be more effective at times than a firearm because using it requires less steps and you don’t need great aim. She said using bear spray takes a few steps: you must remove the safety tab at the top, hold the can with two hands (one on the can, the other on the trigger) and when the bear is within 10 yards of you, press the trigger with your thumb and spray the entire contents on the bears face. Know that bear spray can be effective while encountering other animals too, like a moose or cougar.