How to Survive Wild Animal Attacks

In the warm and fuzzy world of some folks, wild animals all have big moist brown eyes, cute noses, and a cuddly personality. But that doesn’t exactly square with reality. Take, for example, the incident involving Mark Reynolds, a 35-year-old guy who went out for a mountain bike ride in California in January 2004, and was later found dead and partly eaten by a cougar (mountain lion). Nothing warm and fuzzy about it. Of course, the warm and fuzzy crowd will claim that was an anomaly. Well, try telling that to the family of the 41-year-old Arkansas woman who was killed in her own front yard by a cougar in May 2003. Or the incident in Colorado in 1999 when a 3-year-old boy went missing and was later found to have been dragged away and killed by a cougar. I could go on and on. The list is really pretty long. And that’s just cougars. What about bears, or moose, or bison, or coyotes, or …? Let’s pause momentarily for a dose of wildlife reality. There are lots of wild animals that will attack a human, sometimes with fatal results. It does no good to play the denial game. The only good thing we can do is learn the truth and then figure out what to do if we are ever in a violent confrontation with a wild animal. Before getting into specifics, let me say that the best way to avoid problems with wildlife is to use common sense. Be aware of what’s around you, what kind of animals you are likely to encounter, and the danger they pose. Avoidance is the best defense. Keep your distance, and take steps to prevent attracting wildlife into your camp. This includes: Even after you do all that, be prepared for whatever might happen. In my book, part of being prepared is carrying defensive “tools” that can range from firearms, to a substantial knife, to a club, to deterrents such as pepper spray, to whatever you can lay your hands on as you fight for your life. And there are other techniques that can be used to discourage an up-close-and-personal encounter. We’ll talk about these as we go along.
All bears are dangerous, but regardless of species you are at greatest risk if you surprise the bear or get between a mother and cubs. Even the "less dangerous" bears will prey opportunistically when they are hungry. And they will attack if you appear to be competing for their food sources or if you corner them and they feel threatened. ****Black** —** Black bear are reputed to be not much of a threat to humans, but they can scare the willies out of you when they wander into camp looking for a free meal. However, contrary to their mostly benign reputation, black bear have been responsible for more than fifty human fatalities in North America in the past hundred years. One such incident happened in May of 2000 when a female hiker was attacked and partially eaten by a 112-pound female black bear in Tennessee. If a bear comes into camp:
Grizzly — Avoidance is the best survival tactic. A griz doesn't particularly care to eat you, but it will hurt or kill you if you surprise it. And they have been known to consume human flesh. Make a lot of noise as you hike, especially on blind corners and in dense brush, and maybe the two of you will avoid each other. If you encounter a dead animal carcass, get away from it because it might belong to the grizzly. Of course avoid cubs. Keep dogs under control, because they can irritate a bear and lead it back to you. Do not travel alone. If you become the object of a grizzly attack:
Polar — Life is tough for polar bears, and they're always actively looking for their next meal. If you happen along and cannot protect yourself, they will take advantage of the situation. In some circumstances, a polar bear will stalk until it can sneak up on its victim. When a polar bear becomes agitated, it will snap its jaws and make a loud huffing noise, stare directly at you, lower its head and press ears back against the side of its head. Sometimes, they might stamp their feet. If a polar bear charges:
Cougar — A mountain lion is one of the few predators that will deliberately stalk its victim. If it determines that you are viable prey, it will follow you until it finds the right moment to take you down. The cat generally won't tackle humans who are traveling in a group of two or more. All the general camp hygiene rules for bears also apply for cougars. If a cougar is encountered:
Moose — The argument can be made that the most dangerous animal in the woods is a moose. They are huge, and they have a stubborn attitude of ownership. If you trespass in their domain, they might try to take you apart and scatter the pieces. Although they are large, they are not built for speed. Knowing that, they often choose "fight" over "flight" when they feel threatened. When attacking, moose often kick forward with front feet, knocking down the threat and then stomping and kicking with all four feet. Moose with antlers also use their racks with lethal efficiency. If you encounter a moose:
Elk/Deer — Last year in Colorado a wildlife biologist and photographer, Tom Mussel, got too close to a cow elk and her calf, and he was attacked when he stumbled as he tried to escape the charging cow. Elk and deer will attack humans when they feel cornered or threatened. The most potent threat is when a human gets close to a mother and her baby. If you are charged by a deer or elk:
Bison — In Yellowstone National Park, bison have injured twice as many visitors as have grizzly bears. The danger in a bison/human encounter is being butted, gored, and stomped by something that resembled a fur-covered locomotive. There is a reason why there is a rule that visitors should stay at least 100 yards from bison. Generally, after a bison charged and knocks down a human, the animal will wander off and resume grazing, but not always. On a couple of recorded occasions, the bison stood over the victim. One person was head-butted back to the ground when she tried to get up, and another was gored several times while still on the ground. If a bison charges:
Wolf/Coyote — Wolf and coyote (a.k.a. prairie wolf) attacks on humans are becoming more common. These animals are cunning and will stalk their prey, sneaking in from behind to nip and rip at leg muscles to disable their victim. Once you're down, the pack will swarm you. If you are facing an attack by wolves or coyotes:
Following are some techniques and tools that can be used to help you avert and/or survive an attack by a wild animal. Not all techniques work for all animals, so apply the appropriate ones for the animal in question. In every case, keeping your distance works best. After that, use what you have at hand. Visit Rich's website at

Outdoor Life survival expert Rich Johnson on how to best avoid becoming lunch.