Tips for surviving a wild animal encounter

080930135301-large black bearWith the numerous wildfires, our wildlife are getting displaced, increasing the chances of an “encounter of the worst kind”.

It’s a situation you never want to find yourself in. You’re on vacation, peacefully enjoying the planet’s natural wonders and then – out of nowhere – a wild creature attacks.

While these encounters are usually very rare, Kyle Patterson, spokeswoman at Rocky Mountain National Park, say it’s because people aren’t aware of their surroundings or don’t use common sense.

“Any wildlife can be unpredictable,” she said. “Sometimes you see a visitor who sees an animal and think, ‘they’re close to the road, I’ll just get out and a take a picture.’ This isn’t a zoo where it is fenced off.”

Every animal responds differently to human interaction, but a general rule of thumb for any wildlife encounter is be prepared and look for signs.

“If the animal is reacting to you, you’re too close. All wildlife will give you a sign.  Some species will put their ears back.  Some will scrape their paws.  Some will give verbal cues,” said Patterson.

In order to help you, we’ve come up with a list of tips for surviving all kinds of animal encounters, from bison to sharks.

Even with this list handy, remember that it is illegal to approach wildlife at the national parks and no matter how prepared you are, expect the unexpected.

  • 1Bear


    North America’s recent rash of bear attacks should be inspiration enough to want to know how to survive a mauling. At least six people in five states have been mauled by black and brown bears recently. There was the Alaskan hunter who was attacked on Saturday, the hikers in Yellowstone National Park who were attacked by a grizzly last Thursday and 12-year-old Abigail Wetherell who was mauled by a black bear on the very same day, while out on an evening jog in northern Michigan.

    “These are two species that you shouldn’t never run from: Black bear or mountain lion,” said Patterson. “You should make yourself big, as much as you can.  Whether it’s taking your jacket and putting it over your head, or picking up sticks or just waving your arms, you need to fight back.”

    Here’s a list of bear attack survival tips from Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources:

    1.) If you see a bear that is far away or doesn’t see you turn around and go back, or circle far around. Don’t disturb it.

    2.) If you see a bear that is close or it does see you STAY CALM. Attacks are rare. Bears may approach or stand on their hind legs to get a better look at you. These are curious, not aggressive, bears. BE HUMAN. Stand tall, wave your arms, and speak in a loud and low voice. DO NOT RUN! Stand your ground or back away slowly and diagonally. If the bear follows, STOP.

    3.) If a bear is charging almost all charges are “bluff charges”. DO NOT RUN! Olympic sprinters cannot outrun a bear and running may trigger an instinctive reaction to “chase”. Do not try to climb a tree unless it is literally right next to you and you can quickly get at least 30 feet up. STAND YOUR GROUND. Wave your arms and speak in a loud low voice. Many times charging bears have come within a few feet of a person and then veered off at the last second.

    4.) If a bear approaches your campsite aggressively chase it away. Make noise with pots and pans, throw rocks, and if needed, hit the bear. Do not let the bear get any food.

    5.) If you have surprised a bear and are contacted or attacked and making noise or struggling has not discouraged an attack, play dead. Curl up in a ball with your hands laced behind your neck. The fetal position protects your vital organs. Lie still and be silent. Surprised bears usually stop attacking once you are no longer a threat (i.e. “dead”).

    6.) If you have been stalked by a bear, a bear is approaching your campsite, or an attack is continuing long after you have ceased struggling, fight back! Predatory bears are often young bears that can be successfully intimidated or chased away. Use a stick, rocks or your hands and feet.

  • 2Elk


    Migrating elk are known to take over towns, especially this time of year. For example, Estes Park, a popular resort town in the Rocky Mountains hosts nearly 2,000 elk for the summer months, and much of the year. With a population of only 5,858 inhabitants, the town is literally overrun by elk.

    Rocky Mountain National Park also has a large population of elk.  Patterson said the dangerous times are in the spring, when they’re protective of their calves, and the fall mating season, known as the rut. “Sometimes the bulls can be very aggressive,” she said. “During the rut, elk are in big groups.  You want to make sure you’re not in between  the aggressive bull elk and the focus of his attention.”

    That’s why the park takes preventative measures such as closing meadows and sending out teams of volunteers to patrol.

    Here are some tips from The Payson Roundup, a small paper that covers Rim Country in central Arizona, an area that has had its fair share of elk invasions.

    1.) Always keep a safe distance and if driving, stay in your car.

    2.) Never approach a baby calf; they are not abandoned even if the cow is not in sight. The cow is close by or very likely has gone to water and will return. The maternal instinct could produce an aggressive behavior if something might come between her and her calf, so play it safe.

    3.) Elks travel in the reduced light of early morning or late afternoon — so if you want to avoid an elk, don’t go out during dawn or dusk.

  • 3Bison


    Bison are the largest indigenous land mammal in North America. The bulls can often weigh as much as one ton. Not only are they huge, bison are fast. They can quickly accelerate to speeds up to 35 mph. So if they look majestic and docile out on that plain, just remember bison are beasts and they are much faster than you.

    If you encounter a bison, here are some tips from Canada’s National Park Service:

    1.) If you encounter bison along the roadway, drive slowly and they will eventually move. Do not honk, become impatient or proceed too quickly. Bison attacks on vehicles are rare, but can happen. Bison may spook if you get out of your vehicle. Therefore, remain inside or stay very close.

    2.) If you are on foot or horseback: Never startle bison. Always let them know you are there. Never try to chase or scare bison away. It is best to just cautiously walk away. Always try to stay a minimum of 100 meters (approximately the size of a football field) from the bison.

    3.) Please take extra caution as bison may be more aggressive: During the rutting season (mid July-mid August) as bulls can become more aggressive during this time. After bison cows have calved. Moms may be a little over-protective during this time. When cycling near bison, as cyclists often startle unknowing herds. When hiking with pets. Dogs may provoke a bison attack and should be kept on a leash. On hot spring days when bison have heavy winter coats.

    4.) Use extreme caution if they display any of the following signs: Shaking the head. Pawing. Short charges or running toward you. Loud snorting. Raising the tail.

  • 4Mountain Lion


    Attacks from mountain lions are very rare, Patterson said, and they’re going to prey on elk and deer–not humans.

    But she said the danger arises when people hike alone or families with children let the kids run ahead and make noises.

    “If a child is running along a trail they can mimic prey,” she said.  This is why they tell visitors to ‘”make like a sandwich” when walking along the trails.

    “Families and adults should think like a sandwich and the parents should be like a piece of bread and the children should be the filling.  Have an adult should be leading the pack and should be in the back.”

    Here is a list of tips for a mountain lion encounter from the conservation advocacy group, The Cougar Fund:

    1.) Be especially alert when recreating at dawn or dusk, which are peak times for cougar activity.

    2.) Consider recreating with others. When in groups, you are less likely to surprise a lion. If alone, consider carrying bear spray or attaching a bell to yourself or your backpack. Tell a friend where you are going and when you plan to return. In general cougars are shy and will rarely approach noise or other human activities.

    3.) Supervise children and pets. Keep them close to you. Teach children about cougars and how to recreate responsibly. Instruct them about how to behave in the event of an encounter.

    4.) If you come into contact with a cougar that does not run away, stay calm, stand your ground and don’t back down! Back away slowly if possible and safe to do so. Pick up children, but DO NOT BEND DOWN, TURN YOUR BACK, OR RUN. Running triggers an innate predatory response in cougars which could lead to an attack.

    5.) Raise your voice and speak firmly. Raise your arms to make yourself look larger, clap your hands, and throw something you might have in your hands, like a water bottle. Again, do not bend over to pick up a stone off the ground. This action may trigger a pounce response in a cougar.

    6.) If in the very unusual event that a lion attacks you, fight back. People have successfully fought off lions with rocks and sticks. Try to remain standing and get up if you fall to the ground.

    7.) If you believe an encounter to be a valid public safety concern, contact your state game agency and any local wildlife organizations.

  • 5Shark


    While shark sightings are on the rise, shark attacks are still relatively rare. Last year only seven people were killed in shark attacks. Although, in 2011, the number of shark-related deaths was 13. On the off chance you come face to face with Jaws, you should be prepared.

    Here are some shark encounter survival tips from Discovery’s Alexander Davies:

    1.) Don’t panic. If you find yourself face to face with a shark, you’re going to need your wits about you to get away with your life. So keep calm; remember that while sharks are deadly animals, they’re not invincible. Thrashing and flailing is more likely to gain its attention than to drive it away.

    2.) Play dead. If you see a shark approaching, this is a last ditch effort to stave off an attack. A shark is more likely to go after a lively target than an immobile one. But once Jaws goes in for the kill, it’s time to fight — he’ll be as happy to eat you dead as alive. From here on out, you’ll have to fight if you want to survive.

    3.) Fight back. Once a shark takes hold, the only way you’re getting out alive is to prove that it’s not worth the effort to eat you — because you’re going to cause it pain. Look for a weapon: You’ll probably have to improvise. But any blunt object — a camera, nearby floating wood — will make you a more formidable opponent. Often repeated advice has it that a good punch to a shark’s snout will send it packing. In fact, the nose is just one of several weak points to aim for. A shark’s head is mostly cartilage, so the gills and eyes are also vulnerable.

    4.) Fight smart. Unless you’re Rocky Balboa, you’re not going to knock out a shark with a single punch. Not only will a huge swing slow down in the water due to drag, it’s unlikely to hit a rapidly moving target. Stick with short, direct jabs, so you increase your chances of landing a few in quick succession.

    5.) Play defense. Open water, where a shark can come at you from any angle, is the worst position place you can be. Get anything you can to back up against, ideally a reef or a jetty. If there are two of you, line up back to back, so you’ll always have eyes on an approaching attack. Don’t worry about limiting your escape routes- you won’t out swim a shark, better to improve your chances of sending him away.

    6.) Call for backup. Call out to nearby boats, swimmers and anyone on shore for help. Even if they can’t reach you right away, they’ll know you’re in trouble, and will be there to help if you suffer some injuries but escape the worst fate.  Who knows, maybe a group of sympathetic dolphins will help you out – they’re fierce animals in their own right.

    7.) Fight to the end. Giving up won’t make a shark less interested in eating you, so fight as long as you can. If the animal has a hold on you, he’s unlikely to let go. You have to show him you’re not worth the effort to eat.

  • 6Stingray


    While stingray attacks are not usually deadly, they are painful and warrant close medical attention. With a recent stingray invasion along the Alabama coast, now is an important time to learn about the barb-tailed sea creature. The animals often bury themselves in shallow water, so even if you are just wading in the ocean, you are still at risk of being stung.

    Here are some tips from Jake Howard, a lifeguard at Seal Beach, Calif. on how to handle a stingray encounter:

    1.) Always shuffle your feet when walking out to the surf, sting rays are shy and skitish creatures and will generally flutter away at the first sign of danger. The sting is a self-defense mechanism when they get stepped on or threatened. The Sting Ray Shuffle is your first line of defense.

    2.) If you do feel something soft and squishy under your foot step off of it as quick as possible. I stepped on a sting ray last weekend, but got off it in time that it didn’t get me…Step lightly in other words.

    3.) In the case that you do get stung come to the beach as quick as possible, don’t panic because it will only increase your circulation, thus aiding in the movement of the toxin through your body. Also you want to try and limit anything that may bring on symptoms of shock.

    4.) Go home, or to the nearest lifeguard or fire station to treat it. The wound can vary in pain. I’ve had a woman compare it to child birth and seen full-on tattooed gang bangers cry like little sissys, conversly I’ve seen little girls walk away with relatively little discomfort. Either way it’s not going to be fun. Pretty much the only real thing you can do for the pain is soak the sting in hot water, as hot as you can stand, but don’t go burnin’ yourself. You can also take Advil or something, but no asprin. Asprin thins the blood and allows the toxin to travel easier.

    5.) Soak the foot until it feels significantly better. The pain probably won’t go completely away, but it should feel dramatically better. A little swelling is normal. Be sure to clean the wound as best as possible. If it looks like the sting ray barb is still in your foot see a doctor for treatment. Actually if anything weird at all goes on go see a doctor.

  • I wish I could help you, but I can’t.

    Nobody else can save you, only Jesus Christ can. Trust Jesus Christ of Nazareth today. He loves you so completely!

    Admit that you are a sinner and turn from sin. Believe that Jesus Christ of Nazareth died for you, He was buried and rose from the dead. Through prayer, invite Jesus Christ of Nazareth into your life to become your personal Savior.

    No one is guaranteed a tomorrow and the Bible has predicted the current world events to warn all mankind of the return of Jesus Christ, Who lives forever and ever. There will be no “second chances” once He comes to bring all Christians to heaven for eternity.

    His priceless, yet free to us gift of salvation is NOT something you want to reject, deep down you know you need Him. For YOUR sake, do not delay.


Shark Attack Victim Loses Valiant Fight

HONOLULU (AP) — A 20-year-old German woman who lost her right arm in a shark attack off of Hawaii last week is being remembered by her family as beautiful and strong after fighting to stay alive in a Maui hospital. … Continue reading

The World Ends (Again)

Pretty sunset

Sunrise by Marybeth Haydon

I forgot that the world was supposed to end today. Again.

What is it that some folks are preoccupied with knowing the Mind of God? Are we so arrogant that we actually think that we can predict something that the Word of God states in Matthew 24:35, 36 “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”

 Sure, any day, any hour holds the possibility that it could be the last for any one of us, no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. Stuff happens. Really bad stuff happens. But even these individual circumstances cannot be predicted.

There was a time that I would have welcomed “the end” with open arms; oh please DO, end this madness! But as I’ve matured, as I’ve twice survived deadly disease, have survived life threatening circumstances (four of them to be exact, there really should be a limit!), and have survived MYSELF in my younger years, I’m continuing to learn that there is a bigger picture. There are people who count on me. There are others that I’ve yet to meet, to share “my story” with.

One particular hike that I was on, I was off to the side of the trail, looking down at the stream below eager to catch a glympse of a bear, deer or bobcat getting a drink. A young woman was heading up the path and stopped beside me and started a relaxed conversation. I don’t even remember how the subject came up, but we discovered that she was recovering from a bilateral mastectomy, just as I was. The conversation blossomed as we continued our journey up the mountain and a friendship was forged.

As we shared our relative experiences while on trail, I told her how I had accidentally STOOD on a coiled, and exceedingly angry rattle snake. No one can outrun the strike of a snake, no matter how much adrenalin is pumping into the bloodstream. But I came out of the life-threatening situation “merely” shaken to the core.  Through the active grace of God I came out of the situation unscathed. This could have been the end of the world for me; literally the end of me.

Needless to say, I had residual fear. That night, I had to turn on all the lights in order to use the ladies room, I was terrified of stepping on a phantom snake in my house. Weeks later, my fear did not recede and reduced my subsequent hikes to paths of sweaty shakes and terror. I went to my Lord, desperate to return to the wilderness with joy, wonder and discovery. He spoke to my spirit with very wise advise:

“Don’t focus on what you did, but on what I did.” 

I can’t express what FREEDOM that gave me! CLEARLY He intervened! Had He not, I’d be racking up 10’s of thousands of dollars in medical treatment for a snake bite. If I survived it, since I was initally bent over the thing, it could have struck me in the chest or face. (Full story in my book Wilderness Training the Novice).

When I told my new friend this, she said with awe, “Your God is very smart.” Smiling, I agreed with absolute confidence. Yes indeed. My God is very, very smart! I hope someday she will get to know “my God”. I also hope and pray the same for all who read this.

So, when you hear of rumors of “the end of the world”, take courage and confidence that it is untrue, for no man knows the day or hour. Not even when a crazy accident may happen on or off trail!

It’s a new day. ENJOY IT TO YOUR FULLEST!!

03-01-12 Evey Cyn Potato Mtn 012

Overlooking the City by Marybeth Haydon

Wilderness Survival Techniques Relates To Beating Cancer & Other Life Challenges.

AuburnSRA-037-park poppy

DEFEATING THE VIOLATION OF CANCER IS AN UPHILL BATTLE, often quite lonely, painful and certainly terrifying.  It is a tremendous, crushing weight, with off-the-charts stress, traumatic to the core. The shattering diagnosis can reduce one to rubble, being so very powerless over the invasion; this malevolent intruder. I initially withdrew from friends and family, wanting to hide my fears and insecurity; consequently I experienced isolated misery needlessly.


I chose hiking as my solitary “get away”.  I’ve never been a “physical type/athletic person” so this was quite the new challenge for me.  I seem to be drawn to challenges apparently. As I struggled physically during my initial hikes, I began to recognize the relationship between the fight to climb the higher elevations with my fight to rid my body of the cancer.  I needed to integrate skills to assist me in changing my body into a more efficient machine (which also allowed me to enjoy my time more fully).  As I strengthened and set myself into motion, my mental outlook changed dramatically. By taking risks and seeking limited solitude, as I conquered mountains, valleys, the blunders, falls, and fears, I began to realize that I could conquer this threat to my life as well.

I was strengthening externally and internally. During silent times at a picturesque vista, or as I struggled for strength and arthritic joint mobility and range of motion while scrambling over steep rocks, I appreciated the Lord, the completeness of Him and recognized my absolute, desperate need for Him.

My eyes were opened to the fact that due to my unyielding independence, I was not dependent upon the One Who could ultimately help me. Once I grasped the importance of changing this void, and prayed for help with the second, separate cancer diagnosis, He did indeed help me! We climbed that slippery slope together; I came out victorious, He got the glory. What a terrific blend.

Microsoft Stock PhotoThe wilderness helped expose my frailties. When I fell off the side of the mountain, or when I inadvertently stood on a coiled (and positively angry) potentially lethal rattle snake, all the skill sets in the world couldn’t ultimately save me.  But crying out to God did save me, and most dramatically. Whether I was battling cancer, a psycho snake, or a raging black bear, it still boiled down to a need for something or rather Someone with greater power and ability beyond the natural realm. My trust needed to be in, and remains in Him. He doesn’t want us to fight our battles alone. The techniques of surgery or drugs could not fight my cancer battle to completion.  A faith-infused prayer did and through Him, I more than survived. I found new meaning and purpose in living and expanded my relationship with God to a vital, living and loving one; so much more real. No matter how much training one can have, (including medical training) it all boils down to dependence upon God.

I enjoy this quote, what you think about it?

“We need wilderness because we are wild animals. Every man needs a place where he can go to go crazy in peace. Every Boy Scout troop deserves a forest to get lost, miserable, and starving in. Even the maddest murderer of the sweetest wife should get a chance for a run to the sanctuary of the hills. If only for the sport of it. For the terror,                                    freedom, and delirium…” – Edward Abbey, from The Journey Home

Ancient petroglyph, Marybeth Haydon

Ancient petroglyph, Marybeth Haydon

AS I EXPANDED MY HIKING HORIZONS, the word “challenge” developed an entirely new dimension for me. I wish I had learned the importance of facing challenges fully head-on earlier in life, my response generally was to just get through it, get it over with for Pete’s sake. Challenges can develop strong, resilient character if we allow it. Looking beyond the immediate threat or difficulty, can make life more meaningful, more complete. Rather than wallowing in  self-pity (which does have its uses, just not prolonged.) reach out, reach up, and discover what your tutorial is once you peel back the offensive layers, and determine to conquer. For me, stepping out into the forests and other trails, changed my rational, gave me balance, and formed a more acute imagination. Imagination, combined with hope and belief can either carry you through and beyond the challenge you face, or it can destroy you by imagining the worse. We each have that choice, its what we do with the life challenges, not to weigh its negative potential but rather imagine beyond it.

OUR NATION HAS DONE A FANTASTIC JOB OF SAFEGUARDING OUR PARKS AND    PRESERVES. We are so blessed to have the wilds and all that is naturally a part of them, available to us. While being a good steward of nature, I believe part of that requires enjoying the footpaths and vistas while “leaving no trace”.  Also while on trail, I learned to look UP time to time, and what a refreshing, new outlook on life itself developed. There are multiple, various terrains and hundreds of miles that I’ve covered in the last few years in the rough country.

Indian community kitchen by Marybeth Haydon

Indian community kitchen by Marybeth Haydon

I not only hiked, but experienced many trails and circumstances, some more vividly unforgettable than others, and each demonstrated a connection between the physical aspects with the spiritual similarities.

On my own, I doubt that I would have “connected the dots”, but a newly opened heart towards my Lord allowed me to hear His prompting, His gentle directing, His tutoring. Meanwhile, I am alert and eager to get back on trail, because He is training me while I’m in the wildernessYou know what? The fantastic thing is, what He does for me, He will also do similar for you, because He does not play favorites.

Forest, Marybeth Haydon

Sequoia Second Growth by Marybeth Haydon

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Cancer As Nothing More Than A New Trail.


Forest photo courtesy Google images.

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

Importantly, whether in the midst of a disease battle, or after the medical field has done all that they can possibly do for you, the bottom line is to get up and keep trying.


Hiking caused me to spread my wings, this was a completely different challenge for me; I was not a physical/athletic sort before taking on the tests of hiking.  Despite my other physical problems, perseverance, commitment, and focus were developed and forefront on my mind. Through each demanding, physical challenge in each of the wildernesses that I faced, one of the surprising benefits was finding acceptance in the person that I had become.  I’m living, not just existing. I have new goals and new purpose.

In my books I briefly describe several life threatening situations that I’ve been through.  I have been given so many “second chances”; I’m ashamed to say that it hadn’t been until this last one that I began to actually do something with it, rather than take it for granted. It’s an ongoing journey, an ongoing chance to love, share, give, accept, and to change. The unique opportunities, experiencing, encountering, hearing, smelling, documenting, collecting. Even during the threatening times, the terror, the confusion, the pain, the weak physical body, the cold; I’m alive to subsist, to endure it all. The good and the bad, the mistakes and the good undertakings, it’s what makes life, life.

Whether your “Survival Skills” are enduring chemo, wilderness exploring, stress management on the job, or just getting yourself up out of bed today to brave your individual battlefield, they are all excellent accomplishments. But until we broaden the parameters of those techniques with faith in God, they’re just techniques with limitations.

Beauty within the storm at sunset, by Marybeth Haydon

Beauty within the storm at sunset, by Marybeth Haydon

During and after 2 battles with cancer, my mindset needed to change dramatically.The cancer diagnosis was a gut-punch that caused me to take a staggering step back with strong introspection. That, and it’s a big world out there; it’s about time I take a good look at some of it. Even though I traveled quite a bit for my job as a contract manager, and was privileged to witness fabulous scenery in many of our states, I didn’t take the time to actually experience them.


I also felt I needed to take a good look at my past, so I began to document. To journal the fun, funny and infamous moments with my children and family, should I not defeat this intimidating disease. Without warning, once I opened that door to distant memories, nagging, accusing regret-memories came bursting through, nearly leveling me into a no-return depression. Why wasn’t I a better mother, I could have done this differently, I could have …


Urgently I needed to change my outlook and focus not only on health and healing but on the future, that I have a future.


It became necessary for me to experience the magnificence of the forests, to experience our native creatures, to experience my relationships at a new level and not only to experience the challenges oppressing and threatening me but to conquer and defeat them. Maybe subconsciously I was running away from my tenuous mortality, from my feelings of “mother-inadequacy” (Show me a mother who doesn’t feel like she could have done better!) but the end result was that I was physically active. I was also able to share many of my hikes with my sons; bonding at a novel level. Plus, for me, exercise at home or at a gym is flat-out boring.

Electrifying spring runoff by Marybeth Haydon

Electrifying spring runoff by Marybeth Haydon

Hiking was undeniably difficult in the beginning, but the more I explored and the more I experienced my treks, I was also getting into shape while I was clearing my mind of negativity, de-stressing and replacing it with life and appreciation. The Lord guided me through changing my mindset and I accepted. I had gone through the grieving phases of my probable death and now needed to get past the acceptance of death.


I literally stopped preparing for my death.


My mindset had to be beyond survival, I needed to be more than a conqueror; I was confronted to live-out my faith and believe the bible’s words. I’m now equipped, through His guidance, through His Son, to climb the mountains and journey the valleys that life throws at me. The more I exercise and utilize the skills and talents He has given me, and the practical skills learned in the wilderness leadership classes, the better I’m living my life for Him and changing my attitude.

Having had cancer is nearly insignificant to me now (other than the Lord’s interventions) and certainly isn’t a “prerequisite” of sorts for feet hitting the dirt trail. Rather, as someone summed it up for me:

Cancer is nothing more than a new trail.

I like that.


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