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Cross Training For Runners

How to Avoid Wild Animal Attacks While Trail Running

10 Mins read

Would you like to learn how to prevent animal attacks while running? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re an urban athlete or a trail junkie, you’re like to come across different creatures of the animal kingdom sooner or later.

Pursue running long enough; whether you’re a trail junkie or an urban athlete, an aggressive animal will likely cross your path sooner or later.

These unforeseen run-ins with wildlife during a run can be unnerving. However, most such encounters while running will be harmless.

But, to err on the side of caution, you should learn in advance what to do when you encounter an animal during a run (both for your and the animal’s safety). That’s where today’s post comes in handy.

Fearing Animal Attacks While Trail Running

One of the main fears preventing many runners from trail running is an animal encounter.

But here’s the truth.

Although the danger is real,  the fear of wildlife shouldn’t keep you away from the trails.  Trail running isn’t any more or less dangerous than road running – as long as you take the right precautions.

There are risks whenever you leave your home—and trail running is no exception.

The Bad News

How often have you read news articles about runners and outdoor ashless getting harmed or killed by rampant wildlife?

If this is news to you, check the following articles;

A woman gets attacked by a bear in the middle of a marathon

I can go on and on, but by now, you should have heard of plenty of horror stories. And the media is doing a great job at scaring us from venturing into the trails.

But it shouldn’t. Death is always around the corner. We drive cars. We cross the street. We meet strangers. We do many things that might invite Angel’s death to our doorsteps. Life is dangerous.

And so it trails running.

The fact is, we are exposed to several dangers every time we hit the trial.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but animal encounters are lower on the list. The main danger, in my experience, is serious injury from fallen goon technical terrain, roots, or, God forbid, rocks.

Of course, you also risk getting lost or exposed to extreme weather conditions on the trails.

How to Avoid Wild Animal Attacks While Trail Running

Here are some general tips to help you stay safe out there

Use Common Sense

Overall, wild animals tend to avoid humans but can attack if they feel in danger. You shouldn’t get out there to pick fights with animals – The odds are not in your favor.

Pay attention to your environment, the type of wildlife you’re likely to encounter, and the risk they pose. Avoidance is the best strategy.

Don’t Panic

I know I would panic if I were suddenly being stared down by an angry bear. But the golden rule of staying calm as possible is the way to go. Animals can sense fear, and losing one’s s$$t tells the animal you’re a likely victim. This, in turn, may goad an attack. And you don’t want that

Keep Distance

Stick to marked trails as often as possible during your trail runs. The safest thing to do when you run across an animal is to give it distance. You’re, after all, on their turf, so you better respect that fact. Most wildlife feels threatened when you invade their territory.

Animals mostly become aggressive once they feel distressed or threatened. However, animals will also attack if they’re wounded, starving, dehydrated, etc.

Be Prepared

Depending on where you’re going, being prepared may mean having defensive tools, such as pepper spray, a sharp knife, a club, or even a firearm. You can also use rocks or whatever you can lay your hands on to fend off an animal attack if things turn wrong.

Petting Is A Bad Idea

Avoid petting animals in the wild at all times. That cute baby bear trotting alone likely has a mother nearby who will attack if she thinks you are dangerous. Touching wildlife is out of the question. It’s neither safe for you nor for them.

Make Noise

An effective strategy to protect yourself from wildlife is to make noise and a lot of it. If not careful, you can easily frighten a wild animal, which might provoke an attack. So whenever you approach a dense route or sharp corner, make some noise, so the wildlife knows you’re nearby.

If you come across one, talk calmly to them so they know you’re a human and do not mistake you for dinner.

Be A Tracker

Watch for animal tracks and droppings as you run through the wilderness. These often indicate the presence of animals nearby. Therefore, stay alert and keep a safe distance.

You can also go the extra mile by learning to identify scat and tracks of various animals (link).

Partner Up

Whether you’re running through a dark alley or a secluded trail, there’s always strength in numbers. The more people with you, the less likely a predator will dare to approach and attack.

That’s why running with another person—or a group—will greatly reduce the risks of an imminent attack.

Avoid Animals

In the end, the best way to survive a dangerous wildlife encounter is to avoid it in the first place. Overall, most animals may go out of their way to avoid humans.

Believe it or not, we’re at the top of the food chain. And most animals are well aware of that fact.

That said, just like us, animals will fight tooth and nail for their survival and their cubs’ survival. So you’re better off not threatening either one.

How to Manage Wildlife While Running

Here’s a more personalized approach to dealing with various and common animal encounters during your runs.

Avoid Dog Attacks While Running

Run long enough, and you’ll eventually come across a dog.

Canine encounters are, after all, one of the most common animal encounters.

Usually, behind a fence or on a leash, dogs pose little to no threat, yet that’s not the case all too often.

Dogs can get territorial, defend their turf, and act aggressively.

And you never know how other people treat the dog.

That’s when an untrained, aggressive, and unsupervised dog attack can cause serious damage.

(Check this story)

Warning signs:

  • Charging through doors
  • Hindering your path
  • Stopping eating on the approach
  • Getting very still and ridge
  • Barking and showing teeth
  • Lunging forward

How To Approach Them

  • Avoid eye contact, or you’re asking them to lunge at you.
  • Stay calm. A dog will pick up on your fear.
  • Stop running and stand tall. Avoid many any jumpy movements that can trigger the canine chase instinct
  • Avoid sticking out an open hand or jumping up and down excitedly.
  • Stand sideways while keeping the dog in your side vision.

Avoid Wolf Attacks While Running

The image of coming face to face with a pack of hungry, wild wolves may send shivers down your spine, but attacks on humans are not the norm.

They’re so rare as this animal would rather avoid people at all times.

Behaviorally, wolves tend to be pack hunters covering huge uninhabited areas. That’s why if you spot one in the wild, chances they’re not alone.

What’s more?

Wolves are coursing predators; they love the chase and will pursue prey on the run.

Warning signs:

  • Bristling the pelt as if looking bigger and more threatening
  • Erect Ears
  • Crouching backward
  • Making a barren, irritated expression
  • Curling back the lips to show the fangs and gums

How To Approach

  • Make a lot of noise. Shout at the wolves as loud as possible.
  • Toss branches and rocks at the animal but without looking vulnerable.
  • Raise your jacket or shirt over your head to appear bigger and more threatening.
  • opt for a strong, confident body posture
  • Back away slowly if you see a wolf before it sees you.
  • Avoid eye contact, but don’t look scrawny. A wolf considers eye contact a challenge.
  • Do not run. You’re not fast enough.
  • When attacked, keep the wolf away from vulnerable spots such as your neck and head. Then attack their nose and eyes. Go for their head if you’re lucky enough.

Avoid Mountain Lions Attacks While Running

Also known as panthers or cougars and weighing between 120 to 180 pounds, mountain lions are infamously stealthy and, at times, lethal predators.

Typically, mountain lions prey on mammals, such as deer, raccoons, and beaver.

But occasionally, they develop a taste for humans.

About 10000 mountain lions are believed to dwell in the Western U.S. alone.

You’re likely to run into one either in the late spring or early summer.

During this period, young mountain lions gain independence from their mothers and drift widely, seeking untaken territory.

Warning Signs

  • Crouching
  • Stalking while trying to stay under the radar the entire time.
  • Creeping and moving silently toward the prey.
  • A mountain lion often goes for the neck and shoulders on the fence.

How to Approach

  • Always give the animal enough space to escape
  • Stand tall and make loud noises, raising your arms slowly and opening your jacket. Try banging rocks together.
  • Pick up a branch, wave it around, or toss it at the animal to show you have no fear. Act the part of a predator.
  • Do not run. Again, you’re not the fastest animal here.
  • Do not bend or crouch to pick up anything, nor turn your back.
  • If attacked, fight back and protect your neck and throat. Again, pepper spray will be so helpful in this case.
  • Again, pray, pray very hard.

Avoid Bears Attacks While Running

Bears tend to be omnivorous.

They prefer to munch on berries rather than human flesh, which doesn’t make them less threatening.

Most bear attacks result from the animal feeling threatened and then reacting in a manner that eliminates the threat.

Nothing personal.

The worst thing you can do is to startle them as you come running across the corner.

And God forbid, if you surprise a nursing mother, you’ll get attacked as she tries to defend her cubs if she thinks you’re a threat.

Mother bears are behind 70% of all fatal human injuries.

Solo males on the hunt are dangerous, too.

Warning Signs

  • Bear seems hostile, as in standing tall, groaning, etc.
  • Swatting the ground or nearby vegetation with the front paw
  • Lunging or feign-charging toward you
  • Ears getting flat against the head

How To Approach

  • Pay attention so you can spot a bear scrabbling around in the bushes before it sees you.
  • Be loud. Shout at the bear. Hopefully, it understands that you’re human, not prey.
  • Get the hell out of there if you spot any cubs. It’s not time to take pictures.
  • Avoid climbing trees. Most bears are better climbers than you.
  • Throw things at the bear, displaying confidence.
  • Keep bear spray on you so you can use it quickly if an aggressive bear is 30 to 40 feet away.
  • When attacked, drop on the ground and play dead. Protect your face with your forearms and the back of your neck with your hands.
  • Pray, and pray hard.

Avoid Deer Attacks While Running

Deer are timid by nature and make off the moment they spot a human.

They’re also rarely aggressive and one of the most common animal encounters for runners.

But a deer feeling threatened is another story; a deer attack can cause serious damage.

Avoid provoking this animal, especially during the fall—the mating season during which they’re most aggressive.

Warning Signs

  • Deer approaching you while making loud noises
  • Changing  the stance and ear posture
  • Avoid Stomping the feet while huffing

How To Approach

  • Avoid getting close to one, especially on foot. You don’t want to be kicked and fly.
  • Pay attention to your running route to avoid a collision.
  • Have situational awareness.
  • When attacked, climb a tree or hide behind a rock.

Avoid Snakes Attacks While Running

Snakes are another animal that poses little to no threat, as the majority tend to fall within the harmful variety.

Only a small minority of snakes are poisonous, so you shouldn’t treat them all as if they are.

For example, there are only 20 species of venomous snakes in the U.S.—the most dangerous one is the infamous rattlesnake.

If you encounter a snake with a triangular-shaped head—as opposed to a round one—your life might be in danger.

That’s a telltale sign of a poisonous serpent.

Like most other animals, snakes are only a danger when harassed or feel threatened.

Otherwise, they want nothing to do with you.

What’s more?

Most snakes are nocturnal creatures, spending most of the day sleeping or sunning themselves, and are most active throughout spring and early fall.

The Warning Signs

  • Hissing
  • trying to escape
  • Feign striking
  • Assuming an S position.
  • Withdrawal of the head or tail
  • Hiding the head
  • Watching you and stalking your movement.

How To Approach

  • Pay attention to where you’re placing your feet and hands, especially when running over a log or climbing over boulders.
  • Suppose you see a snake on a trail or road; back away slowly and far from the snake. Stop and sprint in the other direction if you have to. If you are confident enough to jump far, take a big leap.
  • Do not goad the snake in any way. But, again, this is not the time for selfies.
  • When attacked, stay calm and head to the emergency room ASAP. Call 911 if you suspect a poisonous attack. Keep in mind that sucking out venom only works in the movies. Sucking venom makes it spread quicker into your system. Lethal!

Avoid Moose Attacks While Running

This may surprise you, but moose are likely the most dangerous farmyard animals.

They’re huge and have a bad temper, so stay away from them for your safety.

Again, moose want nothing to do with you unless they feel endangered.

Bulls—the male moose—is super territorial, and females may see you as a threat to their calf.

Moose pose the most danger during the spring—the calving season—and fall—the rutting season.

Warning Signs

  • Broadside display in an attempt to show off size.
  • Animals move their ears, smacking their lips and raising the hair on their hump.
  • Yes, a pissing contest.
  • Pawing the ground with the forefoot.
  • Licking the lip

How To Approach

  • Keep your distance from moose.
  • Suppose it charges, sprint away. They often drop the chase after a few strides.
  • When attacked, climb a tree or head for the fence. It’s not the time to test your superpowers (not yet).

Avoid Animal Attacks While Trail Running – The Conclusion

Exploring the unknown while logging the miles is one of the greatest pleasures of being a runner.

All in all, keeping your eyes open is your best defense against animal attacks while running.

If you see one before it sees you, you’ll have enough time to scurry away and avoid an unpleasant experience.

Any experience running into wildlife?

Feel free to share along with your tips and tricks!

Here’s the full guide to running safety.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Stay safe out there.

Keep Running Strong.

David D.

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