Fred Bear’s 10 Commandments of hunting state as the first principle:

  1. Don't step on anything you can step over

What does he mean with this statement? I don't really get what's the problem with "stepping on something".

  • 3
    This is opposite of what I was taught as a young kid. Of course where I was there were lots of snakes and most of them could kill you. Stepping over a log meant putting your foot somewhere you couldn't see and potentially startling a snake since they often rest next to/under logs. Startling a snake by stepping on top of the log it was under is much less likely to result in a bite.
    – Joel
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 22:01
  • 3
    @Joel Please, don't misunderstand this question. This is a "hunting" commandment and not meant to be generalized.
    – OddDeer
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 6:21
  • 1
    I generally step over but I take the time to investigate, even to probe the other side with my walking stick. I do not want to injure myself stepping on something and then loosing my footing. Fallen trees are the worst...I take my time going over them.
    – bobbym
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 16:55

6 Answers 6


Firstly, safety.

Stepping or leaning on a rotten log is not fun if you end up going through it (Dynadin did it when Geocaching and ended up with a large number of scratches down one arm, and it could have been worse!) - there could be a big hole underneath you can't see.

Also logs which are wet or covered in moss or mildew can be slippery, which may cause you to fall. This also prevents damage to the ecosystem (lots of animals make homes in rotten logs).

Secondly, noise.

Breaking through bracken or sticks etc when you can step over them could cause your prey when hunting to flee, if you can prevent this by simply stepping over said stick, log, etc, then you may as well do so and save yourself some aggravation.

  • 11
    Also - the branch you are about to step on may actually be a snake...
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 10:38
  • 2
    @ChrisH True, but you can make noise without it being hazardous to your health too, hence the split.
    – Aravona
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 12:22
  • 21
    @ChrisH: build Rory's comment into the combination too. Step on a slippery snake, fall, make lots of noise, get bitten in the face, make lots more noise. Basically your day is ruined. Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 14:19
  • 4
    its been my experience that stepping on one end of a large branch often results in the other end swinging up and hitting you Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 4:07
  • 3
    Joel - you misunderstood what I wrote. I suggested not stepping on snakes!
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 6:52

This statement is one of those pieces of wisdom that sounds profound, but isn't.

Following this advice can lead you into trouble as easily as it can help you avoid trouble. The other answers have illustrated the latter. However, before you step over something, you better know what is on the other side. Stepping on a flattish rock is better than stepping over it into a mud puddle or onto a clump of flowers or that snake.

  • 4
    Yep; in drier regions with snakes the common rule is the opposite: step on things rather than over. It follows from the even more basic "don't put your appendages places you can't see."
    – requiem
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 23:58
  • 5
    Yes that is why this phrase is usually in two parts; "Don't step on something if you can step over it, and don't step over it if you can step around it" Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 4:05
  • 7
    If you don't know what's on the other side of the object, how can you know if you can step over the object in the first place? And if you can see some obstacle on the other side (a puddle, flowers, snake) that's worse than what you were about to step on, then you can answer "I can't" to "if you can step over it", then you're clear to step on the first object. Clearly you have to step on something, but the adage is just to remind you to be conscious what you're stepping on and chose an alternative if needed.
    – Johnny
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 4:50
  • Doesn't stepping over something onto something else still count as stepping onto something? Just sounds like a wash.
    – djechlin
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 13:53
  • @djechlin Good point. That's another reason the saying is not profound.
    – ab2
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 17:46

I have always heard this in a hiking context, where it is fatigue and safety related. There is also a 'second verse' in the version I was taught: dont step on something you can step around.

It is basic common sense, but combined into a mantra since after a day (or multiple) on the trail with a pack, fatigue does set in. Its easy to justify in your mind the short cut to step on the rock instead of stepping over because its a small rock, or over instead of around the fallen tree to save 4-5 steps. Too often these sorts of short cuts lead to injury or worse, and they usually occur when tired, or in a rush.


It means to be mindful of what you do, how and where you move, what you do to your environment and so on. Aside the topics mentioned by @Aravona (security, noise), it may mean to avoid unintended killing of small animals or plants, or to generally avoid leaving any marks in nature, or actually wherever you move.

Sound advice not only for hunting, I'd suggest.


The canonical reason for this (in a hiking context, where noise is not an issue but fatigue can be) is that it saves effort.

Think about the physics -- when you step up on to a log, you are doing some work to lift your body and gear up there. Unless you then jump off the log (which could be dangerous), you are also doing some work to slowly lower yourself to the ground level.

Alternatively, when you step over the obstacle and put your foot back down on the other side at the same level, you aren't really expending any more effort than normal walking. (setting aside that you may have to lift your foot a little higher so you don't trip!)

I have heard this explaination multiple times from various weathered hikers, but the first was probably something to do with Cub Scouts -- I was able to locate a reference in the Scout handbook, and find it highly likely that this is the reasoning behind Mr. Bear's (good) advice; possibly also the source.

Boy Scouts Handbook by Boy Scouts of America, 1911 edition, pg. 145, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/29558/pg29558.txt:

"Third, observe these two rules given by an old woodsman: (1) Never walk over anything you can walk around; (2) never step on anything that you can step over. Every time you step on anything you lift the weight of your body. Why lift extra weight when tramping?"

  • Why is this canonical instead of just any other reason?
    – djechlin
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 13:54
  • 1
    It's a really common piece of "hiker lore" IME. Some of the other answers make valid points, but are still not good answers because the question is "What does Fred Bear mean by this statement". Edited mine to add a reference from the 1911 "Boy Scout Handbook"; I think that is pretty canonical?
    – jkf
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 19:33

Equal expressions would be "Leave no trace." and the sentiment of "pack it in, pack it out." Do not be needlessly invasive on the environment. If the place is pristine when you get there, it should be when you leave.

  • 2
    I think you have the wrong idea. This is more about hunting and how to move silently, etc.
    – user2766
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 12:25
  • 1
    @Liam, I grew up in a Archery and Conservation club dedicated to both Izaak Walton and Fred Bear. My views may be tainted from that, but we learned than Mr. Bear used that rule both for his rules of conservation and rules for a successful hunt. The two meanings may well be closer to equal than I stated, and his hunting aspects might be better known, but at least in my circles he also professed the views in conservation. I fully respect both aspects of the statement though.
    – dlb
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 13:08
  • 2
    What clueless people would give negatives to this answer? It's a perfectly valid point for an "outdoor" forum. Not everyone's life revolves around packing a revolver when stepping out of their air conditioned hummer. Some actually know the meaning of respect for everything at a deeper more embedded level and live it. And to the best of you hunters, note that a lion (who can obviously hunt) would never step on anything that it could step over or go around. So cut the new person in the forums some slack and take out your distorted hatefully political turbid thinking process on a punching bag.
    – LMSingh
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 3:37

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