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I live in Colorado and love hiking alone, it's quiet and peaceful. I want to be more 'free' to hike in early morning or late evening when it's dark or backpack in remote places, but at this point I still get a bit nervous about dangerous wildlife (bears and mountain lions). I don't want to lose a healthy fear of these animals but I also want to find that 'freedom' to hike in remote areas and in the dark.

How can I gain a confidence to hike in these ways with a healthy, and not preventative, fear of dangerous wildlife?

  • What kind of equipment do you currently take with you when hiking, such as light sources etc? Might be helpful for others when they answer. – Aravona Jan 13 at 15:38
  • I currently carry bear spray, a flashlight, a pocket knife, and a personal locator beacon (PLB). I'm not really looking for tips on what to do if I encounter wildlife, but more psychologically how can I gain confidence over my anxiety of dangerous wildlife encounters? – binarylegit Jan 14 at 2:30
  • One idea I had was to research animal behavior to know how to avoid a dangerous encounter (like don't step over a rock in rattlesnake country without looking or poking a stick on the other side). But I'm not really sure where to find this type of information. – binarylegit Jan 14 at 2:55
  • Sometimes confidence comes just from experience - but also if you feel safe with the gear you have and the knowledge of how to use it that can give you confience as well. – Aravona Jan 14 at 8:56
  • How likely are statistics to help you? I could make some interesting graphics and prove out that you're around 5 times more likely to win the Powerball jackpot as you are to be killed by an animal in the US. That's more than a little bit of work though, so if you don't feel like that will help you psychologically, I won't bother. :) – AHamilton Jan 14 at 15:59
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A lot of it is just by doing it.

Both species are quite low density, and the number of wild animal deaths/injuries are very small. Regions that are dangerous for bears are those where they are very familiar with human presence and associate it with snacks, and very remote areas where they haven't seen humans at all, and have no fear of them.

Wolves are very shy of people. I've seen one once at a distance in the arctic tundra, and tracks are fairly common in Willmore Wilderness.

Wolf track willmore wilderness

Bear tracks too: front foot bear track, grizzly, I think

On the coast here, almost all of the animal injuries are racoons. I think second place goes to rats.

I ran into a trapper. We got to talking. The boys with me asked if he'd ever been attacked. "No, neve... Wait: Once I had a muskrat come up to me and try to bite my ankle."

My only attack has been a muskrat. I've almost stepped on a beaver once. They are FAST.

I don't hike at twilight in the wild. My eyes are night eyes, so I'm running a sense short. Too easy to startle someone. And usually I've had a long day. I generally stop about 2 hours before dark, set up camp.

I don't regard predators nearly as serious a threat as large herbavores. Male moose aren't sane when in rut. Mule deer aren't much better, but they aren't as big.

I have dogsledded into the night on several occasions. Mushing under moonlight is magic, but requires a good trail (snowmobile trails are ideal) But winter the bears are asleep.

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If you're already hiking, I am not sure you'd gain by losing a certain degree of caution. I am not super comfortable hiking by myself around twilight in BC, due to cougars. I do it, if I have to, but am a bit anxious while doing it. People who have lived here all their life here worry, even though actual deaths or even attacks (we get 1-2 a year) with 4M people are rare. A certain amount of fear is healthy, as long as you a) keep it in perspective, which includes a certain detached appreciation/enjoyment for being in a context of risk from wildlife and b) use that edgy feeling to remain safe and aware.

Take bears. You worry about them. Great, now you probably know that approaching a mountain stream from downwind puts you at risk because they can't hear or smell you. So, use your fear to remind you to be cautious when put in that context. That's better than someone obliviously coming into the same situation, even though the statistics say an attack is extremely unlikely. Ditto for keeping you on your toes wrt food-vs-bear habits while camping.

You already carry good equipment and you've probably researched cougar and bear habits. That's a good start. Personally, wrt cougars, I'd upgrade from a pocket knife to something more substantial, a good quality narrow-bladed knife, something that will slip through the ribs (ask a specialty store). In several of the past attacks here from cougars, people have driven them off or killed them using knives. Cougars are at great risk of dying from starvation if they get injured so will often not press an attack if you fight back, unlike bears.

In general though, mountain hikers are a lot more likely to get hurt from environmental problems - getting lost, falls, rockfalls, exposure - so don't let your concerns about wildlife crowd out awareness of more realistic risks.

And, as Sherwood eloquently puts it, just do it and it will get better from familiarity.

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I'm going to go out on a limb and give a sort of non-TGO answer because it seems like you already know the answer and this is more psychological.

So, my attempt is humor.

If we look at the data (unfortunately death statistics in the US is now considered private, so I'm using pretty old data, which can be found here. https://www.wemjournal.org/article/S1080-6032(97)70944-X/pdf

Also, my methodology here is going to be terrible, because I'm focusing on humor over actual context (but all claims are technically valid).

First and foremost, buy a lottery ticket right before you go hiking and carry it with you. Your odds of dying to an animal attack are roughly 0.65 in 1 million. Your odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are roughly 0.33 in 1 million. If you combine the two the odds are so low that this is literally never happened so you're probably perfectly safe. Alanis Morissette posits that it's at least possible to win the lottery and then die the next day, so if you're really worried about it and decide to use this technique you might want to limit your hiking trips to single day excursions.

Second, you might want to see a doctor and find out if you have an allergy to bee stings. About 28% of the already exceptionally rare deaths from animal attacks are bees/wasps, making them the most deadly killer of humans we know. They have a great PR firm though after that whole honey incident back in 2007 (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0389790/) so people don't really know and aren't crippled by fear of these deadly predators. Bees man, they're EVERYWHERE!

Another 24% of animal related attacks from above are marine animals, and while I don't have a breakdown of the statistics for that, unless you're killed like this man (http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-07/04/c_138199406.htm) who swallowed a live tilapia and choked on it, I think we can safely exclude this category from your hiking-related statistics.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention to take the ACTUAL advice on dealing with bears, cougars, and snakes, in particular (but don't forget centipedes and scorpions if you want to be extra cautious) because that's really your best bet if you DO happen across wildlife. I recommend this option over my next one because it's also better for the wildlife, which, if I'm being perfectly honest, I care about as much as I do you (no offense).

Lastly, if you don't want to learn anything about how to be safe while hiking, keep a journal. Now, I only have one data point to extrapolate from, but if you go blindly wandering around into the wild with no preparation, knowledge, or experience but you keep a journal and die, a movie is made about it and at least your legacy will be overly romanticized and win tons of awards.

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