By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
We are not “out of the woods” yet with the column on creatures you’re likely to meet and what to do about it while you’re wandering through the Ouachita wilds, but we have made it through biting bugs and venomous snakes to mammals.
You do not have to worry about the bunnies, of course; but the cute squirrels, ‘possums and raccoons can bite, and you know what happens when a skunk defends itself. I’ve washed sprayed pets with tomato juice, vinegar and other concoctions to try to get rid of the smell, but only time finally worked.
And keep in mind, skunks are notorious for rabies. Rabies is a real danger, and any small mammal can be a carrier. If the animal is acting strange, leave it alone!—unless it’s your kid. This is a good rule of thumb anyway, but I confess, I’ve hand-fed raccoons and ‘possums.
You might see a bear, if you’re lucky. I’ve always liked bears, from a distance, and regarding them, a Park Ranger had this advice: “Avoidance is always the best option where dangerous wildlife is concerned.
If you are hiking through bear country, make noise. This lets the animal know you’re there and they will likely leave the area. But if there’s a momma bear, or a bear guarding a carcass—that’s a different matter. They will protect their food and cubs, and can be aggressive.
NEVER approach a bear for a ‘better look’. If you meet a bear, don’t make any sudden moves and don’t turn your back on it. Talk firmly and back away.
If the bear’s making noise, that’s a good sign. It wants you to leave, so oblige it. But if it’s lingering, it’s good to have a noise maker, like an air-horn, firecrackers, or bang pots and pans if you have them. Fire a gun, if you have one, but do not shoot the bear!
Pistols and small-caliber rifles aren’t enough. You will only wound it, and the pain and fear will make him disembowel you. BUT: If a bear attacks—fight like heck* with all you’ve got!”
This fellow’s instruction did not come from his own experiences, but from others’. In over 25 years in a career in wildlife management, he followed the rules and never had an injurious encounter with animals—with humans, yes, but never with animals.
All the same, do not encourage bears to become opportunists. Do not leave food or trash where they can get to it and discourage them from interacting. It’s best for you, it’s best for the bears.
Coyotes. While I don’t exactly dislike coyotes, they are not my favorite animal. This is due to my upbringing, as I was raised in an era with the “Roadrunner vs. Wylie Coyote” cartoons providing the only information I had about them.
Now, in our enlightened haze of “political correctness”, I have resolved to not bother any coyotes who do not bother me and my concerns, and I encourage others to adopt this benevolent attitude of tolerance and goodwill. However, this goodwill doesn’t mean you won’t wet your pajamas when one howls a few yards from the tent door late on a summer’s night and his cousin answers a few feet away.
Unless you look like prey, though, they won’t bother you. Protect the livestock, pets and babies, and you won’t have to worry. In fact, it’s rather pleasant hearing them howling at each other far away, no doubt gossiping and talking about the neighbors.
And, yes, I’ve seen a mountain lion at Briar Circle. Not many people can say this, and the event is a treasured memory. The chances of seeing a mountain lion are fairly slim, and the chances of being attacked and eaten by one are slimmer.
In the unlikely event you find yourself in a face to face meeting, make yourself look like you’re more trouble than it’s worth to attack. No sudden moves, don’t lose eye-contact, and noise may scare the cat away.
Remember, avoidance is the best plan. Make noise while you walk or hike, and the mammals will be the ones most likely to do the avoiding.
The possibility of encountering alligators, giant catfish, cryptids and aliens are (almost) microscopic in our area of the world, but a few persons feel the miniscule chance warrants mention. We will see. Meanwhile—enjoy the outdoors!
(*The ranger did not really say, “heck,” but you probably knew that.)