From the swampy environments of Florida to the rolling hills of the Rocky Mountains, animal species have existed in every corner of the country. These species live by Darwinism, pure survival of the fittest. Some of these animals can be found responsible for attacking or even killing some outdoor enthusiasts each year. There are a lot of creatures out there, large and small, that can be dangerous, if not outright deadly. Today, I will be discussing 5 of the most common animal species in North America that are most frequently problematic for outdoor enthusiasts.
I will preface this list by saying that situations can vary based on your immediate surroundings when and if an encounter occurs. There are always safety measures to be taken and should be heavily considered if you are venturing into areas where these species are more frequent. It's not uncommon for a hiker in bear country to carry a firearm with them, but I would personally recommend deterrents over a gun. Your safety will always come first and if conflict is avoidable you should attempt to do so at all costs. Planning and preparation always come first, so if you know you'll be in an area with lots of predators carrying some forms of deterrent is likely a good idea.
While I will talk about methods to protect yourself against some of the animals on this list this is not a recommended option, and no enthusiast should ever seek direct contact with these animals. If you notice the animal first - leave. Do not instigate anything with any wild animals. The outdoors belongs to them, more so than it does us, and self defense should only be a consideration if you have absolutely no other option.
Black bears are very common in our New England region, and thankfully are very timid creatures. Black bears are smaller than brown bears and usually employ more of a scavenger type mentality. They often frequent areas near humans but tend to keep their distance and stay hidden. However, a starving black bear can certainly be aggressive, and will most definitely outrun you. With Black Bears, it's possible to scare them away by screaming and waving your arms in the air, appearing larger than them. Most black bears will be scared away by this, but in the event that it doesn't, playing dead may be your best option if a deterrent is not available to you.
Brown bears, or grizzlies, are extremely territorial and will become aggressive if you are close to their young. While they also avoid humans, they are significantly larger than a Black Bear, and will not be intimidated very easily. Clearly conveying your desire to leave its space is best, maintaining eye contact while backing away slowly. Do not look away, backing up until the bear is out of sight. In the case of a grizzly attack, without any defense options, your only choice will be to play dead and hope for the best.
Polar Bears are the final bear on the list, and are, despite their jovial portrayal in cartoons, the most vicious bears in all of North America. Frequently starved due to their decreasing ice masses, Polar Bears will charge a human for food without hesitation. There will be no convincing it otherwise, and only Bear Spray or a large caliber gun will save you against one of them. They are not looking to defend their young, they are simply looking at you as a meal, and should be avoided at all costs. Luckily these creatures stick to arctic regions, so encounters for most of us will be few, if any at all.
Generally shy around humans, Cougars are a large cat species that hunt their prey with a stalker mentality. It's actually not that uncommon for hikers in Cougar territory to look behind them and see a Cougar silently stalking them. These are predators of opportunity and will seize the moment to pounce if they are hungry enough. If you encounter one, do not run. Hold your ground, screaming and waving your arms, as you would against a black bear. The same idea is employed here, attempting to appear larger and more threatening. Throwing objects in the direction of the Cougar can help to dissuade an attack as well, as this shows you are more capable than it thinks, but do not throw objects at the Cougar, that will only make it angry. In most cases you will only notice these creatures when they want you to, unless you happen to stumble upon one in the middle of a feeding or nap. In those cases, back away slowly, maintaining eye contact, and choose a different path to continue your hike. Looking away and running will trigger its predator instincts, so in all situations maintaining eye contact is extremely important.
Alligators frequent swampy areas around the southern parts of the United States. These creatures are arguably the apex predator of all wildlife, virtually unchanged from the Cretaceous period except for shrinking in overall size, alongside their prey. While you can avoid the watery habitats they enjoy, avoid staying too close to the shorelines. Especially if you have small pets, stay far away, as Alligators can quickly emerge from underneath the water lines. They will not attack you on land for the most part, so it's all about avoiding a situation where an alligator might feel inclined to attack you. They are not above eating humans, so keep your eyes peeled in their territory. Thankfully they are not very fast on land, and most of us can outpace them with even a brisk walking pace, but they know this as well, and will usually attack only if the opportunity is presented to them. With an insanely strong bite, getting yourself free from these reptiles can be extremely difficult and should be avoided at all costs.
Venomous snakes are also a frequent predator you may encounter, with the Rattlesnake being the most iconic. The good thing about these predators is they don't like to attack humans. We are much larger than they are, and certainly too large for them to consider as a meal (for the most part). However, they do bite if threatened, and this would require you to seek immediate medical attention. Snake venom, depending on the dose and your own personal health, can lead to immediately life threatening situations. There are a handful of venom extraction kits out there, and if you're going to be in Snake territory, I would definitely recommend adding one to your kit. You can greatly reduce the severity of any venomous bites by extracting a majority of the toxins immediately after a bite.
If one is approaching you or your group, finding a stick or other object to maintain distance can help keep the snake at bay while you leave the area. If a bite occurs, you will have no other option than to remove the snake, which will need to be done by grabbing it right behind the head. Making it so the snake can't turn and bite you again is the goal, and this is not an easy thing to do, especially for people with minimal to no experience in handling snakes.
Not a predatory species, but the Moose is actually responsible for more attacks than Bears each year, so I felt that they had to be included on this list as another species that can be dangerous to humans. Why do Moose attack people more frequently than Bears? Well, simply put, we know bears are dangerous, but we do not apply the same thought to a Moose. However, a Moose is a massive creature, and unlike Deer, are not easily scared away by humans. They can be extremely territorial and have poor eyesight which allows them to be easily startled. Moose are not afraid of a fight and will use their size and antlers to dissuade, if not outright destroy, a potential threat. Because we don't perceive them as dangerous, more people try to approach a Moose than they would a Bear, leading to more injuries resulting from a Moose attack. That being said, if you encounter one in the wild, maintain your distance, and under no circumstances should you attempt to get close to it. You can do nothing to scare these stalwart creatures away, so aversion is the only tactic you can employ here.
Some of the creatures on this list can be scared away if encountered, but the number one thing to try and do is avoid an encounter in the first place. While the abilities to avoid an encounter will change on a variety of things, such as the location, time of year, and even daily weather will have an effect on a potential sighting. Again, defensive options should only be considered if there is absolutely no other option, and should never be the first priority for anyone seeking to venture into the wild. There is no one solution to how to deal with these situations, and what I have mentioned above should only be considered a potential guideline for what to do in case of an encounter. Be prepared, be safe, and keep your eyes and ears open!