Now that the colors of spring are covering the hills and valleys and warmer weather is in the air, we thought it would be a good time to bring you another article on hiking safety tips. In this article, we want to talk about a few of the animals, that you may encounter while hiking the SWVA/NETN trails. When most people head out to hike or walk in the woods, animal emergencies are probably one of the last things on your mind. But its best to be prepared and not be caught off guard in the woods.
1. One of the most asked questions that we get is, “have you run into any bears while hiking?”. Well the answer is yes! This shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone as you are hiking in the bears home. Almost all the National Parks, State Parks and National Recreation Areas/Forest around us are home to the black bear. Bears in their natural habitat are wild and their behavior can be unpredictable. Its best to avoid bears any way possible. A couple good ways to help bears avoid you, is to wear a bear bell – a large bell similar to a cow bell – that will make noise and alert any bear that may be walking in the same area, and another is have conversation with your hiking group. Keep the noise level high so that any bear in the area can hear you talking. If you find yourself face to face with a bear on the trail, do not panic and run. It’s also a good idea to carry a loud whistle so that you can begin to blow it loudly and wave your arms in the air and make yourself appear loud and large to keep the bear from approaching you. In the rare event that the bear does attack you, stand your ground and fight back! Don’t run, it will chase you. Don’t climb a tree as they are excellent tree climbers. Make yourself big and loud and fight back with anything you can grab like rocks, sticks, tree limbs and try to focus any hits on the face around the eyes and the snout.
2. The second most asked question we get is, “do you see any snakes when you hike?”. Again, the answer is yes. A snake’s natural habitat is in the woods. In our area, there are 23 different types of snakes that you may encounter. Out of these 23, only 2 are poisonous and those are the Northern Copperhead and the Timber Rattlesnake. Of these two, the Timber Rattlesnake has the most toxic venom of the two and will give you a loud warning with its rattle if you get too close. The Timber Rattler can have a tan/yellow or a black/grey pattern and usually a V or W crossbar patterns on it back. It will have larger head and narrow neck and a distinctive rattle on the end of the tail that it shakes. The Copperhead, is more of brown and orange in color, almost the shade of dead leaves. It will also have a thick body and patterns on it. The pattern is normally comprised of wide, irregular bands that are darker than the background color of the snake. The copperhead, along with the rattler, have a heart shaped head. And if you can make out the eyes, you will see they have a slit pupil and not a round one. If you are bitten by either of these snakes, call 911 for help and don’t panic. Do not put a tourniquet or ice on the bite. If you have a pen or marker with you, circle the bite area so that medical professionals can determine any swelling. Do not try to extract the venom yourself. Keep the bite area below the heart and wait for help. If you have to hike back out, walk slowly so that you don’t cause the venom to circulate faster.
3. Another question that is often asked, “can you get bitten by a black widow or brown recluse while hiking?”. Well… yes! These two spiders are commonly found in every forest that is around you. The black widow, appears to be very shiny or glossy to the naked eye and hairless. It is dark black (sometimes dark brown/orange color) with a red or orange hourglass shape on the underside of the abdomen. The brown recluse ranges from a light yellowish to a dark reddish or chocolate brown color. It’s a medium size spider with the leg span roughly the size of a quarter or half dollar. The most distinguishing characteristic is the violin shaped marking on the top of the body directly above the legs. Both of these spiders like to live in dark areas such as under dead trees, piles of wood or stone fences. Be careful reaching under or in trees and rocks when hiking without wearing gloves. If you are bitten by either of these spiders, apply ice or something cold and seek medical attention.
These are some of the most dangerous animals to avoid and stay away from on your nature hikes. It is best to avoid any wildlife no matter how big or small as you never know how they may react to your presence. Even a small squirrel or bird can cause injury when frightened. So we hope these tips will help to keep you safe when enjoying this beautiful fall weather we are having. Maybe we will see you out there!