Preparing for Encounters on the Trail
By Maranda Stone
Just like people, the wildlife of the Appalachian Mountains become more active in the spring. Black bears, for instance, begin to venture out in search of berries and beehives. It’s also the time of year when rattlesnakes begin to slither out of their holes and warm themselves on sunny rocks and patches of the trail. Hikers should always take dangerous wildlife encounters into account when planning for a spring day trek.
Black bears in Southern Appalachia are generally docile and easily scared away by humans. However, a mother bear with cubs may become more aggressive in an attempt to protect her babies. Never approach a bear, and do not run. Making loud noises or carrying a bear bell are great ways to avoid confrontation. Bear spray can also help stun bears during an encounter.
Another animal to think about while hiking in spring is snakes. Snakes become more active during the spring and fall, which are also peak times for hiking. Southern Appalachia is home to a variety of different types of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, including the copperhead, cottonmouth, Eastern timber rattlesnake, rat snake, corn snake, and king snake. Here are important safety tips to remember when hiking in the peak of “snake sunning season”:
- Always be aware of your surroundings. This is always an important rule to remember when hiking, but it becomes especially imperative when considering snakes.
- Don’t wear sandals or open-toed shoes when hiking.
- Don’t wear ear-buds when hiking, which could potentially muffle the sound of a rattle or other approaching wildlife.
- Don’t touch, try to pick up, or throw objects at snakes. Snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them and will usually quickly slither away when approached. Provoking snakes to move is the cause of most snakebites.
- Never hike alone. Always bring a buddy!
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