In our cities, we humans are the all-powerful masters of the planet. We aren’t just on top of the food chain; we own the food chain. No animal can scare us. But once we step into the wild, everything changes. We become just another vulnerable beast in the food chain again, and potentially another animal’s dinner. In the wild, often the only power we have is our knowledge. We can’t physically fight our way out of a grizzly, moose or alligator attack — but we can outsmart them. If you ever find yourself face to face with a vicious beast, follow these expert tips to survive another day as the smartest animal on the planet.
Seen from afar, the grizzly bear, much like a soaring bald eagle, conjures feelings of patriotic pride. Think they give a damn how pretty or graceful you find them? They don’t. All they care about is eating, sleeping and raising their cubs in peace. Stand in their way, and they’ll slash you into a pulp (for reference, see Leonardo DiCaprio getting mauled by a CGI grizzly in The Revenant). Female grizzlies can weigh up to 800 pounds, while the males get up to 1,700 (about four and a half Hafþór Júlíus Björnssons, the Icelandic monster who plays The Mountain in Game of Thrones). Their dinner-plate-sized paws wield five claws the size of chef’s knives. If you don’t want to become a grizzly’s mid-afternoon snack, follow these tips from Doug Peacock, an American naturalist, grizzly bear expert and author of Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness.
Pick your camping spot wisely. In the late spring, summer and early fall (or any time the weather is especially hot), grizzlies spend most of the daytime napping around cool areas with lots of foliage, like clumps of trees or boundaries between forest and meadow. Peacock says not to sleep in these areas. Find something away from the forest edge, and with plenty of surrounding thicket that’ll rattle to alert you when a grizzly is approaching your camp. If that fails, clear your throat, make a little bit of noise or clack on some rocks, and listen for movement.
Be calm; don’t move. Peacock has had close calls with thousands of grizzlies, and says most of those encounters occurred when he stepped within a few hundred feet of them. If the bear raises its head and makes eye contact with you, that’s when you know you’re in trouble — you’re about to get charged. Most people’s instinct would be to run, but Peacock says this reaction will likely get you killed. Instead, freeze up like a statue. “First of all, do nothing. Don’t blink an eye, don’t move. When you’re that close, a sudden movement or a loud scream or cry can and has precipitated grizzly bear attacks,” Peacock said. Don’t even look in the direction of the bear. Turn your head to the side and spread your arms out to make you look bigger. If the bear charges, every muscle in your body will tell you to run like hell. Resist that urge, and you’ll live to tell your friends one of the craziest goddamn stories ever.
Hit the deck. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: if the bear attacks, there’s not much you do besides lay there and take it. Peacock says to protect your head and neck, if you can. Don’t fight back. Don’t scream. The bear won’t stop attacking until it no longer perceives you as a threat (in other words, until it thinks you’re dead). Once the bear has stopped slashing, lie motionless until it’s far away and out of sight. If you move too soon, when the bear is still close, it’s liable to turn back around and make sure you stay down.
Found in the woodsy northernmost regions of North America and northern Europe, moose are most often encountered around freshwater and along snowmobile and hiking trails. It’s easy to pass them off as harmless giants, sort of like dopey Christmas reindeer that never stopped growing. But to make that assumption would be a potentially fatal mistake. A full-grown bull moose stands up to seven feet tall, weighs nearly 1,800 pounds, can run 30 mph in short bursts, wields six-foot-wide antlers and, should you step too close, will not hesitate to use those antlers to skewer you into a human kabob. If you ever find yourself in a stand-off with a moose, remember the tips provided below by Kristine Rines, wildlife biologist and Moose Project Leader of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
Keep your distance. It sounds like common sense, but Rines said that when it comes to moose encounters, common sense is a rare anomaly in the human brain. (Take this drunken dumbass, for instance.) “On a hiking trail or snowmobile trail, get out of the moose’s way,” Rines said. Don’t panic, scream or run. Calmly walk off the trail, get behind a tree and allow the moose to pass. The same goes for when you spot a moose on the road: “If you see them from your car, on the side of the road or on the road, slow down and drive slowly past,” Rines said. “These animals can kill wolves and bears in defense of their calves. People need to respect them and stay far away.”
Know the warning signs. One minute you’re strolling happily along a trail, the next minute you find yourself locked in a staring contest with an enormous moose. How do you know whether to fight or fly? “They don’t always give you a warning,” Rines said. “But if a moose lays its ears back, shows the whites of its eyes, raises the hair along its neck or tips its nose up at you, you are way too close.”
Ball up, or climb a tree. Plan A was to slowly back away with your hands in the air, muttering nervously “It’s OK big guy, I’m n-n-not gonna hurt you.” Turns out the moose didn’t give a shit, and now it’s charging you. You have two options now. Option 1: “Get behind the nearest tree, or better yet, climb it,” Rines said. Option 2: “If the moose has caught you and you’re on the ground getting stomped, roll up in a ball, try to protect your head with your arms, and pray.”
The dinosaurs were wiped off the face of the earth millions of years ago, but for some reason alligators had to stick around and scare the shit out of everyone. And we Americans are the ones who got stuck with these ugly beasts: they exist (in the wild) only in the southeastern United States. In states like Florida or Louisiana, they’re practically everywhere there’s water and humans. But they’re far from being domesticated: Just last month, at Disney World, an alligator snatched up a two-year-old boy and dragged him into a pond to his death.
A full-grown male alligator can grow up to 1,000 pounds, has anywhere from 50 to 80 razor-sharp teeth and wields one of the most powerful jaws in the animal kingdom. Most alligator encounters can be escaped by simply running away. But if you really are stuck in bad place, or if you’re just stupid, use these tips from Jay Young, general manager of the Colorado Gators Reptile Park, on how to wrestle an alligator. (It should go without saying that we do not encourage anyone to go wrestle an alligator. That would be ridiculous.)
Approach from behind. If you’re standing behind an alligator and being careful not to step onto either side of it, you’re safely in its blind spot. Young says that if it sees you coming, it could snap sideways (most of its muscles are designed exclusively for this purpose), and take a chunk out of you.
Jump on, and don’t think twice. When preparing to jump onto the alligator, Young says one of the most crucial things is to not hesitate. Lock onto the fat part of the gator’s tail, set up the jump, and when you’re presented with the perfect chance, make the lunge. Don’t think twice. If you make a half-lunge, that could give the gator a chance to attack. “You can’t do it really slow, you can’t get halfway there and think about it — alligator wrestling is not a thinking man’s sport,” Young said.
Grab the jaw, and don’t let go. Grabbing the jaw and jumping onto the gator’s neck should be combined into one smooth motion. So, before you even land on the gator, have your arms reached out and ready to latch onto its lower jaw. Be sure that no food or objects are near its mouth, as it may snap sideways and force you to jump off.
Lift it up. Once you have a solid hold of the gator’s jaw, you can further prevent it from breaking free by lifting the gator backwards off the ground. Young says that when gators are pulled off their “2D plane,” they become more passive. “Plant your feet in its armpits and pull up on the chest plate,” Young says. “Wrap your hands down around the shoulders and around the chest and pull up while all your weight is on the tail. Use your legs to lean backwards.”
Additional Illustration by Silvana Volio de la Fuente