At our presentations, one of the questions we get asked the most is “Are there bears and snakes?”

Well, of course there are bears and snakes!

There are bears and snakes in your backyard. But a little common sense goes a long way:

+ Bears: This is bear country – black bears, not grizzlies. Now black bears are mostly shy creatures who will skedaddle when they encounter humans. Making a lot of noise while hiking is a good plan of action, so singing, clapping, talking, banging your hiking poles together are all smart moves when hiking in the woods.

When I’m out in the woods, I clear my throat VERY LOUDLY every 60 seconds or so. Consequently, I don’t see bears, I don’t see snakes, I don’t see birds, I don’t even see squirrels.

You should know that the topic of how to chase off a bear is becoming tangled up in controversy as so-called experts weigh in on the subject. (Hey, it’s the Internet age – everyone is a friggin’ expert.)

Shouting, clapping and yelling “NO” have previously been recommended practices if you encounter a bear. Making yourself appear larger by waving your poles overhead was also suggested in the past. Never turn and run away, the experts used to say, because backing away slowly is better.

And never, ever get between an adult bear and her cubs.

In our opinion, those are all still very good ideas. But you and I are not experts on the subject and apparently no one is an expert these days.

Bear mace in a can is widely available and “sound grenades” are coming to the market. Either one are highly recommended over firearms. (I carry both.)

But do your own research and come up with your own plan of action before you head out. Heavy emphasis on the “before you head out” part. (This one’s on you.)

+ Snakes: There are only three types that should concern you. Both Eastern timber rattlesnakes and the northern copperheads are around and venomous. However, both are shy and will move away as you approach, so you may never see them in the brush. Personally, I haven’t seen a snake in years – but I have friends who see them every time out – so maybe it’s just me.

Rattlesnakes will warn you by rattling – so if you hear a “buzzing” sound, stop, find the source and move away.

In my opinion, copperheads are far more dangerous because they have no such warning system and are camouflaged better – they blend in with the leaves – and their defense instinct is to freeze in place. If they stop in the middle of the trail, they could be more dangerous because you will never see them.

I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure they don’t like being stepped on.

Black rat snakes are also out here slithering around but are not considered venomous. However they are ugly as hell and will bite if cornered.

Hognose snakes, which look very much like copperheads or rattlers, are more common in this region.

The best advice is to just leave snakes alone – both for your safety and because rattlesnakes are a federally-protected species. Don’t throw rocks, don’t poke them with a stick, don’t be stupid, don’t show off for your friends. Just leave.

I once read that 95 percent of all snake bites involved alcohol and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the snake that was drunk.

Also, snakes are also a very good reason to keep Fido on a leash.

Just saying.

Volunteer Work on the AT!


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