Recreating in the West shouldn’t be unsafe or deadly. But almost every year, headlines announce a goring by a bison, a mauling by a grizzly bear, a car trapped in a flooded stream or a hiker injured or lost.
Those stories are scary, but often preventable. Don’t let the fear of a bear attack or an unplanned night in the woods keep you from trying something new. Just be smart about it.
The Star-Tribune compiled an easy guide on staying safe in Wyoming’s backcountry from how to behave around wildlife to what you should keep in your vehicle. And remember, stay calm – the worst decisions are made during panic.
Give wild animals their space
Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks have a really easy rule to follow around wildlife in the park – always stay at least 100 yards away. That means don’t try to sneak up on that bear to get a better picture. Don’t try to touch an elk calf. And whatever you do, don’t attempt to hug a bison.
When fed and habituated to humans, even animals as skittish and small as foxes can become unpredictable.
Staying safe while recreating in bear country requires a few more rules. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has broken down the basic ones:
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Make noise: Talk, sing or call out to alert a bear of your presence, especially when you’re in thick trees or bushes.
- Travel in a group: Groups of people tend to make more noise than a solo traveler and look more formidable.
- Avoid recreating at dusk and dawn when bears are most active.
- Recognize signs of bear food: A bear’s diet varies and can include carcasses, deer or elk calves, roots, insects, wild fruits, berries, nuts and a variety of plants. Stay alert for signs of food like berries, bad smells or scavengers overhead.
- Recognize bear signs: Watch for bear scat, tracks, and other sign such as rolled rocks or torn logs and diggings.
- Carry bear spray.
- Store all food inside vehicles, hard-sided campers, horse trailers, bear canisters or bear boxes. Never store attractants in your tent.
- In the backcountry, hang food at least 10 feet from the ground and four feet away from the tree trunk.
- Sleep at least 100 yards from food storage and the eating/cooking area.
Prepare for the worst
When going for a long hike or backpacking trip, even in the summer, make sure you’re prepared.
- Always tell someone responsible where you’re going and when you plan to return – even for day hikes.
- Bring a basic first aid kit and know how to use its contents.
- Bring plenty of water and, ideally, a water filtration system.
- Pack at least two ways to start a fire, but be aware of wildfire danger, particularly in the summer.
- Bring an emergency blanket. Even in July, snow storms can roll unexpectedly through Wyoming’s high country.
- Take along a map and compass or GPS and know how to use them.
- Check the weather and be aware of storms that may roll through, especially above tree line.
- Call local U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or Wyoming State Parks offices for more information about trail conditions.
Stay safe in your vehicle
- Travel with extra water, blankets and food.
- Always leave town with a full tank of fuel.
- Use your phone for directions if you want, but always have a map and cross reference both.
- If you’re lost, stay with your vehicle.
- Again, always tell someone responsible where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
- Never drive across flooded streams.
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