If you have a love of hiking or being outdoors among nature, you’re bound to encounter wildlife on your adventures. And isn’t that the best part? I always love marveling at the wonders around me. Amid the different foliage, there’s inevitably a rustling of leaves and perhaps a glimpse of an animal.
Most animals are rather shy by nature though and they tend to turn tail and run when they see humans. But some animals give us cause for alarm, as well they should. For these animals do have the potential to harm or even kill us. The instances of these occurrences are rare but if you’re like me, you want to avoid being the textbook example on an episode of “When Animals Attack.”
Aside from bears, many hikers are concerned about coyotes. In those old cartoons, Wile E. Coyote wasn’t interested in bagging any humans though. He was after the roadrunner. While the coyotes you’re likely to see won’t be toting an arsenal of Acme products, they still have the potential to be dangerous.
In most cases, coyotes will avoid people. They look cute though, and if you didn’t know better, you might mistake it for a dog. And so, I must put my big disclaimer here: DO NOT go up to any coyotes!
There’s something else you should not do when you see a coyote. Don’t run! Much like dogs, if you run, they will think of you as prey and likely pursue you. And should there be a group of them, or you find yourself being circled, make a lot of noise. This tends to keep them away.
Again, I don’t want to scare you here. After all, there are only 2 recorded fatalities by way of coyote in North America. The sad fate of Taylor Mitchell, a young singer with a bright future ahead of her, sent park rangers across the continent into a frenzy to prevent it from becoming a more regular occurrence.
Granted, the coyotes in Nova-Scotia where the fatal attack took place are larger than those found in the western parts of North America. The former are larger, the result of interbreeding with wolves. Regardless of size though, coyotes are all very wily as the cartoon character’s name has always implied. While it was always with humor, for the hiker, camper, rock climber, or avid outdoors person, you should know that coyotes are experimental creatures. They will try things out and should those experiments bode well for the coyote, it passes that behavior on.
With each generation of coyotes, they are becoming craftier and craftier. It makes sense that if we’re going to be outdoors in their territory that we become just as crafty if not more so. If you want to stay safe from coyotes in your yard or in the wild, keep reading to know how to handle one or more of these cunning opportunists with fur.
What to do when you encounter a coyote
I know it can be intimidating to run into an animal that could potentially harm you or those you’re hiking with. But you can’t stick your head in the sand and hope you won’t see a coyote. There are reports of them in places like Florida now, so these guys are highly adaptive, and they aren’t going anywhere. Most of the time, you will see it and that will be the end of it. Here’s what you should do in every possible instance of encountering a coyote.
– Nothing if the coyote is simply passing by
You’re more likely to see coyotes while hiking if you’re out during their mating season which runs from January through March. In September and November when the young ones start to leave the pack, you’ll also see them.
Sometimes, they’ll be crossing a path. You may even see them in residential areas, especially if you abut an open space that has served as prime hunting grounds for coyotes. Wherever you are though, always keep a keen eye on pets and children you might have with you as coyotes are cunning in that way. You should also be sure any food you have isn’t attracting them.
Mostly, coyotes will dash on by and mind their own business. Your best protection is to always pay attention, so you won’t be caught off guard if they don’t keep going their own way.
– Start “hazing” if the coyotes do approach or linger in your yard
They might be opportunistic creatures, but coyotes are also timid. They’ll usually take off running when they see a person. Should they stick around or even move closer, you’ll need to engage in a bit of what’s called “hazing.” This simply means actions you can do to scare the coyote away. Interestingly in fraternities, this is something that is supposed to make people want to join, but humans are certainly an odd breed.
In any event, here’s what you should do:
- Be big and loud! Just like with bears you want to show dominance. Stand tall, raise your and wave them around, clap your hands, and shout with a loud an authoritative tone.
- If you’re at a campsite, take your pots and pans and bans the dickens out of them. You can also use an air horn (Amazon link), which I absolutely recommend for outdoor excursions simply because they can spook off bears too.
- Throw something small. Anything you have around you like sticks or stones, or even balls will work. You do NOT want to harm the coyotes or any animal, so do not take direct aim, but do throw it near enough to scare them.
- Make a ‘coyote shaker.’ This is a fun one to make with kids before a hike or campout. Take an empty soda can and fill it up with pebbles or pennies. Seal it up with duct tape and shake it along down the trail. It will likely scare everything away.
Be forewarned that hazing might not always work though. Any food attractants you have might prove too alluring for a hungry pack of coyotes. Remove them from your campsite or home area to keep the coyotes from coming back.
You should never try these hazing techniques though if you see a coyote with pups. If the coyote looks like it might be hurt or sick, you should report it to the proper authorities.
– Call animal control if the coyote didn’t respond to “hazing”
Ok, so let’s say you try ALL of the above but that coyote is giving you a look that says, “Puh-leaze you puny human. You’re boring me and I want to teach you a lesson by sinking my teeth into your flesh.” Do you:
- Flail your arms while crying, running, and screaming
That was a trick question. You don’t do any of those things. But if you’ve tried all my hazing techniques, you may still find a coyote that stands its ground and stares you down. It may even run a little bit of a distance and then stop. You should keep hazing until the coyote realizes you’re more trouble than you’re worth and backs off. If it’s a group, the lead coyote will give up and the others will follow his move.
Sometimes despite your best efforts, the coyote won’t give up. This isn’t too common, but mostly happens due to someone leaving food for the coyotes nearby. You should call animal control to let them know that there are coyotes that aren’t running off from a particular area despite being hazed.
– Use a noisemaker, squirt gun or pepper spray if the coyote approaches
But wait…say you’re out on a trail far from the real world and this happens. Should you stand there trying to haze the coyote while waiting for someone to answer your call from animal control? Of course not! That’s just silly!
Part of going out for hikes, campouts, and other secluded outdoor activities is being prepared and one must always prepare for wildlife encounters. Much of the time, you won’t see anything threatening. But if you do, you will be ready.
Carry any or all of the following:
- Coyote shaker
- Small squirt gun
- Air horn
- Pepper spray
If you have any pets or kids along with you, always keep them right there. Don’t let them run up the trail ahead of you or lag behind. These are the opportunities a coyote waits for. They might not try to attack you but a small dog or child is fair game for them.
When you encounter a coyote while you’re hiking with a small child, you should pick up your kid and start the hazing proceedings. But if the coyote won’t go away, you should very slowly back away while continuing the hazing process. If you can go inside somewhere, get in. Once you’re safe, be sure to report the behavior. Again, when coyotes are aggressive, it’s an indication they’re being fed and becoming less fearful of the presence of humans making them extremely dangerous.
How to avoid conflicts with coyotes
You might not be able to avoid seeing a coyote while hiking or outdoors. But you most certainly can do all you can to avoid a conflict with one or more of them. Keep reading and I’ll tell you how to keep the peace between our species.
– Don’t feed coyotes
Why are people seeing more coyotes now than ever? Part of it has to do with the fact that our population has grown. The other part is due to the growth of the coyote population. And of course, we’re all seeing more of each other because we’re accidentally making it easier for them to eat.
There are residential neighborhoods that are lined with woods and trails. In these areas, many people report coyote sightings. Unfortunately, many of those same people are inadvertently getting the coyotes to stay which is very dangerous since coyotes start losing their fear of us. When they do, they target us, our pets, and our kids.
Baiting them in yards or parks is a bad move. It only encourages them to come. If you spot something like that near your home or near the entrance to the woods where you go hiking, call animal control to report it for everyone’s safety. Even without deliberate food set out for the coyotes, they’re masters at perusing our garbage or what we leave out for our outdoor pets to eat like cat food bowls or even bird feeders. Unlike raccoons though, coyotes will go on the prowl for us.
If you live in one of these areas, take care to pick up any fruit that falls from your trees, feed your pets inside, secure your garbage, cover your compost pile, and clean your BBQ grill. Take down your bird feeder too. It’s not that coyotes love birdseed, but the squirrels do, and coyotes will certainly make a meal out of squirrels.
– Don’t run away from coyotes
Perhaps you know if you’re hiking and you happen upon a coyote, you shouldn’t run. But what do you do if you were running or jogging in the first place? Maybe you were getting ready for a big hike coming up next weekend and decided to take a new route. On your way, you see a coyote.
If this happens, stop. Then slowly leave the area going back in the direction that you came from. Don’t act like a victim if you can help it, but rather, show your force in the form of shouting or throwing a rock near the coyote (but not at it). Usually this will be all it takes to make it leave. Sometimes though, it might seem like it’s defending an area. When the pups are newly-minted around May, it’s a very high possibility. Your best bet is choosing a different route to avoid a conflict.
This doesn’t mean the coyote has lost the fear of humans, but is instead doing what it is instinctively designed to do which is protect its young. Again, I fully encourage every man and woman that jogs, runs, hikes, camps, or spends any time in nature to always take a noisemaker and pepper spray with you. That way if something should happen, you’ll be prepared.
– Mutual respect is key
I have to say this because animals are very dear to my heart. Some of them can hurt us, yes, but we are going into their homes. We need to leave things better than how we found them. Keeping our respect for the land and the animals in it is something every outdoors person must do.
Most of the time, if you do see a coyote, it is going to avoid you and your pets and kids. As such, please don’t do anything to bother a coyote (or any animal for that matter) that is minding its own business. If you see a coyote and it keeps going away from you naturally, there is no need to scare it off with hazing.
For coyotes that are not antagonizing you, don’t try to touch them, feed them, or get up close to them to take photos. Should you want to take a photo, make sure the coyote isn’t threatening you and that you’re far enough away to take it safely. Sometimes your appearance from around the bend might startle the coyote. If it doesn’t feel cornered and has a place to escape, it will likely do so. If not, you can engage in being bigger and noisier than it. Should the worst scenario occur, which would be the animal attacking you, a friend, pet, or child, fight with all the rage you’ve got.
– Leash your dog when hiking
It’s a dumb idea to let your pets run loose if coyotes are nearby. Even if your yard is fenced in, you shouldn’t leave your pets out there without supervision. An electric fence can keep your dog inside but it won’t keep other animals from coming into your yard. On trails and at parks, be mindful of your dog by keeping him on a leash. Without one, your dog becomes a prime target for coyotes.
Cats can also cause problems too. If you have cats that live outside or feral cat colonies, or someone in your neighborhood does, coyotes may be more prone to visiting. For those that can’t keep the cats indoors, get the food inside so that coyotes are no longer attracted to the area.
– Opt for repellents or fencing in your yard
There are some things that could repel coyotes from your yard. Motion-sensing lights or noise-making devices may be helpful in keeping them away. And while you shouldn’t fully rely on a fence to keep your dog safe alone in the yard, if you build a fence that’s over 6 feet in height with a roll bar, it may deter them.
– Always report coyotes when noticing aggressive behavior
Should you see a coyote that isn’t afraid of people or behaves in an aggressive way, you’ll need to report it right away. The sooner you call animal control, the sooner you can protect yourself and others using the trails and living in your area from a potential attack. Animal control personnel are trained to handle animals like this and can find an agreeable solution that keeps people and animals safe.
An aggressive coyote will act like a dog by barking without being provoked, snarling, growling, and finally, lunging. A coyote that stares at you isn’t aggressive but if it doesn’t move off on its own or starts moving toward you, you should begin your hazing dance.
How frequent are coyote attacks on humans?
Thankfully, it’s not very common that coyotes attack people. Like any animal attack, you’ll hear about it all over the news simply because of the fact that it’s uncommon. Among the attacks, they rarely result in serious injury because coyotes are small in size.
California though is experiencing more frequent attacks. Data from the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife reveals that there were 41 attacks between 1988 and 1997 and 48 verified attacks between 1998 to 2003, most near the suburban-wildland area of Southern California.
Now that coyotes in this area are losing their fear of people along with humans feeding them, there are more reports of them chasing those out for a jog or while riding a bike. Even more troublesome, they seem to be confronting dog walkers and stalking toddlers and small children. Research suggests that this might not be the work of full-blooded coyotes, but rather, hybrid species called coywolves. Call them what you want, but I call it a problem when we can’t all coexist.
None of this is presented to scare you from ever going outdoors again. You’ve got a better chance of being killed by a rogue golf ball on the golf course, or even when you pop by to mingle at the country club than you do of being bitten by a coyote. Even a champagne cork is statistically more likely to kill you than a coyote.
What can prevent coyote attacks? Our own vigilance. Modifying our behaviors and doing what we can to prevent coyotes from taking up residence in our yards and neighborhoods. Of the attacks on record, most were because someone was feeding the coyote that attacked. Other times, it was a matter of trying to rescue a pet from a coyote attack. It’s less common for people to be bitten by cornered coyotes. Rabid bites can happen, though that’s even less common.
While the 2 deaths caused by coyotes in North America are sad, they are also rare. But the serious response from rangers in the US and Canada has made it a mission to educate people on coyotes and how to keep them away from us and in nature where they belong, minding their own business.
Most coyotes do mind their own business though and it’s up to us to make sure it stays that way. If you’re still worried about being bit by one while hiking, do consider the following:
- There are approximately 4.6 million dog bites per year in the US
- Fatal attacks from dogs on humans are at 25 per year
- For coyotes biting people per year in the US, 8 people get bit
- Fatal attacks from coyotes on humans have a likelihood of 0.06 in occurring
Basically, you are 500,000 times more likely to get bit by a dog than a coyote!
If you live in Los Angeles, you might have a greater chance of encountering coyotes. There are more reports about cats and small dogs under 20lbs going missing but without hard evidence, it could be coyotes or it could mean that Fluffy met her fate with a speeding bus.
But Floridians have also spotted coyotes and they’re popping up around the country too. So what do we make of this invasion? Nothing, except that we should be careful when living our lives not to leave anything that would attract them. Like most wild animals, when you don’t interfere, either by accident (like leaving out food dishes for your outdoor cats) or on purpose (actively throwing food to wild animals), they will leave you alone.
Generally speaking, coyotes in the wild are going to go the other way when they see you. After the pups have been born, they may follow you a bit to make sure you leave their territory. You should never go outdoors without some kind of deterrent which would work on any predatory animal. It’s just good safety.
A coyote shows signs of aggression much like a dog does. Watch out for their signs and leave nature alone as it desires, and you will likely have nothing to worry about.