When the wilderness gets wild…
If you spend enough time in the outdoors, sooner or later you’re likely to come across a critter you aren’t happy to meet. The good news is that your worries are probably unfounded when it comes to most of them. The bad news is that there’s one you’re probably not worried enough about.
There’s nothing quite like taking a big step over a small rockpile only to hear a buzzing rattle mid-stride to make your mind go empty even as your Jockeys get filled. Although nobody would fault you for having a Laundry Nightmare in that situation, most snakes aren’t willing to waste their limited supply of venom on an animal that’s much too large for them to eat (e.g., you). They absolutely will bite if they feel threatened enough, but even then many will elect to deliver a “dry bite,” which is basically exactly what it sounds like—a venomless warning to GTFO. There are exceptions, of course (water moccasins are infamous for actively pursuing boaters and fishers), but if you live in North America you can rejoice in the knowledge that most of our venomous snakes aren’t particularly aggressive and that their venom is highly unlikely to cause death as long as you receive prompt medical attention.
Although your underpants may not survive an encounter with a black widow, the good news is that you definitely will. Everything we talked about above applies doubly to North America’s very short list of very shy, retiring venomous spiders. Black widow spiders, with their ominous name and H.R. Giger aesthetic, are actually so non-aggressive that it’s hard to get them to bite (you pretty much have to pinch them). Brown recluse spiders are a bit more likely to bite, but that’s mostly because they sometimes mistake boots and bedding for good, out-of-the-way spots to set up shop. Give your shoes and sleeping bag a good shake before you insert yourself into them, and you should be copacetic.
Don’t get me wrong: Black bears are no joke, and ones that have become habituated to people can be dangerous. But for the most part, they’re perfectly happy to leave you alone as long as you extend them the same courtesy. I’ve driven black bears away from my deer blind by yelling “booga-booga” at them. Even a sow with cubs will generally back off as long as you move your happy ass out of her way. (Brown bears are another story, and subject to another column or ten.)
So that’s three critters to scratch off your “Oh Sh*t” list—what’s the one that you should add? Well, there’s one apex predator in the woods to avoid at all costs:
You know who I’m talking about. He’s maybe not a bad guy at heart—maybe he’s your buddy or your brother-in-law—but he’s kind of a doofus. That Guy uses his rifle like a walking stick sometimes. He likes to leave it leaning up against things like trees and tailgates while it’s cocked and loaded. All those beers That Guy had at lunch won’t get too lonely because he’s got a couple more in his daypack. That Guy is the guy that just might shoot you or someone else. It’ll be an accident—he’ll be really torn up about it—but it won’t be a surprise to you or anyone else who knows him.
The good news? Don’t be That Guy (and don’t hang out with That Guy), and you can enjoy your time in the woods knowing that this sport is safer than golf.
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