Thom Smith: How to avoid predators in the woods


Q: I am leery of hiking in the woods because of moose and coyotes. Do you have any advice?

-- ANN MARIE, Savoy

A: While I completely understand your feelings, neither species is in the habit of attacking hikers locally. And while we are at it, I suggest that you add the black bear to your list, and then make it a habit to begin walking or hiking with a partner, or in a small group. I have often found it more comfortable to share the joy of being out-of-doors enjoying nature.

Back when bears began to be common in our woods, a naturalist friend of mine living in Cummington suggested bringing a bell along or a small air horn used for primarily for boating. Other friends have suggested wearing bells. Bart Hendricks, the late curator of science at the Berkshire Museum, suggested bringing along a couple of sauce pans to bang together if approached by a bear.

Personally, I am far more wary of the black-legged tick (a.k.a. deer tick). It thrives in areas of good acorn mast, which feeds white-footed mice, a primary host for the tick. When a good mast year is followed by a poor one, there are far fewer mice to satisfy the ticks, so they search for other hosts, like us.

In the spring, the deer tick, small as a poppy seed, often latches on to a human host and, if infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, it infects its host with Lyme disease.

I have never encountered a moose while hiking locally. If I did, I would quietly back off a ways in the direction I came from or quietly wait for it to continue on its way.

The coyote (a well known local predator) and the black bear have never killed a person in Massachusetts. In the years since records have been kept, predatory bears rather than territorial bears defending their cubs are believed to be responsible for 13 deaths in the entire continental United States.

Only one death, that of a child, has ever been reported in the United States, and that one in California
in 1981.

Domestic dogs cause on average 18 deaths a year in the United States, while the number rises to about 54 for bees and their kin.

Keep in mind that you are at greater risk getting to a hiking place than after you get there, considering nearly 50 thousand transportation fatalities occur in this country each year

Stinging insects -- bees, wasps and ants primarily -- are the most deadly of wild animals. About 50 people die each year from allergic reaction to their stings.

For more information on how to avoid all problems with wild predators in our area, go to and visit their Living with Wildlife website.

Contact Thom Smith at


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