Wyoming’s wildlands don’t need to be deadly if you go prepared and stay calm

Wyoming’s wildlands don’t need to be deadly if you go prepared and stay calm


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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