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Deer. Owls. Skunks. Oh my! How to deal with wildlife encounters on the run

Deer. Owls. Skunks. Oh my! Dealing with wildlife on your runsIf you run in the early morning or after dusk, you’ll embrace the tranquility of empty streets and quiet until you here something crashing in the woods next to you or see the glow of eyes down the road in your headlamp. Wildlife encounters when you are running can be an “oh, cool!” event that can quickly change to “oh, crap!”

Here’s a list of some animals you might meet and how to handle it as well:

Deer. You think they are cute, but deer panic quite easily. Sometimes that means running away from you but if they are in the road and you are in the road and a car is coming … disaster looms. If you see a deer, stop and make some noise to make them run away from you. Another reason to stay away from deer? Ticks that carry Lyme disease. If you are a trail runner in parts of the country where deer and Lyme disease are present you should coat your legs with insect repellant and wear you socks high.

Owls: One of my favorite wildlife running encounters was when an owl watched me run by while perched on the top of a telephone pole at dusk and then flew alongside me at near shoulder level for a good quarter-mile. I thought it was awesome, but this story makes me think that maybe he or she was chasing me away. Best bet? Aggressive birds on your route means wear a hat, especially if you have long hair.

Skunks: Skunks are pretty fearless. They don’t run off. They kind of just waddle real fast. When running at night, wear a headlamp and regularly shine it toward the edges of the road where skunks look for food or are simply walking. If you see one, stop, turn around, and find a different route. Getting sprayed by a skunk is no war story to be proud of.

Fox: This is probably the most common wildlife I meet on early morning and night runs. They run in front of you or sometimes alongside of you. They are curious and very fast but usually not aggressive so long as you give them their space. 

Coyotes: During a night run I was once shadowed by a pack of coyotes. I never actually saw them. I could hear them running alongside me – maybe a hundred yards or so into the woods and they were howling. It was honestly a bit frightening but coyotes are like a fox – on their own and fast and curious but not aggressive. Of course you don’t want to come face-to-face with one so be loud! Coyotes are scared off by loud noises and bright lights. 

Raccoon: Sure they look cute, but raccoons should be given a wide path when running by them. If you see a raccoon and it is light out, it might be rabid – especially if it is stumbling and acting odd (like walking toward you). With raccoons, a good stomp on the ground will usually get them moving away from you. If they are rabid, this won’t work and you’ll have to turn around, quickly. Consider it an unintended speed workout.

Alligators, crocodiles, snakes, etc.: Alligators and crocodiles are only a threat to runners in a select few spots of the world. But where they are, look out. Long grass alongside lakes or canal trails in early morning or nighttime is a good way to get bitten by an alligator, or worse. These large reptiles are not smart and like most animal attacks on people, it is preceded by the animal being startled by the human and either lashing out in defense or in some kind of predatory reflex. If you encounter a snake on the trail or road, just run around it. Don’t try to jump over it, step on it, or harass it. Even the poisonous ones can’t hurt you if you just leave them alone.

Mega-predators: If you live in an area where bears, cougars, mountain lions, or wolves are a real threat, consider running with a partner or avoiding trails and roads where these large and dangerous animals are spotted. Contact your state wildlife office and see what they recommend or what areas to avoid.

Enjoy nature on your run. Try not to startle it and remember there is no shame in retreat if it means you lack bite wounds and don’t smell like a skunk.

Have you ever encountered wildlife on your run? Share your story below!

Written by Rob Haneisen.