For the most part, wild animals want to be left alone. That doesn’t mean they won’t sneak in your campsite and forage for food. They just prefer that you didn’t notice them doing it. You can learn more about some of the specific animals in the U.P. by visiting the Animals in the U.P. page.
The better you understand them, the more you can enjoy sharing the woods with them. It’s good to have respect for them, but it would be a shame to outright fear them and avoid any encounter. Wild animals are truly magnificent creatures worth our admiration and interest. They are also vital for our existence. The better educated you are about the animals the more you will appreciate their world.
Remember these basic truths about animals. They live to eat, sleep, mate, raise young, and the woods is their home.
Getting Between a Mom and Her Babies
There are countless warnings of female bears protecting their cubs. Yes, any worthy mother (and father for those species where the male also parents) will be protective of their kin. But this doesn’t mean they kill anything that gets in their path. I read a story in one of Richard Smith’s excellent outdoor books where Terry DeBruyn, who studied and traveled with bear families for years, had a people encounter with his family of bears. He was hanging out with a mom and her cubs when suddenly the bears ducked down very low and hid, so he did also. Moments later a couple came walking through the woods. They were only yards away, stood, and talked while they looked through the trees. Terry stayed hidden behind a stump and had a hard time not laughing. Finally, the couple moved on, totally unaware of what was near them.
Here’s my personal take on a mother and their young, don’t put the cubs in harm, give the family a route to leave the area, and then you do the same. Luckily I didn’t learn the hard way while I chased a cub mountain lion near Naubinway trying to get a better look. When I realized that mom was probably crouched in the ferns nearby, I stopped the chase and made my way carefully back to my car. Sure enough, her tracks were larger than life right next to the cubs tracks in the sand. Only I never saw her.
I would be more concerned with a young inexperienced animal that didn’t get proper training on how to forage food from their mom, or from an old carnivorous animal that is having a difficult time finding food than I would a mother and their young.
All animals need to eat, and can become creatively opportunistic. Bottom line, try not to give them the opportunity to get at your food. And if you don’t want any rude surprises in the middle of the night, then by all means don’t sleep near your food. It’s very important to not train wild animals that humans can be a food source. We should all do our part to make sure human food remains just that.
Be especially careful driving in the early spring also. Deer just pushed through a tough winter and are hungrily feeding on the sparse grass along roadsides.
All animals, both predator and prey, sleep. Although the predators probably sleep a little more soundly. Animals like to sleep in areas of dense cover, or advantage points. Deer often sleep on the downwind side of a hill. They can smell something coming behind them over the hill, and can view what’s in front of them below. Bears often sleep in thick tall grass that borders rivers. I’ve kicked quite a few of them from their beds while trout fishing. Sometime it’s so thick I’ve only been a few feet away but never saw them. Just heard their warning signs telling me they didn’t like being waken up. Animals often frequent the same spots for bedding, so it’s best back away and make a mental note not to walk there again.
Animals and fish have different mating seasons. Rabbits I think never stop, as I believe mountain lions also. Bears mate in May/June. Wolves and coyotes are in late winter early spring. Deer and moose mate in the fall. Steelhead in the spring while salmon and brown trout in the fall.
Why is it important to know the mating cycles of animals? It helps you understand their motivation. If you see two large bears in May/June, it’s pretty likely they are in a mating ritual, which can last for days. You’re probably safe unless you look like another male bear - then you had better be ready for a good fight. In the fall deer will be running around the woods acting crazy, with bucks covering vast lands looking for a potential mate. This is an especially important time to drive carefully, trying to avoid a highway deer accident.
The Woods are Their Living Room
The woods are the animals living room, not yours. They have travel routes, sometimes trails, and often have patterns. If they are using one of their trails and find you in the middle of it, it may seem like they are acting aggressive and not moving away. When in reality, they might just want you to move so they can be on their merry way. Never make an animal feel cornered, like they have to fight to get away. Look around, if you are blocking their exit, move to the side and let them go. In that respect, people aren’t that much different. We often get defensive and act out of character when we feel threatened by another.
Animals Generally Fear Humans
Unlike people, animals don’t have a hospital to visit when they get hurt. They know an injury can mean death if it interferes with their ability to feed or protect themselves. Therefore they will almost always avoid confrontation. Try not to breach one of my above tips, and you won’t make the wild animal feel that the confrontation is worth the risk.