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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Deer Collision

If you think the deadliest wild animal is a grizzly bear, a wolf, or a cougar, you’re wrong. Each year, deer kill more humans than any other animal in North America. Deer range almost everywhere in North America, except for northern Canada and Alaska, and parts of Utah. They don’t attack humans as prey; they cause car accidents.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are about 1.5 million car-deer accidents each year, and that number is rising. Those accidents kill about 150 people each year, although the number was higher in 2008 and the NHTSA expects it to be still higher in 2009. They cost at least $1.1 billion in property damage; in 1990, the cost was estimated to be over $100 million in Wisconsin alone, and Wisconsin isn’t in the top ten states for deer accidents.

Most deer-car accidents occur between October and December, which partly coincides with deer hunting season. It’s not hunting that causes the accidents, though; those three months are deer mating season. During the rest of the year, groups of deer have a fairly small home territory, and stay within it. In mating season, or “rut,” deer head out to find mates, and are more likely to stray onto roads.

So, what does that have to do with wilderness adventures? If you’ve been in the back country in the fall, you’ll probably be driving home. And you’ll probably see deer crossing signs on your route. Some drivers ignore them; a smart driver slows down, especially in the evening, and watches for deer. If you see one deer cross the road, expect more to follow and slow down accordingly. Insurance companies advise using your brights, and warn that deer whistles don’t work. Don’t swerve if a collision is unavoidable; you may hit another vehicle or a tree and cause more damage.

During the fall, wear a bright jacket to avoid becoming a hunter’s target. Good sturdy boots are also a must, and a bright flashlight of your own will help keep deer from your path. And drive carefully when heading home!

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Moose Attack

Many people think of the cartoon “Bullwinkle” when they think of a moose. Hikers in the northern U.S. and Canada who’ve actually encountered moose have an entirely different view. If you’re hiking where they both live, you’re much more likely to be attacked by a moose than a bear.

Moose aren’t shy, like deer. They’re territorial and aggressive, and their size – up to 6 ½ feet at the shoulder – and weight – as much as 1500 pounds – make them extremely dangerous. They have sharp hooves and impressive antlers. The two likeliest times of year for moose encounters are spring, when females have calves, and fall, when bull moose are looking for mates.

Never get between a female moose and her calf. If you come upon them on the trail, back up slowly and wait for them to move on; generally, they will. If a mother and calf wander into your camp, again, try to back away. Moose show aggression in several ways. They may toss or swing their heads, stamp the ground, lay their ears back, or actually charge you. Some of these charges are bluffs, and the moose will veer away at the last moment. But since most of us can’t read their minds, you need to take a charge seriously, and try to get behind a large boulder. The moose will then, hopefully, decide you’re not a threat.

In the fall, bull moose are just as deadly as females in the spring. Anything that moves is a potential rival. They’ve even charged locomotives, so if they charge you, don’t assume they’ll back off. If you can’t get away, roll yourself into a ball, cover your head, and don’t try to get up. You’ll probably get kicked, but if you don’t move at all until the moose has left the area, you’ll survive. A broken rib is better than a smashed skull. If you have time, swing your backpack over your head to protect it. Pull your hiking boots up to protect your groin if possible.

Remember that you’re in their territory, show them respect, and you’ll survive a moose encounter.

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Survival of the Fittest: Survive a Wolf Attack

If you’re hiking in areas that are part of a wolf pack’s territory, will you be attacked by wolves? You’re more likely to be attacked by bears or cougars, or even struck by lightning. But a wolf attack isn’t impossible, so be prepared.

A group of Norwegian scientists researched wolf attacks in Europe, Asia and North America in 2002, and found that most attacks occurred before the 20th century, and in the past 50 years, there have been only 17 people killed in Europe, and at that time, none in North America. In 2005, a Canadian, walking alone where food dumps from energy development were common, was killed and eaten by four wolves.

There are four possible reasons for wolf attacks. The first, and the probable cause of the Canadian death, is habituation: wolves become accustomed to humans, begin to associate them with food, and lose their fear of humans. Rabies is the second reason, but rabies is rare in North American wolves. The third reason is predation. While a rabid wolf will bite savagely and then move on, a healthy wolf kills and eats its prey. Typically the victims of predation are children and women, and it’s more common in Asia than here. The fourth reason is defense. A cornered wolf may bite, but rarely kills.

Stay safe by remaining in a group. Avoid being prey by making lots of noise while hiking and setting up camp. Carry a large backpack to make yourself look larger, and spread out your arms and jacket, if you happen to see a wolf, to look even larger and scarier. Make sure your tent has a lantern because wolves don’t like light – but don’t shine it directly into their eyes, as that can trigger an attack. For worst case scenarios, carry a mountaineering axe for self defense. Finally, make a fire in front of your tent (if the area isn’t under a burn ban) and keep it going all night. Wolves fear fire. Don’t feed wolves, or leave food out, and report anyone who does to park or forest rangers.

(Sources: Linnell, J. D. C., R. Andersen, Z. Andersone, L. Balciauskas, J. C. Blanco, L. Boitani, S. Brainerd, U. Breitenmoser, I. Kojola, L. Liberg, J. Løe, H.Okarma, H. C. Pedersen, C. Promberger, K. Sand, E. J. Solberg, H. Valdmann, and P. Wabakken. 2002. The fear of wolves: A review of wolf attacks on humans. Norsk Intitutt for NaturforskningOppdragsmelding: 731:1-65; http://www.wolftrust.org.uk/a-wkp5-linnell-results.html; http://www.wolf.org/wolves/news/2005releases/123005_wolfattack.asp ; http://www.wolftrust.org.uk/faqpeople.html )

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving on a Glacier Trek

Although it’s still summer in the U.S., there are plenty of places where you can go glacier-trekking, including Glacier National Park in Montana, Mount Hood in Oregon, and Denali Peak in Alaska. If you’ve got the money to spend, you can head down under where it’s winter, and explore the South Island of New Zealand, or even Antarctica.

There’s no doubt that glacier-trekking is one of the most exhilarating extreme sports, but it’s also very dangerous, especially for beginners, and potentially deadly, even for experienced trekkers. If you plan to try it out, and come back home in one piece, you need to learn how to use crampons, carabiners, ice axes, and rope, how to find crevasses so you can avoid them, and how to get yourself or someone else out of a crevasse. If a class is available, take it before you go. It might just save your life.

Crevasses and ice falls are the greatest hazards when ice trekking, although stupidity and ego may rank first. If a park service or a sign warns you to avoid a particular area, then avoid it. Just because you’ve been up Denali Peak doesn’t mean you can trek on crumbling ice that’s just a thin layer over water. Never, ever, ever, go alone. I cannot stress this enough. Always use the buddy system. It’s best to go with a minimum of two roped teams of two people, or two teams of three, depending on the terrain and the degree of difficulty. Make sure you have all the necessary gear, including boots with crampon compatibility, gaiters for dry legs, and goggles to prevent snow blindness. More important than these are the gear mentioned above, along with a snow probe and a satellite phone (most cell phones can’t get reception on glaciers) and knowing how to use them.

Obvious space limitations prevent me from describing how to get out of a crevasse; the best way is to avoid them by using your snow probe, avoiding blue ice, and avoiding sagging trenches that may be snow bridges. Take a guide, stay safe, and have fun out there.

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Survival of the Fittest: Save the Life of a Spinal Cord Injury Victim

A serious fall when you’re miles from a medical facility is one of the biggest dangers of back country sports. The worst injury, the one that’s impossible to treat where the fall occurs, is a spinal cord injury. As recently as 50 years ago, spinal injuries were almost always fatal, and in the back country they still can be.

Symptoms of spinal cord injuries include pain or a stinging feeling somewhere along the spine; loss of movement of extremities; numbness and/or loss of the ability to feel heat, cold, or touch on a body part; muscle or limb spasms; and difficulty in breathing or coughing. The uninjured individuals may see that the head or another part of the spine is at an unnatural angle.

The first thing you can do is the “ABCD” of emergency medicine: check that the airway is open and the injured person is breathing; check the pulse (circulation), and check for disability (ask if the injured person can move, if he can feel his legs, what hurts, if he knows where he is and who you are, etc.).

If you suspect an injury to any part of the spinal cord, it’s absolutely critical that you do not move the injured person at all. Keep his head and spine where they are, and use T-shirts or towels or whatever you have in your packs, or even rocks, to ensure his head and spine can’t and don’t move. If the individual is conscious, keep talking to him and keep him talking. Put a sleeping bag over him to keep him warm and prevent shock.

If you’re able to call out on a cell phone or satellite phone, call for an emergency medical helicopter to fly in for the injured person. If not, then send someone in your group to where the cell phone works, or the nearest medical facility, as quickly as possible, and have them send the chopper. Someone else should stay with him. Don’t try to move him; at best, he could be paralyzed for life; at worst, you’ll kill him. Stay safe out there.

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Into the Wild - Outdoor Movies: Keep a Canteen Handy While Watching "Dune"

For any outdoor enthusiast, dehydration can become a major problem, especially if you are caught miles away from civilization on a hiking trail without adequate water. In “Dune,” the 1984 film based on the novels of Frank Herbert, staying properly hydrated becomes a daily, life-or-death challenge.

Kyle MacLachlan plays Paul Atreides, the son of the very powerful and influential Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow). Paul and his father journey to the planet Arrakis, a dry, desert planet that is a prime source of a substance called the “Spice Melange.” By ingesting Melange, you could increase your consciousness, but eating too much causes your eyes to glow blue. Those that overdose on spice gain great powers, but their bodies also turn warped and twisted. After his father is murdered by a rival family, Paul and his mother flee into the deserts of Arrakis, wearing only an all-purpose garment called a “Stillsuit.” Worn by the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, a Stillsuit reclaims and recycles fluids typically lost through perspiration and other bodily functions. By wearing this device, someone lost in the desert could survive for days, even weeks, without additional water.

Water is such a crucial commodity in “Dune,” in fact, that when someone dies, their bodily fluids are reclaimed and stored in hidden caves across the surface of Arrakis. When Paul does battle with one of the Fremen, he becomes the guardian of all the water that his body had once contained.

A film that makes you wish you had a canteen or a microfilter close by, “Dune” is among the ultimate outdoor films produced during the 1980’s. Hiking and climbing gear has come a long way in recent years, but nothing can compare to the fictional Stillsuit. Drinking water produced by one’s own bodily wastes is a unique experience, to say the least, but on Arrakis, the alternative was a slow, painful death from dehydration.

“Dune” didn’t do that well in its initial theatrical run, but it is a safe bet that soft drink sales at theaters skyrocketed during every screening of this very dry film.

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Outdoor Movies: The Core

“Spelunking” refers to the outdoor activity of exploring caves and caverns, either for fun or research. In the 2003 adventure called The Core, however, a team of specialists take spelunking to the ultimate level by drilling down to the very center of the Earth.

A secret government experiment has caused the planet’s molten core to stop its natural rotation, which affects the Earth’s electromagnetic field. Without this protective energy layer, people with pacemakers start dropping dead, birds fly off-course and the Sun’s rays start burning people and buildings to a crisp.

The quickest way to get the core moving again is by sending a submersible ship through the layers of rock and molten lava and then detonating a series of nuclear warheads. In order to survive the heat, Dr. Ed “Brazz” Brazzleton (*Delroy Lindo*) creates a substance that he calls “unobtanium,” which resists extreme temperatures and pressure. The good doctor also has a laser drill capable of drilling through the toughest rock.

In a ship outfitted with Dr. Brazzleton’s inventions, the team, led by Commander Robert Iverson (*Bruce Greenwood*), drills through the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. As the first humans to go deep below the surface of the Earth, they see amazing things, such as huge diamonds formed from the tremendous heat and pressure. The deeper they drill, however, the greater the danger becomes.

An entertaining scientific fantasy, The Core takes cave exploration to new depths. It also shows what could theoretically happen if the Earth’s electromagnetic field did start to erode. In one early scene, for instance, Major Rebecca Childs (*Hilary Swank*) has to find a safe place to land a space shuttle when magnetic interference wipes out her guidance system.

The Core does get a little grisly at times, showing in graphic detail what happens when unfiltered solar radiation hits the Earth. Even the best sunscreens can’t help you when nothing stands between your face and the rays of the Sun.

A fun, but sometimes unbelievable adventure, The Core is one way to heat up a night of movie watching at home.

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving an Earthquake Outdoors

If you think earthquakes only happen in California, think again. It’s true that most earthquakes happen west of the Rockies, and California has had plenty, but Alaska has had the most in recent history. But looking farther back, the most earthquakes have occurred in the central U.S., and the worst earthquake in U.S. history was along the New Madrid fault in Missouri over three months in 1811-1812. The effects were felt over 2 million square miles, and three quakes registered over an 8 on the Richter scale.

While geologists are working towards it, they still can’t predict when or where an earthquake will strike. They do know that if a quake has hit an area in the past, it will happen again. So, it’s possible that you’ll encounter an earthquake when you’re out hiking, camping, boating, or even skiing.

The first warning you’ll have is a feeling of rolling ground, then the real shaking starts. Find the nearest open space, something treeless and not downhill from a rocky slope, and stay there. Most injuries outdoors, just like indoors, come from falling debris and in your case, that means trees, rocks, and even snow. Earthquakes can trigger some phenomenal avalanches. Curl up into a fetal position to make yourself a smaller target.

There will be aftershocks, so stay put. If you’re hiking along the coast, though, know earthquakes often trigger tsunamis, so move inland and up, then find open space. When the movement stops, check yourself and the rest of your party for injuries, and treat what you can with your first aid kit.

Wear sturdy but comfortable boots like these new Ledge boots from Timberland. Sick of your old pack? This Ultimatum Gear backpack from Nike is brand new, and along with pockets for everything, it has Max Air straps to take the weight off your shoulders. This waterproof watch from Freestyle has an altimeter, a barometer, and a compass.

Know the history of the area you’re hiking, travel prepared, and you can survive even an earthquake in the backcountry.