It is rare for coyotes to attack humans and will keep their distance if they encounter someone. So you are generally safe from a coyote attack when hiking or camping.
For several reasons, however, coyotes are becoming more aggressive in their encounters with humans. To be safe, here’s a guide on what to do if you see a coyote while hiking, taking a walk, or camping.
Do Coyotes Attack People?
Like many wild animals, coyotes are afraid of humans and will almost always keep their distance if they see you.
The fact that coyotes usually travel and hunt alone also makes them a low risk to humans. You typically don’t have to worry about getting surrounded or chased by a pack of coyotes.
Reported coyote attacks on humans are few, and usually occur in urban and suburban areas where coyotes have become used to people and the human environment.
Researchers refer to this as coyote habituation. It happens when people intentionally or unintentionally (e.g. by leaving trash unsecured) feed coyotes.
The coyotes get more brazen when they encounter people in an attempt to get food.
As they lose their natural wariness of people, they are more likely to attack humans.
Children are especially at risk of coyote attacks, likely because they appear less menacing to coyotes.
In the wild though, where coyotes are not habituated, attacks are more rare. Coyotes will usually only attack humans in the wild if they are cornered, feel that their offspring is threatened, or are rabid.
In fact, you are unlikely to come across a coyote when hiking. Though coyotes do move about and hunt both during the day and at night, they keep their distance from predators, including humans.
At night when camping, you might hear their howls, but they usually will not approach your tent as long as you do not keep food inside the tent.
Do Coyotes Attack Pets?
Coyotes can perceive small pets like cats and dogs as prey and will often attack if they are hungry. But this usually happens at home in backyards and on the street.
When hiking outdoors with your dog, a coyote is unlikely to attack it as long as you stay close.
The problem arises if your dog is unleashed and goes off into the bushes on its own. Some dogs will also go after a coyote if they see one, resulting in a deadly attack.
Why Do Coyotes Attack Humans?
A coyote will not attack you because it thinks you are an easy meal. It doesn’t see you as food, but rather as danger.
Here are some of the reasons a coyote might go against its natural tendency and attack a human.
- The coyote has become habituated. It has gotten used to being fed by people and is no longer wary of approaching humans. This usually happens in cities and suburbs. So be careful when hiking near a town.
- The coyote feels cornered. But this is likely to happen only if you are actively threatening and approaching the coyote instead of keeping your distance.
- You have your pet with you. Coyotes are known to attack pets like dogs and animals. If you go hiking with your pet, it increases the risk of a coyote attack. Many people have been attacked by a coyote while trying to rescue their pets.
- You have kids with you. Always keep an eye on any young children with you. Do not leave them alone at any moment. Coyotes are more likely to attack kids since they are easier to take down.
- The coyote is rabid. A rabid coyote is the most dangerous coyote since even a small bite could kill you.
What To Do If You See a Coyote When Hiking?
It is unlikely you’ll come across a coyote when hiking. While coyotes in rural and wild areas tend to move around a lot during the day, they stick to thick bushes and forested areas.
And when they sense your presence, they’ll get even more hidden to avoid an encounter.
Just in case you see a coyote when hiking, don’t panic. Remember coyotes rarely attack humans and are easily scared off by intimidation tactics.
- The most important thing to remember is don’t run. This will make the coyote think of you as prey and it can start running after you.
- If the coyote is a long distance away, keep walking while keeping an eye on it. Most likely, the coyote will not approach you.
- If the coyote is closer, walk backwards while maintaining eye contact. This is usually enough to intimidate the coyote and prevent it from approaching you.
- If the coyote starts approaching you and seems aggressive, it’s probably protecting a young one, a source of food, or it’s rabid. Make yourself look bigger and more menacing by lifting your hands and making noise by shouting and clapping. At the same time, you should be walking backwards away from the animal.
- If the coyote is still coming, time to get more aggressive. While maintaining eye contact, pick up sticks or rocks and throw them at the coyote while still shouting at it. That should get the animal to back off.
- If the coyote attacks, which is very unusual, fight with all you have. Use your hands, rocks, pepper spray, a walking stick or anything on you. Coyotes are light and you have the upper hand in the fight. Seek medical treatment immediately after the attack. You may need to be administered a rabies vaccine.
Here’s a helpful video on how to survive a rabid coyote attack. You probably will never need to use these tips, but it’s good to know them just in case.
If you encounter a rabid or a particularly aggressive coyote, make sure to report to the local wildlife authority once you are safe.
It may be necessary to track down that particular coyote and put it down to protect other people.
How To Protect Kids And Pets From A Coyote When Hiking?
Coyotes are more likely to attack kids and pets over adults, simply because of their smaller size. So you need to be extra careful if you are hiking with a child or pet.
Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Never leave a child on their own when hiking, even for a few minutes. A lurking coyote might jump at the opportunity and grab the child while you are gone.
- The same applies to pets. Do not let them wander off on their own and don’t leave them leashed to a tree while you are not around.
- If you see a coyote when hiking and it’s close, pick up your child and then try to scare the coyote away.
- If you are with your dog, immediately hold or retract its leash to keep it from running after the coyote. If it’s a small dog, it’s best to pick it up and hold it in your arms.
- If you are hiking in a place with frequent coyote sightings, it’s best to avoid hiking there with a pet or child.
- Carry things that will deter a coyote. Bear spray or pepper spray works well especially if the coyote attacks. A whistle is also effective at keeping a coyote from coming closer.
How To Avoid A Coyote Attack When Hiking?
The best way to avoid a coyote attack when hiking is to stick to the marked paths and trails.
Coyotes know to stay away from where humans are likely to be, and will usually stay hidden in bushes and thickets.
As long as you stick to the trail, your chances of meeting a coyote are very low.
If you are hiking with a dog, it’s important that he also stays on the trail to avoid attracting lurking coyotes.
If your dog is too adventurous and likes to wander off the path, keep him on a leash.
You may also want to stay away from hiking trails that are too close to towns or suburbs. These areas are likely to harbor habituated coyotes that are not as afraid of humans as wild coyotes.
If you are planning to camp at the end of your hiking trip, remember to keep all food outside the tent. Check if the campsite has food storage lockers or pack food in a bear canister.
If you happen to encounter a coyote when hiking or camping, do not feed it no matter how gentle it seems. Don’t even leave food for it on the trail or throw food at it.
Feeding a coyote reduces its natural fear of people, and it’ll be more likely to attack you or other hikers.