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What's the wildest encounter you've had with an animal in the outdoors?

When I was just getting into backpacking, a couple other leaders of our youth group and I took a group of teenagers on their first trip in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, in Oregon (highly recommend!). It was a very hot and dry day of significant mileage and uphill, so we were all very sweaty when we rolled into our first camp of the trip. Because it was summer and we didn’t know any better, we were all wearing cotton and were understandably soaked with sweat from the grueling hike.

After getting the tents pitched and camp set, we had all changed into dry clothes and were wondering what the best way to dry out our clothes from the day. There was a huge downed pine tree by our campsite that had branches with no needles going every which way. It made for a super convenient place to hang all of our sweaty clothes to dry in the sun. I don’t remember if we forgot they were there or intentionally left them out to continue drying, but we left the clothes hanging from the tree and went to bed.

At about 2am, on a moonless night, we were awakened by the sounds of what seemed like hundreds of branches snapping and breaking. It sounded like every animal in a 1000 mile radius was outside our tents and destroying the forest. As someone who is irrationally afraid of animals in the dark, I was barely able to get out of my sleeping bag and tent armed with a headlamp, a half full water bottle, and whatever minimal courage I could muster in my exhausted brain.

I switched on my headlamp and mistakenly hit the ‘flood’ option instead of ‘beam’, which only provided enough light to see beyond the tents for about 10 feet. Everything beyond that was dark save for 30 pairs of eyes that reflected back to me from outside the light radius. My tired brain immediately thought we had been invaded by the loudest and least stealthy pack of cougars of all time. It was the only time I ever swore out loud in front my youth group.

Fortunately, before I tried to fight off a massive pack of cougars with a Nalgene bottle, another adult had gotten their flashlight going and shined the beam to reveal a herd of elk that had come into our campsite. Drawn by our sweaty clothes, which were now dangling from their mouths, they stared at us incredulously for interrupting their enjoyment of their salt-soaked treats. We hollered at them and they dropped our clothes and thundered off into the night.

My heartrate didn’t allow me to sleep for the rest of the night, but the kids had a great trip and really enjoyed showing off their chewed up clothes to their friends and parents!

What is the wildest encounter you’ve had with an animal in the backcountry? Tell us about it in the comments!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
15 Replies

I've got a bear story as well.  I was working on a project at Fort Bowie National Historic Site (SE Arizona) and my wife and I had our trailer at Chiricahua National Monument, not far away.  One night my wife was in bed, and was about to turn in when there was a racket outside which seemed to involve our garbage can.  I grabbed a light and flicked it on, illuminating about a square foot of brown fur belonging to a furry friend who ws ransacking our garbage.

I immediately shouted "Come quick, Susie!  It's a bear in our trash!"  My wife's reputation must have preceded her, because the bear left immediately (wise bear!)

We were there for two seasons, an that was our only bear encounter.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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@hikermor I've been fortunate that I've only had one bear encounter on the trail!

We were coming off a summit of Mt Rainier via the Emmons Glacier route and I had convinced our group that we could skip the bathroom at camp Schurman for the pit toilet ('toilet' is being generous) at the lower inter-glacier camp. Sure enough, as we rounded the corner and were about to take the side trail to the 'toilet', we encountered a bear, sunning itself in the meadow right between the toilet and the three weary climbers who really needed to use it!


We were happy to have only waited about ten minutes before the bear decided to move on and we could take care of business. Needless to say at the time we were focused on other things than taking good pictures!

Thanks for sharing your story!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

lol, glad to hear everything came out all right............

REI Member Since 1979

This actually made me laugh out loud. Well played!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I've got a couple of funny and 'wild' animal encounter stories, honed by years of repeating around campfires 😉 (wink)

I was taking a few of the troops from my platoon at Ft Bragg on 'adventure training', actually a backpacking trip in Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

We had a reservation at one of the huts just off the AT and had settled in for the night.

In those days, the huts had chain link gates and sleeping platforms also made of chain link.

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As were trying to go to sleep, the first wave attacked us: Two or three bears banging and clawing and shaking the gate/fence.  If they were trying to scare us, it was working pretty good, but the gate held and after a while they left.

As we relaxed, satisfied and relieved that our bravery had held the day, we were surprised by the stealth of the second attack wave.

This time, we were alerted by the scampering of some/several critters - IN THE HUT and directly under the lower chain link bed platforms.

A quick flashlight discovered not one, but two rather large SKUNKS foraging directly under us.

And then they began to chase each other and squabble over some unknown prize.

All we could do was hold our breath (there's a message in there somewhere), not move and hope. And of course turn off the spotlight (anyone remember Jurassic Park?)

Fortunately, after what seemed like a long time, but was probably only hours minutes, they departed, no harm, no foul, no foul smells.

We were shaken, but not stirred.

End of story.

REI Member Since 1979

I have almost tripped over skunks while walking home after dark - more than once.  Skunks seem to be pretty cool-headed when it comes to encounters.  You have to get pretty hostile for them to spray, in my experience.

But yeah, there's a lot at stake if they decide to pull the trigger.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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I've had all kinds of encounters with bears, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, foxes, and deer, but none of them were particularly worthy of a story.  

Once, however, when I was a lad of thirteen or fourteen, my dog met a porkupine he didn't like.  His reaction was to attack.  The quill-pig did what came naturally to him and that filled ol' Spook's snout with quills.  That made him mad and he decided to get his revenge by taking a few more bites.  The dog had grit, you gotta hand it to him, but not much brains.  I had to drag him away by the hind legs.

He wouldn't sit still to let us take the quills out.  We had to take him to a vet and have him anesthetized for the procedure.  The inside of his mouth looked like a hairbrush.  He had them all over the front of his body and legs too.  I was picking stray needles from his hide for months afterward.

On another ocasion, he met a skunk he didn't like.  I happened to be right next to him for that bit of foolishness.

These are good reasons to keep your dog on a leash.  

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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Those are good reasons to keep your dog on a leash!

My dog, Hadley, had a run in with a porcupine once but I think it was a juvenile as there were only two quills and they were pretty short. Easily removed by hand. You had something else entirely!

Thanks for sharing!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I can't say that I've had any epic, story-worthy animal encounters.  I regularly see all manner of wildlife around the mid-Atlantic; deer, fox, coyote, raccoon, Canada geese, herons, I could go on.  Very recently though, I had what I would have to consider something of a spiritual and patriotic encounter.

We were trekking alongside a small river that feeds into a local reservoir, and up ahead, I saw a large flap of wings, which I initially thought was a heron we had spooked.  Within seconds though, I realized it was a large, mature bald eagle, flying at only about 15 feet above the river, flying right towards us.  It passed right by us so close you could make out individual feathers.  It was quite the majestic and inspirational sight.  Unfortunately, it all unfolded s quickly that I couldn't get a photo.

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.