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October 2006

A Dozen Ways to Die

How do hikers meet their maker in the backcountry? The answers may surprise you.

Cougars One to two people a year lose their lives to these cats, which show a distinct preference for children and smaller adults. Advice: Take your big dog or a partner along when running trails in known mountain-lion country.

Bears “From 2000 through early summer 2006, there has been an average of two deaths a year in North America attributed to black bears,” says renowned grizzly researcher Steve Herrero. “In that same period, there were nine fatal attacks by grizzlies, less than two per year on average. None of the incidents involved backpackers.” Advice: Herrero reports that all of the black-bear attacks were predatory, while the grizzly incidents were mostly defensive. That stat reinforces a general rule of thumb: Fight black bears, play dead with grizzlies. Always travel noisily, contain food odors, and store food securely in bear country.

Animal Attacks (10, 11, 12)
Despite the media attention given to every bear or cougar attack, predators are a tiny risk on the trail. You’re much more likely to die from an allergic reaction to a wasp sting in your backyard or from a collision with a deer while driving to trailhead than in the jaws of a belligerent grizzly, says Ricky Lee Langley, M.D., an animal-attack expert with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. At left are his estimates of total annual U.S. fatalities for various animals, large and small. These numbers include non-backcountry areas; Langley says the vast majority of the deaths occur in rural or suburban settings.

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