My first encounter with a coyote was in the middle of last year on a warm sunny day in Texas. It was roadkill. I thought it was a domesticated golden husky dog until I saw the pointy ears. I was surprised that a coyote would be so far out in the city exposing himself like that. The second encounter was while hiking a short trail near my home late in the evening – thankfully, it was far from us.
Although they are fascinating animals to see, encountering a coyote while hiking can be quite dangerous. Here’s what to do if you see a coyote while hiking.
What Are Coyotes?
For those who’ve never seen a coyote, they are a wild canine native to North America. They are similar in appearance to a husky or a wolf, but with pointier ears. Compared to wolves, however, they are much smaller.
Physically, fully-grown coyotes will weigh anywhere between 30 to 45 pounds and can grow up to three feet in length from nose to tail. Color-wise, coyotes can be a mix of gray, brown, and black fur, but typically will appear brownish/golden. They also have distinctive pointy ears and a bushy tail.
Coyotes are intelligent animals and have adapted well to living in close proximity to humans, which obviously is a major cause for concern. They are often found in parks and even neighborhoods in large cities such as Los Angeles and New York City, and also in my hometown of Texas.
As a matter of fact, there has been an uptick reported in sightings of coyotes in residential areas of many Texas neighborhoods.
While they may look cute (sometimes) and cuddly, it’s important to know that coyotes are wild, dangerous, carry diseases, and should never be approached.
How Dangerous Are Coyotes?
While coyotes aren’t typically known to attack humans, they have been known to attack animals and creatures smaller than them, including children. Just recently, there was a report of a coyote attacking a 2-year-old boy, right around my neck of the woods in Dallas.
With that being said, there have only been two fatal coyote attacks recorded in the United States since the 1980s. And also, according to the Humane Society, “More people are killed by errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year than are bitten by coyotes.” I’m not entirely sure how true that is, but take for that what you will.
Coyotes will, however, attack and kill small pets such as cats and dogs if given the opportunity. In fact, coyotes are one of the main predators of household pets in North America.
These coyote attacks on people’s pets typically happen at night and are usually carried out by a single coyote.
What to Do if You See a Coyote While Hiking
If you see a coyote while hiking, the best thing to do is to make yourself as big as possible and make lots of noise. Unlike bigger animals, such as brown bears, coyotes are typically scared off by loud noises and larger beings (which is why they target smaller prey.)
Try to scare the coyote away by clapping your hands, stomping your feet, or even yelling. Sometimes even standing your ground and making direct eye contact with the coyote will be enough to make it run away.
If that doesn’t work, your next best bet is to throw something at the coyote – a rock, a stick, or even your hiking poles. Whatever you do, just make sure not to hit the coyote, as that might only serve to agitate it.
Now that we’ve covered what to do when you see a coyote, I’d like to quickly discuss what NOT to do.
What NOT to Do if You See a Coyote While Hiking
Unlike with alligators, where you should be running as fast as possible; the main thing you want to avoid doing is running away from a coyote. As I said before, these animals are attracted to smaller prey, and so if you run or turn your back to it, you’re basically telling the coyote that you’re an easy target.
In addition, coyotes are fast. Very fast. They can run up to 40 miles per hour, which means that they can easily outrun us. So, if you do decide to run, there’s a very good chance that the coyote is going to catch up to you, rather quickly. And to be quite honest – most wildlife you’ll see while hiking is pretty darn fast as well.
This probably doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway. Don’t feed the coyote. Yes, some of them may look hungry and lost, but feeding them will only serve to make them bolder and more likely to approach humans in the future. Don’t feed ANY wildlife, for that matter.
When Are Coyotes Most Active?
Coyotes are nocturnal animals by nature, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t see them during the day.
They are most active at dusk and dawn, but if you live in an urban area, you might see them out and about during the daytime, as they become less afraid of humans the more they see us. The same goes for the trails.
This is especially true if there’s a food source that they’re after. For example, if there’s a trashcan full of food that they can access, they will likely be seen during the daytime, as they know that they won’t be disturbed.
What Do Coyotes Eat?
Coyotes are opportunistic feeders, which means that they will eat just about anything they can get their hands on.
Their diet typically consists of rodents, rabbits, birds, reptiles, insects, and even fish. But as I said before, if they’re desperate enough, they will eat just about anything, including human garbage.
How to Protect Your Pets from Coyotes
The best way to protect your pets from coyotes is to keep them inside, especially at night. I’ve seen too many videos of coyotes snatching small dogs and cats right off of people’s porches, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
If you have to let your dog or cat outside, make sure that they’re always supervised and that they’re never left alone in an area where coyotes are known to roam. It’s also a good idea to keep them on a leash, just to be safe.
You can also try installing a coyote roller on your fence, which is a device that prevents coyotes from climbing over. And finally, make sure that you’re not leaving any food out that might attract coyotes to your property.
While hiking, make sure your dog is on a leash all the time, especially if you’re in an area where coyotes have been spotted. I would choose a shorter leash as well, so you can have more control and the ability to act faster. If you want to be extra careful, you can also try wearing a puppy backpack.
In conclusion, if you see a coyote while hiking, it’s important to stay calm and not run away. They really shouldn’t be feared, as they’re typically more scared of us than we are of them.
However, it’s still important to use caution and be aware of their presence, as they can pose a threat to small pets or children if they’re feeling desperate enough. Just remember to keep your cool, don’t run, and never feed them.