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A (b)log of Natural Resources Info

Myths and Misadventures
in the Woods


Recently at Trees For Tomorrow it was brought to our attention that a barrier to people enjoying the woods is fear.  It was decided that one way we can help overcome this barrier is to write a blog that de-bunks some common myths that may increase those fears.  I volunteered for the job, but little did the team know that when it comes to talking about “heavy” stuff (fears, for instance) my M.O. is to make a lil jokey joke to lighten the atmosphere.  It should be noted that it is most definitely NOT my intention to make fun of the fears of others (I’m no stranger to anxiety myself).  Rather, I’m hoping to use the power of laughter as a way to assuage fears a little bit.  So, let’s look at some of the common “things that go bump in the night” and “booga booga” in the woods and the facts behind them.


In our area, we only have black bears which are smaller than Grizzly bears.  Bears are usually shy and want nothing to do with humans unless they leave a bunch of food around the campsite or in the trashcan.  Like other animals, bears have supreme hearing and smell and will generally know about your presence before you know about them.  If you do find yourself in a confrontation with a black bear, conventional wisdom is to stay calm and back away slowly.  Usually, the bear will have the same reaction towards you that you have to it, which is “get me away from the big scary hairy thing!”  The typical phrase experts advise you to speak in a calm yet authoritative voice as you back away slowly is “Hey Bear”, but if you want to spice up your next outdoor adventure, may I suggest the following alternatives?

“You Better Have my Money Bear” (Bears never have your money when you come to collect.  They’ll decide to evade)

“I know what you did last summer bear” (black bears are always guilty of something and will do anything to avoid the whole forest knowing about it, so they’ll avoid the confrontation.  Grizzlies on the other hand have no shame).

“Hey Bear, we really need to talk” (bears will avoid serious conversations at all costs)

“Hey Bear, Yo’ mama’s so fat she on both sides of the family” (the bear will double over in laughter because who doesn’t love a good ‘Yo mama’ joke? Make your escape while the bear is distracted).


Should’a used a Yo’ Mama Joke, Chet. (Photo from cinematic classic “The Great Outdoors”)


Two of the most common fears about bats out there are that a) bats can get stuck in your hair and b) all bats carry rabies.  Let’s take a crack at that first one: I’ve watched bats in my backyard on summer nights while sitting around the campfire, and I can understand where the whole “bat in hair” thing came from.  They can dip quickly and unpredictably because their prey (insects) does the same.  It’s not totally far-fetched to think that a bat might have a miscue while in pursuit of those mosquitos that are swarming you and accidentally hit your head and get tangled in your hair.  But here’s the thing: bats actually have excellent eye-sight.  Their giant ears help them with echolocation in pin-pointing insects on the fly, but their eyes help them find food during times of more daylight such as at dawn and dusk.  Bats also need to use their eyes to navigate around things that are outside the range of echolocation.  It’s true that they aren’t great at seeing color, but that doesn’t mean their eyesight is bad, just different.  They can see us and have no desire to tangle (pun intended) with an animal that’s 20X larger than them. 

Now let’s talk about rabies.  It’s true that bats can bite people and that bats are carriers of the rabies virus and can transmit the disease.  However, actually all mammals can carry and transmit rabies.  Raccoons actually have a way higher proportion of their population test positive for rabies when compared with bats1.  A great way to mitigate this risk (and a great rule to follow in general) is to just not handle bats.  However, if you find yourself being bitten by a bat or raccoon through no fault of your own, seek treatment as soon as possible: post-exposure prophylaxis treatment for rabies is effective, but should be started within a day of exposure.

Quicksand: Honestly, not as much of a big deal as your 3rd grade self probably thought it was gonna be.

Wolves: As someone who routinely spends a lot of time outside in the woods and never really got the whole “fear of wolves” thing, it’s easy for me to sit back in my chair in my office and type out that “of course you shouldn’t be afraid of wolves.”  I could rattle off a bunch of naturalist facts about how wolves are naturally wary of humans (even though they’re big, we’re still bigger) and have superior hearing and smelling to detect us and move away before we even see them.  But it might be more impactful if we consider this: in the upper Midwest (MN, MI, WI), there has only been 1 non-fatal wolf attack in the last 15 years.  Compare that event with something else that happened that same year (2013), which was a Listeria outbreak from cheese across the Midwest resulting in 6 hospitalizations and 1 death.  That’s right: statistically speaking, you’re more likely (in fact, 6 times more likely) to be attacked and killed by cheese than a wolf.


Fear the real monster (Photo Credit:

But I could be the one: Don’t worry, you’re not that special.   

But What About my Dog?

Now, I do hear you on this one.  History shows that fatal wolf-dog encounters are much more of a probability.  As a fellow dog owner who loves to explore the woods with my dog, this concerns me too.  My dog isn’t a big dog – as a corgi who weighs in at 30 lbs. and just over a foot tall, he’s exactly what wolves and some other predators might consider “fun size.”

He a snack (Photo Credit: Kim Feller)

My husband, an avid hunter, is trying to turn him in to a squirrel-hunting dog (long story) and part of this involves letting him run loose in the woods (like many hunting dogs).  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not 100% comfortable with my dog being loose out in the woods knowing that there are wolves out there and that wolves do occasionally attack and kill domestic dogs (that rate is even higher for bear hounds).  I’m even less keen on the fact after my husband told me about an “interesting” encounter they had with a coyote in the woods who for a second debated whether he could take on a corgi, a 36 year old man, and an 18-month old toddler2. He chose wisely, but that anxiety still lingers in the back of my mind whenever I think about going into the woods.  And that’s even knowing my dog: most of the time he stays well within eye-shot of us and has pretty good recall.  But (and fellow dog owners might identify with this) sometimes he gets that crazy look in his eye, and, much like his fellow shorty Napoleon Bonaparte, isn’t afraid of taking on the world much less a wolf.3

But, what am I going to do? Just not ever go out into the woods with my dog? Not ever let him experience the joy of roaming through the forest, free to urinate on every tree he fancies? No.  I’ve had a bit of fun in this article, but this brings me to the point I’m trying to make: risk is all around us.  You could choke- are you only going to consume your food in liquid form now (in which case…you could still aspirate)? No; your plane could randomly have a panel blow off of it, or you could get in a major car wreck even if you decide not to fly- are you going to stop travelling? Of course not!  Now I’m not saying to just throw caution to the wind and roam around in the woods slathered in deer blood and/or peanut butter: that’s not smart4

My point here is that risk abounds and the most we can do is inform ourselves and take the best steps that we can to mitigate those risks.  For example, instead of letting your dog run off leash through the woods, keep your friend on a leash.  This really is best practice especially on trails anyways: other people are likely also using the trail and may or may not share your same level of fondness for canines.  Afraid of encountering rogue bears, wolves or other predators? Hike with a friend or sing/talk/hum to yourself on the trail to let any animals you’re afraid of know you’re approaching.6  They’ll get the hint and leave.  Get a tick bite5? Save the tick and watch for signs of tick-borne illness and seek treatment if they appear.  There are so many simple things that you can do that boil down a two-word phrase: BE SMART.  You’d be amazed at the problems you can avoid (and the fun you can have in the woods) by following that advice.  Now go out, be smart, be cautious, but go explore!        

Sasquatch: Totally plausible.


1 Look, there’s actually WAY more to be afraid of than what you thought!

2 Believe me, the toddler is the scariest one out of that whole bunch.  In all seriousness, she was in a backpack being carried by my husband who did have some means to defend the party if necessary, but I have no doubt she could have held her own.

3Little legs, big dreams.

4It’s really not a good look.

5 We didn’t even talk about ticks- those are the worst things on this list!

6 As an added bonus, this keeps people away too!


Author: Kim Feller, Education Manager, Trees For Tomorrow