DESERT HIKING TIPS - Part 2, BIG ANIMALS. How to handle big critters in the Sonoran Desert

  #desertbackpacking #animals 
There are some big animals in the #Sonoran Desert. Puma, Black Bears. Bobcats, Javalina, coyotes, Deer, Cattle, Big Horn Sheep, wild burro,  even a few Wolves now too, etc. roam much of the Southwest.
Bears get their own post. (Read my post on Bears,  #BACKPACKING IN #BEAR COUNTRY - THE BASICS, here
No need to repeat it.)

As for some of the others...

Here's some tips on dealing with some of them if you are lucky enough to see them.

CATS - Mountain Lions, Cougar or Puma, are found in many areas in the Sonoran Desert. Attacks are very rare. The problem is... they're cats. They see you long before you see them. As ambush predators surprise is their way. Some attacks have happened in new housing developments in suburbs to joggers. Joggers look like deer bounding merrily along and last year when the cat made it's rounds thru there, there were deer and no houses. Duh! A Puma will roam a hundred square miles as its territory during the year.
If you do see a mountain lion, no matter how thrilled you are to be one of the very few who gets such an opportunity, stay well back, and take the encounter seriously. If you think one is stalking you, you need to take action.
WHAT TO DO - Be big. Make yourself appear as large as possible.
This Bobcat was chased by a Puma.
Make yourself appear larger by picking up your children, leashing pets in, and standing close to other adults. Open your jacket or shirt. Raise your arms. Wave your raised arms slowly. Pick up a large stick.
Make noise.
Yell, shout, bang your walking stick against a tree. Make any loud sound that cannot be confused by the lion as the sound of prey. Speak slowly, firmly and loudly to disrupt and discourage predatory behavior.
Act like a predator yourself.
Maintain eye contact. Make sure it knows you see it. Never run past or from a mountain lion. Never bend over or crouch down. Agressively wave your raised arms, throw stones or branches, all without turning away.
Slowly create distance.
It was almost 30' up & jumped down.
Assess the situation. Consider whether you may be between the lion and its cubs, or between the lion and its prey or cache or the only way out. Back away slowly to a spot that gives the mountain lion a broad path to get away, never turning away from the animal. Give a mountain lion the time and ability to move away.
Protect yourself.
If attacked, fight back. Don't be easy prey. Protect your neck and throat. People have utilized rocks, jackets, garden tools, tree branches, walking sticks, fanny packs and even bare hands to turn away cougars. Go for the eyes and ears.

Typical Collared Peccary about 2' high

Baby Javalina. I have no idea how high.
JAVALINA -  The Javalina, or collared peccary, are medium-sized animals that look similar to a wild boar. Javelina form herds of two to more than 20 animals and rely on each other to defend territory, protect against predators, regulate temperature and interact socially. They use washes and areas with dense vegetation as travel corridors. Javelina are most active at night, but they may be active during the day when it is cold. Javelina give off a distinguishing scent. They may act defensively when cornered, to protect their young, or when they hear or smell a dog. Dogs and coyotes are natural predators of javelina, and they can seriously hurt or kill each other.
WHAT TO DO - Give them way or scare them off. Mostly they will go the other way if you let them. Back off. Give them a way out. If a pack is agressive climb rocks or a tree. Yell, make yourself big, throw rocks, grab a large stick. If they attack, fight back and use misdirection. They have bad eyesight so sometimes they may seem to charge through you to get away.

COYOTES - The trickster of the desert is everywhere. You'll see them. They'll see you. Keep your food safe.

BIG HORN SHEEP - Active during the day and resting at night in "camps" that they can use for many years, the big horn is rarely seen other than from far off on a mountain side. They want nothing to do with you. They will normally scatter in the opposite direction at the slightest sound. Hikers who go off trail are a big threat to rams. This causes the rams to relocate which is a danger to them as young get lost, new predators encroach and injuries happen. Startled or cornered big horns will attack.

WHAT TO DO - Give way. Make noise. They'll get away. Try to avoid startling or cornering them. If you are attacked, climb a tree, put big cactus between you and it. Get between big rocks. The things smash eachothers heads against eachother as hard and as fast as they can, sometimes for hours and hours on end (this rutting battle has been recorded ongoing for over 24 hours) I'm thinking swinging a stick at 'um isn't going to do much if it's actually coming at you. Nevertheless, hikers have fended off attacks with trekking poles and misdirection just long enough to climb out of harms way up a vertical cliff wall, but big horns climb exceptionally well. No easy scramble will be safe. Good luck. Probably better to get a good pic from afar. 

CATTLE, DEER AND SUCH - You can come across cattle in the darndest places. Mostly benign, they are rarely a danger. But caution should be taken as they are big and can trample, head butt and kick with extreme power, especially when feeling threatened or cornered. Take special care around bulls or steep areas that could produce a fall for you or them. Likewise with deer and elk.Wild Horses & Burros too can be found in some areas.
Wild Horse (Mustang), AZ
Wild Mustang in AZ. E. J. Peiker, Photographer

WHAT TO DO - Give way. Back off and give them room. Shout and wave your arms, hat or rope at them. Crack your whip. (Oops, that's for cowboys)
Make sure to close any gates you go through in fence lines.
In southern Arizona,  New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico wild cows can be found. These are less predictable and more dangerous. You'll fine them chomping on cholla cactus and it is best to stay well back. Generally,  don't mess with anything that eats cactus and has it stuck all over it's face, seemingly without a care. Angry, confused or cornered cattle can snap yer bones without even trying.
http://wildsonora.com/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/image-content/cow-with-cholla-balls-on-its-face.jpg?itok=9csRSPaC  http://ww4.hdnux.com/photos/04/27/00/1142787/3/622x350.jpg
The majestic Wild Burro of AZ. ok, majestic is a stretch, but... cute?

 The majestic wildlife of the Sonoran Desert is cherished by all who know it. Many animals are protected by law. Encroachment is one of their biggest threats as we keep building more homes on the range. Wildlife deserves our distance, demands our respect and needs our stewardship.

In Part 3 we'll talk about travel in the desert.

Tread lightly.


  1. Cool stuff!!! Good job bro... darrell

  2. What do I do if I am attacked by a jackalope???? Darrell

  3. Hey Big D, glad you like the site.
    So, for Jackalope, the trick is to not show fear. Approach the encounter as you would with Big Horn sheep but using carrots in place of trekking poles. Distraction is your ally here. And pixie dust.
    If you can get it to reveal it's true name you get a one minor wish fulfilled. Something like, never needing to clean the hair out of the shower drain screen again.
    Tally ho