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Survival Techniques for Every Kind of Animal Attack

How to handle every kind of creature—from gnats to squirrels to bears

We’re about to embark upon the time of year when going outside is more or less a mandate. And whether it’s hiking in the woods or surfing in the ocean, all outdoor activities share one common theme: The risk of gruesome, bloody dismemberment at the hands of savage beasts, including gators, bears and yes, even squirrels. (Also, skin cancer.) Since no one wants a smackdown from Mother Nature, here’s how to avoid being maimed by every type of animal you might encounter this summer, from simple gnats to great white sharks.

Gnats

If you’re lucky, that biblical swarm of gnats around your head will just be an annoyance, but there are some species that bite, so you want to stamp this out quickly. Ideally you would’ve prevented their existence in the first place by not overwatering your plants and making sure you have no standing water in your yard, as this removes places for them to breed. If it’s too late for that, then it’s time for Phase 2: Wipe them out, destroy their homes and murder their children.

Your best bet for this, according to the aptly named FightBugs.com, is to Home Alone it and set some simple homemade traps. For example: Fill a mason jar halfway with apple cider vinegar, close the lid and punch a few holes in it. Gnats will crawl through these holes and drown. Follow up by pouring a bottle of ammonia down the drain — if your yard is dry, this is likely where they’ve made their home (and are laying eggs), so chemically scorching their neighborhood seems like a good “discouraging” tactic.

Mosquitos

Now, mosquitos are surprisingly important to the local ecology and a vital link in the food chain, since these flying blood sacks are a critical source of protein to newly hatched fish. But they also drink your blood, so you should terminate with extreme prejudice.

Again, prevention is the best bet, so avoid having standing water in your yard. Failing that, invest in some mosquito repellent. According to Consumer Reports, despite the many brands out there, only three are reliable for a full eight hours: Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour, which both contain 20 percent picaridin, and Off! Deep Woods VIII, which contains 25 percent DEET. Beyond that, all you can really do is have an exterminator spray your yard, which is something you probably don’t want to happen during your barbecue.

Squirrels

Squirrels almost certainly aren’t going to attack you: Statistically speaking, one person gets bitten by a squirrel for every hundred people bitten by dogs. In fact, “squirrel bites only occur when you trap the creatures in a corner and harass them,” so avoid doing that. (And if you’re feeding them, hold the food in the palm of your hand, not in your fingers — that’ll save you an accidental nibble.) For a more offensive stance, however, WildlifeRemoval.com’s guide on “How to Kill Squirrels” suggests either setting a professional-grade squirrel trap, or for the more sportsmanlike squirrel-avoider, shooting them with an air rifle. It does, however, advise against poison since a) there’s no registered anti-squirrel poison on the market; and b) even if you do poison it successfully with, say, rat poison, it might crawl into a small space inside the house and start to rot, making your whole place stink of decomposing rodent. Again, not so desirable at a barbecue.

Dogs

Dealing with a dog that thinks you’re intruding on its territory is a tricky business that requires a delicate touch, so let’s turn to excitable self-defense blog Force Necessary to see what it has to say about de-escalating the situation:

“If you carry a knife, cut the throat or stab the eyes or the face of the dog for the quickest reaction. Stabs to the body don’t always take effect in time to prevent the dog from biting you. If you carry a small caliber gun, aim for the dog’s head/brain; a body shot may not bring the dog down immediately.”

holy shit.

For less bonkers advice, follow the steps in this WikiHow article. The gist is simple: Try to prevent an attack by standing still and avoiding eye contact, which may make the dog lose interest). If that fails and you need to defend yourself, yell for help, then use your almost-certain weight advantage to bodily pin the dog to the ground — keeping yourself out of range of its jaws — until help arrives and/or someone calls the ASPCA.

Alligators

Here’s the good news: Alligators don’t hunt people deliberately. If one pops up and grabs hold of you, it’s just instinct. Gators are ambush hunters, and if you run right past its snout, it’s going to take a pop at you. This means that, with any luck, you can probably convince it to let you go.

If you’re on land and the gator’s coming at you, hissing, just run like hell — it can’t keep up and will stop chasing after around 20 feet. If it’s already grabbed you, though, it’s time to fight back. Punching it on the snout and poking it in the eyes might cause it to let go, according to this expert, but the chances of landing such an accurate blow in these circumstances are minuscule, according to this other expert, who recommends just yelling and struggling like crazy till it gets freaked out and lets go.

The main thing to watch out for if it grabs you is the aptly-named “death roll,” when it rolls around like crazy, crushing and disorienting you. Your best bet — if you’re unable to hook a leg around one of its legs, which is how professional gator wrestlers stop them rolling — is to try to go limp and (literally) just roll with it. Gators tire easily, so if you can survive this first assault, you may be able to convince it to back off. If this happens in deep water, however, you are pretty much dead. Sorry.

Bears

Step one: Discern what kind of bear it is, as black bears and brown bears (aka grizzlies) require very different approaches. First, be aware of where they live: While black bears can be seen in 41 different states, brown bears are only found in Alaska and, more rarely, parts of the Pacific Northwest, such as Washington. Second, look at their shape: Brown bears are around 5 feet tall at the shoulder (up to nearly 10 feet tall when reared up on their hind legs) and have a distinctive hump at the shoulder. Black bears are smaller — just 3 feet high at the shoulder — and have no hump. Your third and final clue is to look at the color of their fur: Black bears are black and brown bears are brown, you idiot.

Neither likes to be surprised, so when walking in bear country, be sure to make lots of noise to give any local beasts some warning of your presence. Otherwise, again, chose your protection methods via type of bear:

  • Black Bear: Forget trying to climb a tree — black bears will climb right up after you. Instead, stand tall and yell at it to try and drive it off. In the unlikely event it attacks, use bear pepper spray if you have it (it’s different to the human stuff, so be sure to pack the right one), and if that fails, strike back like a madman, punching and kicking at its face and generally fighting for your life. With any luck, it’ll decide you’re not worth the effort and run away.
  • Brown Bear: If you encounter a grizzly, stay calm, keep quiet and back away very, very slowly. Whatever you do, don’t run, as running just makes them think you’re food to be chased down. (The running part is true for both brown and black bears.) If the bear comes at you, hit it with the pepper spray, and if it keeps coming, drop to the ground and play dead, as any further movement will just encourage it to attack you more. Ideally, fall on your belly with your pack protecting your back and your legs spread so it can’t easily roll you over. Do not try to defend yourself in any way: It’s a 600-pound monster, and your only hope is that it gets bored before you get dead. Once it stops, stay exactly where you are until you’re 100 percent certain the bear has left: Grizzlies may stick around to check you’re really dead, because as well as being enormous and terrifying, they’re also sneaky.

Sharks

Statistically speaking, with only 65 shark attacks worldwide each year (mostly non-fatal), you’re far more likely to be killed by your neighbor’s labradoodle. But if a shark really is heading your way, you probably won’t see that classic fin breaking the water: When Great Whites come at you, they come from below in a powerful surprise attack.

You can aim to prevent such an attack by avoiding murky water or swimming at dusk, dawn and night, as well as not wearing high contrast clothing (like orange or yellow) or shiny jewelry that might remind a shark of shiny fish scales. But as with black bears and gators, if the worst happens, your only real chance is to fight back with everything you have: Playing dead absolutely does not work. Punching the snout with any force is all but impossible while underwater, but clawing at its eyes and gill openings, says National Geographic, might give you a shot.

If you do survive, here’s the real kick in the teeth: Your Memorial Day grill char may end up finishing the job the shark (or bear or gator or squirrel) couldn’t.