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What To Do If You See A Coyote On A Hike

What To Do If You See A Coyote On A Hike

The wily coyote has snuck its way across the entire North American continent and is knocking at the door to South America. These widespread canines can be found in various habitats, including hiking trails. So, what do you do if you see a coyote on a hike?

If you see a coyote on a hike, assess how many coyotes there are. If you encounter more than one coyote, leave the area but do not run. If a coyote will not leave, look big and yell to scare it away. As a last resort, haze the coyote until it leaves the area.

Seeing a coyote on a hike is rare, but if you encounter one, we’ll review what to do and how to stay safe around coyotes.

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Do Coyotes Live Near Hiking Trails?

Seeing a coyote in the wild.

Seeing a squirrel or deer on a hike is one thing, but running into a potential carnivore is another story. Coyotes are omnivores, but they certainly dabble in hunting for their own meat and can even form packs to take down large prey such as deer and elk.

Coyotes are medium-sized canines in the same family as wolves and domestic dogs. Like most wild animals, coyotes are skittish around humans. Rural coyotes tend to be more scared of people than urban coyotes that live in cities and suburban neighborhoods.

If one creature were king of adaptability, it would be the wily coyote. Coyotes can be found pretty much anywhere, from under a city dumpster to deep in a cornfield to prowling the forest edges. Needless to say, coyotes definitely live near hiking trails!

Not sure what to pack in your hiking bag? We have the perfect article on what to pack in your hiking bag so you don’t forget any of the essentials! Hey, it’s one less thing to worry about, right?

Coyotes Are Everywhere

When European settlers first came to North America, coyotes were only found in the West—mainly in the Great Plains areas. As settlers continued to expand eastward, eliminating every big predator they could see, coyotes took advantage and expanded their range as well.

Coyotes used to be kept in check by wolves, grizzlies, and mountain lions. Unfortunately, many big predators have become locally extinct in their original habitat. Enter the coyote. 

These adaptable creatures can be found in every state of the contiguous United States, all of Alaska, and all but the northernmost region of Canada. Their population stretches down to Panama in Central America, and they even threaten to breach South America due to lower populations of jaguars.

If you hike in the United States, chances are you’re hiking near or in coyote territory. You can try to identify if coyotes are nearby by looking for tracks. Liberty Mountain’s Animal Tracks Pocket Guide Book is an excellent tool for identifying different animal tracks.

Coyotes May Live Near Humans

A coyote running

While the news would have us believe that coyotes live in downtown Chicago, this isn’t really true. Urban coyotes have made their way near cities but rarely use heavily populated landscapes.

An article in The Southwestern Naturalist Journal found that the land used most often by urban coyotes was medium- and low-density residential areas. In other words, they don’t venture into downtown areas that are highly populated.

Coyotes live near people for a few different reasons:

  • Food: People may not intend to feed coyotes, but bird feeders, pet food, and food scraps in the garbage are like a buffet to coyotes. They’re also attracted to the mice and rats that live in human-dominated areas.
  • Shelter: Coyotes use the spaces beneath porches and sheds for cover. They’ll also take advantage of tall weeds, corn fields, and shrubs for cover during the day.
  • Safety: In human-dominated landscapes, coyotes are top dogs. Bears, Wolves, and mountain lions rarely venture close to civilization, so coyotes can prance around safely without fear of being stalked by a bigger predator.

Our point is, just because you’re on a hiking trail in the middle of the city doesn’t mean you won’t run into one of these rascally canines!

Coyotes Love Forest Edges

The most common place coyotes can be found are along forest edges, especially if they border an agricultural field. Forest edges contain diverse habitats and an abundance of wildlife coyotes can feed on.

Many trailheads can be found at forest edges, but because these areas see a lot of human traffic, coyotes aren’t likely to hang around these areas. 

Coyotes Aren’t Found In Dense Forests

The prime habitat for a coyote is deep in the forest, right? Surprisingly, coyotes do not typically venture deep into woods as there is little food for them. Most animals they go after (deer, rabbits, squirrels) are located on forest edges.

While hiking, you may feel less comfortable the further you venture into the woods. However, it is here that you are least likely to see a coyote! That’s not to say it’s impossible…coyotes often use dense vegetation areas during the day to nap and relax.

Since coyotes are originally from the prairies and plains, it only makes sense that they prefer forest edges, croplands, and meadows over deep forest cover.

A picture of a coyote in black and white.

Coyotes Are Most Active At Dawn And Dusk

Most hikers are out on the trail during the day, but when you want to catch the sunrise or sunset, you may decide to hike at twilight hours. Many people think that coyotes are nocturnal animals, but the truth is coyotes are most active at dawn and dusk because that is when most of their prey is active. 

This is called being crepuscular. Squirrels, rabbits, and other small animals are all crepuscular, as are deer. These types of animals make up a large portion of a coyote’s diet.

Hiking at dawn and dusk increases your chances of seeing a coyote. If you would rather avoid interactions with coyotes, it’s best to hike during the daylight hours. 

That said, if you see a coyote during the day, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the animal. These rascally canines are opportunistic hunters, so they may move during the day if a food opportunity arises or if they are disturbed by people or other animals. 

Will A Coyote Attack You On A Hike?

Under normal circumstances, coyotes are skittish around humans. Coyotes will either remain out of sight or run away as soon as they see someone.

That said, there’s plenty of talk about coyotes attacking people and pets. So, will a coyote attack you on a hike?

Coyotes Attacks Are Rare

The chances of getting attacked by a coyote on a hike are very rare. There are millions of coyote sightings and thousands of coyote encounters per year, but full-blown attacks rarely ever happen. In the history of coyote attacks, there have only been two fatalities.

According to an article in the Journal of Human-Wildlife Interactions, between 1977 and 2015, there were 367 coyote attacks, which averages out to around 9 to 10 attacks per year.

To put things in perspective, here are some comparisons:

Cause of fatalityNumber of fatalities
CoyotesTwo ever recorded
Black Bears1 per year
Lightning28 per year
Domestic Dogs30-50 per year
Bees, wasps, & hornets62 per year
Car collisions with wildlife440 per year
Venomous snakes6 per year

You have about as much chance of getting eliminated by a coyote on a hike as you do by a falling coconut, which has only happened twice in recorded history.

A side picture of a coyote

Coyotes Are Bolder During Mating Season

Love is in the air in springtime for many animals, including coyotes. During this time, male coyotes may travel long distances to find a suitable mate. However, some coyotes mate for life.

Coyotes may be bolder during the mating season, which lasts from the end of January to the end of March. During this time, hikers should be wary if they see a coyote on a hike, as it may be less skittish than usual.

When we say ‘bold,’ we don’t necessarily mean aggressive. Bold behavior just means the coyote will take risks, come closer to people, and be seen in the open more often than during other times of the year.

By the way, if you hike alone and are worried about coyotes, we have an excellent article on how to hike alone and not be afraid here!

Coyotes See Dogs As Competition Or Prey

Dog owners all over the country love taking their dogs on hikes. Most trails will allow dogs on the trail as long as they are leashed, so it’s no surprise that many folks hike with their four-legged pals.

Unfortunately, coyotes view medium and large dogs as competition for the same food source. If they see a dog, they may act aggressively toward the dog and the owner. This is especially true during the pup-rearing season if you stumble near their den.

Coyotes may view small pets as prey. If you have a small dog and encounter a coyote on a hike, the coyote may try to grab the dog because it thinks it’s a source of food. Coyotes are less likely to act boldly or attack if your dog is under control and near you. 

We’ll cover more on what to do if you see a coyote while walking your dog a little later!

You can read about what to bring on a hike with your dog here. This way, you have all your dog’s essentials and have one less thing to think about on your stroll through the woods.

Coyotes Defend Their Pups And Dens

Coyotes often mate for several years or even for life. When the pups are born, both the male and female care for them. From around April to October, expect coyote dens to be defended.

It’s unlikely that coyotes will use dens near hiking trails, but if the path is new or you wander off the trail, you could potentially run into a den by accident.

Even while defending their dens, coyotes rarely attack humans. Instead, they will act boldly and make sure you get the hint to leave the area.

Coyotes Typically Hunt Alone Or In Pairs, Not In Packs

A pair of coyotes on the side of the road in a desert.

If you spot a coyote on a hike, you’re most likely looking at the only coyote around. While looking for food, coyotes only form packs if they plan to take down large prey. Otherwise, they trot around by themselves or in pairs for food.

That said, coyotes live in family units. If you encounter more than one coyote, you are most likely near the den and should leave the area. If you see a single coyote, you probably spotted one while it was looking for food.

Here’s What To Do If You See A Coyote On A Hike

Hiking in the woods comes with an unwritten agreement that you may encounter wild animals and other unsuspected things, such as inclement weather or weirdos. If you spot a coyote while hiking, it’s important to understand coyote behavior and how to react.

Most of the time, spotting a coyote on a hike is an exciting few seconds of watching it run away and then never seeing it again. However, some interactions can be a bit more terrifying. Let’s break down what to do if you see a coyote on a hike, going over every scenario possible!

Assess The Situation

The first step with any wildlife encounter is to assess the situation. Try not to panic, run, or make sudden movements until you’ve identified a few things:

  • How many coyotes are there?
  • Are there pups around?
  • Is your dog with you?
  • Is the coyote leaving the area?
  • Has the coyote stopped to look at you?
  • Is the coyote approaching you?
  • Is the coyote eating?

Sometimes, you don’t need to do anything. If a coyote is simply walking by, you can just let it be. If you feel the need, you can turn around and hike back to your car once the coyote has left the area.

Coyotes follow the same paths day after day in their search for food. If their path crosses a hiking trail, you may see a coyote while hiking but have a harmless interaction as it trots by.

Do Not Run Away From A Coyote

A lone coyote in a field

For some folks, the fight or flight response pings to ‘flight’ as soon as something scary happens. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the way our brains are wired to survive intense situations.

Encountering a coyote may trigger your flight mode, but it’s critical that you do not run away from a coyote. If you’ve ever had a dog, you know that running triggers their instinct to play and chase.

For coyotes, running triggers their instinct to chase down prey. Stand your ground, look big, and maintain eye contact with the coyote.

Keep Your Dogs And Kids Close

In my 20 years of hiking in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Colorado, West Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Nebraska, and New Mexico, I have never seen a coyote on a hike. If you see a coyote on a walk, it is truly a rare occurrence.

More people see coyotes in urban areas than folks on hikes. That said, it’s not impossible, and it indeed happens. If you spot a coyote on a hike, pull your dogs and small children close. Avoid bending down to pick up your dog or kid – It makes you appear smaller.

Always use a non-retractable leash while hiking with your dog. The Front Range Dog Leash from Ruffwear is an excellent hiking leash. It has a handle at the clip-end of the leash as well as the back end to give you more control of your dog in situations such as a wildlife encounter.

Leave The Area If You Hike Near A Den

You may encounter a coyote den by accident if you hike off-trail (which we don’t recommend!). Coyotes typically enlarge holes made by other animals, such as groundhogs or badgers.

You’ll know you’ve stumbled near a coyote den if you encounter more than one coyote. In this instance, you do not want to try to stand tall and intimidate the coyote as you would under normal circumstances. 

Instead, slowly back away from the area while maintaining eye contact with the coyote(s). do not turn your back on the coyote(s).

The coyotes may follow you as you back away from the den area. This is normal – they are escorting you off their property. Once you are far enough away, the coyote should stop following you. If it doesn’t, you may still be too close.

Look Big And Make Some Noise If A Coyote Doesn’t Leave

Coyotes are naturally skittish animals. They don’t like to be seen by people, so they use heavy cover during the day to avoid us. They’re also wary of loud noises because they typically associate loud noises with humans.

To scare off a coyote on a hike, you can make some noise by yelling, clapping, banging your hiking pole on the ground, or whatever else you have. Usually, this will be enough to scare the coyote off.

Stand tall and use whatever you have to appear as big as possible. Open up your jacket or wave your arms above your head. Make it clear to the coyote that you are too big and scary to eat.

Use Hazing As A Last Resort

Hazing is a technique used on coyotes to keep them fearful of humans. It may sound cruel, but in the end, it helps coyotes stay wild and prevents them from being euthanized.

If a coyote still will not leave the area after you’ve made noises, or if it begins approaching you, you may need to haze it.

To haze a coyote, you can try some of these suggestions:

  • Continue to make noise and wave your arms, but start approaching the coyote
  • Use an air horn, whistle, or other noisemaker
  • Use bear spray (Counter Assault’s Bear Deterrent Spray is excellent!)
    • Pepper spray works as well, but you’ll have to be very close to use it properly
  • Throw rocks or sticks at the coyote’s feet.

If you decide to use projectiles to haze a coyote, remember the intention is not to harm the coyote. You simply want to scare it away and keep it fearful of humans.

At this point, the coyote should be scampering away. In the very rare event that it does not, the coyote is most likely sick. This is extremely rare.

What To Do If A Coyote Attacks

In the extremely rare cases where a coyote does not run away after being hazed, fight back with whatever you can. When attacking prey, coyotes typically go for the windpipe and throat area, so protect these areas as best you can.

If a coyote attacks your dog, use what you have on hand to haze the coyote away. Coyotes see small dogs as prey and view medium and large dogs as competition.

That’s All We Have For Now!

Despite the wars waged against coyotes, they’ve come out on top and become one of the most widespread animals in North America.

Most coyotes are skittish around people and would rather have nothing to do with us. This is especially true for coyotes that aren’t accustomed to seeing people. However, if you see a coyote on a hike, you can do a few things to minimize the chances of a bad interaction.

To recap, here’s what to do if you see a coyote on a hike:

  • Assess the situation
  • Do not run from a coyote
  • Keep your dogs and kids close
  • Leave the area if you hike near a den
  • Look big and make noise if a coyote doesn’t immediately leave the area once it sees you
  • Haze the coyote if it still will not go or if it begins approaching you

There have only been two fatal coyote attacks in recorded history, so the chances of being attacked by a coyote are slim. In most cases, a coyote will run away as soon as it spots you. 

Every animal encounter is different, whether it’s a coyote, a bear, or a mountain lion. Remember these coyote safety tips on your next hike in case you encounter a wily coyote!

You can read more about what to do if you encounter a Moose, Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Mountain Lion, Wolves, Bob Cat, Alligator, Wild Boars, Skunk, OR Snake! Be prepared for every encounter.

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