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Monday, January 17, 2011

Wild Animals and the Gold Prospector

Most gold prospecting takes place in the wilds meaning that you are likely to encounter wild animals as you are prospecting.  Most wild animals will go out of the way to avoid you, but always keep in mind that any wild animal is not your friend.  The truth is any large animal can be dangerous, and many of them look at you as something for lunch.  Other animals have venomous bites including some kinds of snakes and lizards.

A rattle snake in his natural habitat. 

The encounter Nancy Twinkie had with a large water snake gave her a good scare, but under the circumstances had that snake been venomous that encounter could have resulted in a tragedy.  If a snake bite doesn’t kill you they are extremely painful, disfiguring and take a long time to heal.

You are apt to encounter venomous snakes near bodies of water, rocky places or any other place that offers concealment like old mines.  Years ago we had a lease on a mine in the central Berkshires of Massachusetts that had so many venomous snakes (rattlesnakes) that before you could do any work in the mine first you had to clear the snakes.  On another occasion we were prospecting in an old mine dump when my partner encountered a whole den of venomous snakes.  He wasn’t bit, but he sure moved fast!

A whitetail buck during rutting season.
Photo by Clinton and Charles Robertson

Snakes aren’t the only dangerous animal you are likely to meet in the wilds.  One of the most dangerous is any member of the deer family.  The members of the deer family are not the noble animal depicted in fiction, in reality they can be outright dangerous especially during the rutting season when the bucks will charge anything that moves.  The bull moose, a member of the deer family, have even known to charge locomotives during the rutting season.

A bull moose during rutting season.

One of the most dangerous situations we ever faced in the wilds is a pack of feral dogs.  These are somebody’s pet dogs that have gone wild.  Because they are familiar with people they do not fear man, and believe me a pack of these dogs can be absolutely dangerous. 

Feral Dogs.

When I was an active field geologist we had two encounters with bears, one of these encounters was with a family of four bears a female, a yearling and two cubs.  You don’t want anything to do with a female bear with cubs.  The other encounter was being stalked by a polar bear.  Polar bears look upon humans as some sort of seal their natural food, and this one was thinking about lunch.  We were forced to kill the bear when he charged us.

A polar bear similar to the one that stalked us while prospecting in the Arctic.

The strangest encounter you can have with an animal is with a large bird.  One morning I was walking my dog in a swampy area when I came around a clump of bushes and had en eyeball to eyeball encounter with a great blue heron.  These birds have a long sharp bill that they use to catch fish or to defend them selves usually aiming at their attacker’s eyes.

A great blue heron
photo by Ken Thomas

Wild animals aren’t your friends, but by exercising due caution you can usually keep most of them away by being noisy, and even whistling.  Some people even go to wearing bells to ward off most animals.  Probably the best thing to do if there are large carnivorous animals in an area is simply to avoid going into the locality. 

A mountain lion there are several reports of fatalities every year from these big cats in the United States

When going into any unfamiliar area the best policy is to exercise due diligence!


  1. Great article, John! A good heads-up for anyone working or visiting the wilds.

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