American Outdoor Guide|September 2021
Dana Benner

No matter where you live or where you go, there are potential dangers. Some are obvious, some are hidden; but unless you’re actively assessing the situation, none will be found until it’s too late.

Many people concentrate on predators, both human and animal, but fail to spot the other pitfalls to which they could fall victim. The point of this article is to discuss and point out many of the things you need to be aware of.

Dangers Around Us

Some of these potential hazards include predatory threats. However, far more often, these dangers have nothing to do with predation.

How many people die or are severely injured by stepping into old wells or cellar holes in the woods? How many people have been swept away from the unstable banks of swollen rivers or have fallen through unsafe ice? Even ice falling from a building’s roof can prove fatal. Being fully aware of your situation and the potential dangers of the area you’re in will keep many of these things from happening to you.


The term, “wilderness,” is really a misnomer. Virtually nowhere in the United States has been left untouched by humans. We’ve altered everything we’ve touched in one way or another, so the concept of a “wild” area is almost outdated.

Where I live (New Hampshire), you usually don’t have to travel too far into the forest before you start finding the remnants of past human habitation: Stone walls, the remains of early farming settlements and the like crisscross the landscape everywhere.

Why is this important to note? Where there are stone walls, there are probably old wells and cellar holes covered by scores or hundreds of years of debris and brush—unseen and very dangerous.

Many hikers and hunters have fallen victim to these hidden traps because they didn’t take note of the clues. They’re so focused on their goal that they fail to be aware of the entire situation around them. Even the best of us can, and have, become victims of some of these “traps.”

For instance, while I was fully aware that I was hunting in an old, overgrown farmstead and watching for depressions in the undergrowth that would indicate a well or cellar hole, I got hung up on a mysterious strand of barbed wire that was strung low between two trees. No real damage was done, but it shows that the danger is there and not always easily discovered before encountering it.

When I travel to densely populated urban areas (Boston is about 50 miles south of where I live), my awareness levels are heightened. Yes, there are threats from people with bad intent, but I’m much more concerned with other things, such as being run over by cars and trucks, falling into an open manhole, as well as hypodermic needles, broken glass and ice or other debris falling from rooftops. I watch where I walk, and my eyes are constantly scanning the area.


When a situation happens, you need to be prepared to act. The following is a shortlist of items to carry:

Bear Spray or Pepper Spray

I carry pepper spray when I’m in an urban area. While it won’t subdue any potential attacker, it could buy you time to get away. Bear spray is a bit extreme to use on people, but it’s a good deterrent on bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and dogs. As with pepper spray, it might buy you some time. Nevertheless, be sure to check local laws before planning to use a personal-defense spray.


A cell phone is good … as long as it’s turned on, charged up and you’re not distracted by it. If you find yourself in a questionable situation, call for help and keep the other person on the line. I also carry a two-way radio when I’m in the woods; it allows me to contact emergency personnel if needed.

First Aid Kit

Having a good first aid kit could make all the difference in bad situations. If someone’s attacked, either by a human or an animal, or is injured in an accident, they could need medical help right away—and you might be the first person on the scene.


While a nonlethal means of self-defense is always the preferred choice, you might find yourself in a situation for which lethal force is your only choice. For a human attacker, go with nothing smaller than a .38 Special. If you’re in bear, mountain lion or moose territory, go with nothing smaller than .357 Magnum.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine