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Get outside, Georgia!

Opinion: They come from below (and they sting)!

We outdoor writer types live by a rigorous code, a code that’s every bit as demanding as any. We are required, among other things, to be Fearless In All Situations. That means that we must be able to handle outdoorsy things like avalanches and tsunamis in stride and without even blinking.

Otherwise, we might miss The Big Story. Right?

Say that a couple of us Outdoor Writer types are out there in the wilderness somewhere, maybe walking on the Big Creek Greenway and looking for signs of Bigfoot. Exactly why we are looking for Bigfoot on the Greenway is unclear, but there we are…and suddenly there’s a roaring avalanche! What if all that collapsing snow distracted our attention at the critical moment when Bigfoot himself splashed through the creek and then crossed the Greenway 50 feet in front of us? What if we missed that and could not report it to you?

See, that’s why we have to be fearless, with steely concentration and nerves of purest steel.

As it turns out, the secret international organization which governs such things actually requires a signed and notarized affirmation of “fearlessness.” This must be submitted in triplicate, by the way. And don’t even think about learning the secret handshake until this has been done!

Yes, being an Outdoor Writer is a heady ¬¬¬thing.

“But why are you telling us these secret things?” you ask.

To be honest, I tell you these things to set the stage for a confession. You see, when I submitted my application to the committee, it is possible that I might have fudged just a wee tiny bit on one aspect of that fearlessness thing.

No, it wasn’t snakes. Or wild, deranged hogs. Or scorpions, skunks or giant killer squid.

Instead, it was yellow jackets.

There. I said it. I am absolutely and truly terrified of yellow jackets. I know they won’t eat me, like that killer squid might. But they’re sneaky little devils. They tend to be aggressive. And they sting (and that hurts).

So, I will go to great lengths to avoid them.

My buddy and I were hiking at Sweetwater Creek the other day. He was about 20 feet in front of me on a narrow trail when he turned and called back, “Be careful as you pass these rocks. I think there might be a yellow jacket nest under that first ledge.”

That was all it took. Suddenly in my mind the ledge was surrounded by flashing red “DANGER” lights! Klaxon horns were sounding! Armed guards with bazookas and swords were waving me off!

Who was I to argue with swords? So, I gave the rock a wide berth, scrambling through a 5-acre patch of poison ivy and 10 miles of military-grade thorn bushes to bypass the rock and get safely back to the trail.

Alas, it was not my finest moment.

Hopefully it was also not the moment that Bigfoot decided to enjoy a picnic on those very rocks. But it could have been. I’ll never know. Darn you, yellow jackets.

So how does one deal with yellow jackets while enjoying the outside world?

That’s a surprisingly practical question. Yellow jackets are out there by the zillions, as anyone who has spent any time in the outdoors knows, but there are some things you can do to minimize the odds of an unpleasant encounter.

First, consider the casual encounter with a yellow jacket or two or three – you know, like when you stop trailside for lunch. You break out the food, and here they come. Open food draws them like magnets, it seems. But so do floral scents (think “shampoo” or “deodorant” or other scented products) and even bright colors or flower-like patterns on clothing. Maybe that’s why so many hiking clothes are gray or olive.

The solutions to this one are straightforward. Avoid floral scents, bright colors, and (as much as you can) open but uncovered food.

A second and possibly more unsettling scenario is the inadvertent encounter with an honest-to-goodness yellow jacket nest.

Yellow jackets nest in enclosed places. Hollow logs are favorites. So are underground cavities such as chipmunk burrows. The portals to these nests can be anywhere, even right in the middle of your favorite hiking trail, and it may take nothing more than an unfortunate step from you (or your dog) to sound the alarm. This takes on special significance if you’re hiking single-file with a group, since the folks at the front can stir up a nest and leave a horde of riled-up stinging insects for the unsuspecting folks bringing up the rear.

The best way to avoid such problems is to be “yellow jacket aware.” If you notice insects zooming into or away from a single spot on or near the trail, there’s a good chance you’re seeing yellow jackets coming and going. You might even be able to spot the entrance to their nest. Trust your ears, too, for you may be able to hear the buzzing – something which can provide a valuable (but also kind of terrifying) warning.

Should you swat a yellow jacket if it comes near you? For that matter, should you throw rocks at the nest or poke it with a stick? Not good ideas! If you aggravate even one yellow jacket, it will release alarm pheromones that quickly alert all its buddies and put them in “defense” mode.

But what if, despite your best efforts at avoidance, you still accidentally stir up a yellow jacket nest?

One thing NOT to do is stand there and panic. You will not be able to ward off the swarm by jumping about and flailing your arms, no matter how impressive that display may be! Instead, get away as quickly as possible. That means “run.” You may still get some stings, but by moving away fast you may be able to reduce the number.

If you’re allergic to stings, it goes without saying that you should always carry an Epi pen or other emergency treatment.

Yellow jackets are just part of the outdoor world, and sooner or later you’ll encounter them. Remember, when you’re in the outdoors, you’re in their backyard. But they’re as interested in leaving you alone as you are in leaving them alone. Keep that in mind. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll up the odds of a good day on the trail.