But even without the help of bruins or skunks, yellow jackets can act aggressively toward autumn hikers. This is not the best time of year to hike off trail. Yellow jacket nests are plentiful in the Smokies, and if you go a bushwhacking you’re likely to run into some of them. During fall, a single nest may contain 500 or more yellow jackets.
By sticking to trails you are treading where others have trod before you. If there are trailside nests, they have likely become acclimated to hikers or moved away. (This is a rule of thumb, not an absolute.) If you are stung, protect your face and try to move somewhat calmly away from the nest. Not only are yellow jacket stings remarkably painful, they also carry a chemical marker that basically says “sting me” to all other yellow jackets, near and far, kin or not. Squashing a yellow jacket also releases the chemical.
And it pays to be alert. Yellow jackets are brightly colored and easy to see. If you see some flying into or out of a hole in the ground, you have been forewarned.