A mountain lion is not going to attack you on a High Uintas hiking trail and carry your body off for supper — well, probably not.
In the last century, it’s estimated that less than two dozen people in North America have met their fate in the jaws and claws of a mountain lion, the Deseret News reported. And in fact, according to the nonprofit Mountain Lion Foundation, humans kill around 3,000 wild cats a year in the United States.
If anything, the big, solitary cats — known both as mountain lions or cougars — should probably be more scared of us than we are of them. But these facts haven’t hastened the steady news coverage of cougar sightings, viral videos of trailside encounters and the sharing of mountain lion myths from our collective campfires.
So, if you happen to be one of the few people to run in cougar during your time outside, there are a few tips you should know to hopefully prevent a cat attack and to increase your odds of survival if it does try to turn you into supper.
You won’t outrun a mountain lion
First, DO NOT RUN! If you’ve been lucky enough to spot a cougar before it tries to turn you into a Patagonia-clad serving of cat food, resist the urge to run. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, running from a cougar could trigger a “chase, catch and kill response” from the big cat. It should go without saying, but once you’ve spotted the mountain lion, don’t get any closer and move out of the area.
- “If you see a mountain lion or mountain lion kittens, stop and just back away from the area. If you find a dead deer, especially if it’s been covered up with dirt and sticks and such, stop and back away,” Scott Root, a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conservation outreach manager, told the Deseret News. “Because mountain lions will take a deer and kind of throw some vegetation and dirt and rocks on top of it, and they don’t go that far away a lot of times, so that’s when you want to stay away.”
- Experts also recommend keeping kids close and that everyone in your outing should be prepared for how the group will react to a cougar encounter.
And in case you’re pretty confident you’d be able to make it to your car before the cougar ran you down, the Mountain Lion Foundation reports that a cougar can reach 50 miles per hour in a sprint, can bound up to 40 feet and can hop 15 feet up into a tree. Simply, you won’t make it.
- The Deseret News has reported a story of two Washington mountain bikers who were attacked by a mountain lion. The men successfully scared the cougar at first, but the predator later attacked them, biting the first biker in the head and neck.
- The second man fled, which caused the cougar to stop attacking the first man, but the cat chased down and killed the fleeing biker.
Get big and make a few warning shots
Second, always face the mountain lion and do your best to look intimidating. “Make eye contact with the cougar, which cougars consider a threat,” the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says.
- If you’re wearing a jacket, open it up to make yourself look bigger, Utah DWR recommends, and wave your arms. Also, never turn your back or kneel down in front of a mountain lion.
- Be sure to talk to the cougar, speaking calmly and firmly, while creating more and more distance from the cat. “Do not use high pitched tones or high pitch screams,” the California DFW suggests.
- The National Park Service suggested tossing rocks, or whatever you can throw, at the ground near a cougar before it attacks you. “Think of these as warning shots. You aren’t wanting to hit and unnecessarily injure the mountain lion, but you do want to show it that you can defend yourself and potentially injure it,” says the National Parks Service.
Fight for your life
Finally, if a cougar attacks you, fight like your life depends on it — because it does! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, mountain lion prey are often found with puncture wounds to the back of the head or neck, and also to the throat. The lesson to take from these wildlife autopsies is to know you’ll need to protect your head and neck during a cougar attack.
“If the cougar thinks it is not likely to win its fight with you quickly, it will probably give up and leave,” writes the Utah DWR of mountain lion attacks.
- Humans who have successfully defended themselves or others from cougars have used rocks, sticks, garden tools and even their bare hands, according to the National Parks Service.
- At this point, the warning shots didn’t work, so aim for the cat. “But don’t throw everything you have, though,” according to the park service. “You might want to hold on to one metallic or hard plastic water bottle in reserve to use as a club or as weight in your backpack or fanny pack, which can be swung at the cat if it gets close enough.”
- During the fight, stay on your feet and stay facing the mountain lion, according to the California DFW, and if you do fall down, don’t stop protecting your head and neck while you get back to your feet.
- Carrying a backpack on your hike? Good, spin it around to your chest to create body armor or to make a shield. What about hiking poles? Great, now you have a sword or a club.