About the Mountain Lion or Cougar
Unlike bears (see defense against bear attacks here), Mountain Lions (also known as cougar, puma, mountain lion, mountain cat, catamount, or panther) usually go after a person with the intent to eat them. They tend to stalk their victim before the attack, and they love to attack from behind. They prefer easy prey, a victim that will not fight back. Since humans tend to automatically fight back when attacked, only about 20% of Mountain Lion attacks are fatal.
Mountain lions are most populous in the western regions of North America. Specifically, states like California, Colorado, and Montana have some of the highest populations of mountain lions in North America.
A Cougar’s typical meal menu includes deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, domestic cattle, horses, sheep, and smaller animals such as insects and rodents. They prefer habitats with dense undergrowth and rocky areas for stalking. They are slender and agile and stand about 2-3 feet tall at the shoulders. From nose to tail, their length can reach 9 feet and they average about 100 lbs. in weight.
Deterring Mountain Lion Attacks
Cougar attacks are often predatory, but there are a few things you can do to deter them from attacking.
- Mountain Lions prefer to hunt in the evening and nighttime hours. During these hours, stay near camp and do not wander around alone.
- Keeping a fire going may deter the Mountain Lion from entering your campsite area.
- Groups of people seem to deter Mountain Lion attacks too, so travel in groups, even when making short trips (e.g., to the bathroom).
- Be aware of your surroundings so you do not accidentally startle a Mountain Lion.
As strange as it may sound, some hunters swear by faux masks worn on the back of their heads. Mountain Lions may not possess the ability to discern every human body part, but eyes are particularly important to them. A mask worn on the back of the head presumably confuses the Mountain Lion, making it impossible for them to figure out a way to attack the human from behind.
How to handle a nearby Mountain Lion
If the Mountain Lion is more than 100 yards away, avoid rapid movements and loud, excited talk. Stay in groups and continue to observe the Mountain Lion. If the Mountain Lion is between 50 and 100 yards away, has ears up, and is following your movement, keep your eye on the animal and again, stay in groups. Stand on high ground and begin looking for rocks, sticks, or other weapons. If the animal sits or begins grooming itself, it’s a sign that the animal is not predatory, and you should follow and mimic his actions (while keeping the animal in your peripheral vision). If the Mountain Lion is less than 50 yards away, prepare to defend yourself.
How to handle an approaching Mountain Lion
If you see a Mountain Lion approaching at a slow but steady pace, they are most likely readying to attack. Follow these steps to handle an approaching Mountain Lion:
- Try to give it a chance to escape.
- Look it in the eye if it continues to approach you.
- Make loud noises and try to make yourself look bigger by holding sticks over your head or spreading your jacket (Cougars prefer easy prey).
- Back away slowly and never turn your back.
- Do not run – running triggers the Mountain Lion’s attack instincts.
- Do not approach them – approaching triggers the Mountain Lion’s attack mode.
If the Mountain Lion’s tail is twitching and/or its head and body are held low to the ground, it’s a predatory sign, and the animal is sizing you up for an attack. If you have a weapon (pepper spray, knife, hiking pole), use it. If you have a sleeping bag, jacket, or other material, it may be a good idea to wrap it lightly around your neck to cushion the attack.
What to do when attacked by a Mountain Lion
If attacked, stand your ground. You have a good chance of coming out of an attack alive if you follow these tips:
- Make loud noises and throw rocks and sticks at the Mountain Lion (aim for the face) until it runs away.
- Do not run. Running triggers the animal’s hunting instinct and encourages it to attack.
- Mountain Lions prefer to attack from behind, and when they do attack, they typically try to bite the back of the head or neck. Do not turn your back on the Mountain Lion, nor should you crouch or bend over.
- If you have a weapon, use it to poke and stab the animal. Again, aim for the head and eyes, although body shots work if that’s the only target you have available.
- If you are attacked and you do not have a weapon, wrap your hands around the Mountain Lion’s throat and squeeze hard or try to jab it in the eye. Punch, kick, and fight hard. Mountain Lions have poor endurance, and a good fight might not be worth the meal to them.
If the Mountain Lion has the back of your head in its mouth, all is not lost. Reach behind you and put your right-hand thumb in the mouth and the left-hand index and middle finger in the other side of the Mountain Lion’s mouth and begin prying the mouth open while twisting and yanking the Mountain Lion’s head roughly. They have tremendous strength in their jaws, but again, they have poor endurance, and the struggle to keep you in their grip is likely not worth their trouble.
Once the attack ends, be aware that after an unsuccessful attack, a Mountain Lion may track its prey for several miles. Be aware.