A mountain lion, also known as a cougar, is a powerful predator that can leap 15 feet vertically, jump distances of 40 feet, and reach speeds of up to 50 mph. They also have sharp claws and teeth.
In other words, they’re the last thing you want to encounter on your morning walk.
So, what should you do if you bump into a mountain lion? How should you react and what are your chances of surviving?
What Should You Do If You See a Mountain Lion?
If you’re going on a hike in an area known to contain mountain lions, make sure you take someone with you and keep small children close to you at all times.
If you see a mountain lion, remember the following:
- Stay Calm: Don’t panic! Encountering a mountain lion can be a pretty terrifying experience, but it’s important to stay calm.
- Stand and Face It: Stand upright and face the lion. Don’t make yourself an easy target by turning your back.
- Don’t Approach: Don’t approach a mountain lion. It doesn’t matter how calm it looks; you must keep your distance.
- Give Them an Escape Route: Most mountain lions will seek to avoid confrontation and make an escape. If they are trapped and don’t have an escape route, they are more likely to attack.
- Don’t Run: If you run, you’ll look more like prey and you’ll activate the mountain lion’s instinct to chase. Make eye contact and stand firm.
- Pick Up Children: If you have children with you, reach over and pick them up. Try to do this without bending or turning away, no matter how awkward it feels.
- Don’t Bend: You should never bend, crouch, or sit during a mountain lion encounter. You’ll look more like its natural prey and that will increase the risk of an attack.
How Common are Mountain Lion Attacks?
There was a time when mountain lions could be found throughout the United States. These days, they are limited to the western states, along with a small population in Florida:
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
What To Do if a Mountain Lion Attacks
If the mountain lion approaches, it’s time to make yourself big and strong. Your natural instinct may be to shirk away, run, or act submissively, but it’s best to try and scare the animal.
Wave your arms slowly and speak loudly. If you have anything to hand, throw it in front of the animal. Pick up stones and other items if you can but refrain from bending down.
These are warning shots, and the goal is to intimidate and not to harm, so don’t throw stones directly at the mountain lion.
If the mountain lion keeps moving toward you, aim those stones at its head.
If it attacks, fight back! Use whatever tools you have to hand. Swing. Punch. Kick.
A mountain lion will typically aim for the head and neck, so stand tall and keep it away. If you have a backpack or any other large object, use it as a shield.
How Do You Know if a Mountain Lion is Around You?
Looking for tracks is the best way to know if you are in the presence of mountain lions.
A mountain lion’s tracks have teardrop-shaped toes (a bobcat’s and dog’s tracks are more oval-shaped), along with a lobe that has three indents. You won’t be able to see any claw marks like you can with dogs, and the tracks are usually between 3 and 3.5 inches wide.
Mountain lions typically kill by biting into the back of the prey’s neck or head while using their claws to hook into the flesh and hold onto the animal. If you see a fresh carcass with these signs, it could indicate that a mountain lion is nearby.
You likely won’t hear a mountain lion if it is nearby. These creatures tend to move very silently and their growl is akin to a large house cat.
Should You Yell at a Mountain Lion?
During a mountain lion encounter, be prepared to yell at the animal while maintaining eye contact and waving your arms. You want to look as big, strong, and intimidating as possible.
What To Do It a Mountain Lions Comes Toward You?
If a mountain lion advances on you, keep making yourself big and loud. Start throwing stones at the animal and be prepared to protect yourself. You should also protect small children by picking them up (without bending), as the animal will likely attack them first.
Where Do Mountain Lions Live?
Mountain lions can be found in desert areas and coastal forests, usually wherever deer are present. The mountain lion habitat is usually rocky and mountainous, with a range that is up to 100 square miles from its home (a male mountain lion will venture further from its home than a female).
Mountain lions are more active during the night than the day, but you can encounter them at any time. As with house cats, they tend to spend a lot of their time sleeping.
How Many Mountain Lion Attacks Are There in the United States?
Mountain lion encounters are rare and attacks are even rarer.
In the past 100 years, fewer than 30 fatal mountain lion attacks have been recorded in North America, and there have been approximately 100 other attacks that did not result in fatalities.
This means that fatal attacks by mountain lions are much rarer than attacks from snakes, spiders, bears, and sharks. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind and start treating these fierce creatures with the same apathy that you reserve for your neighbor’s cat. They can still attack, and when they do, they can cause serious harm.
Why Do Mountain Lions Attack?
There are several reasons why a mountain lion might attack.
First, it could be hungry and may see you as easy prey. Such incidences are rare, but they do occur.
Secondly, the mountain lion may see you as a threat. If it’s cornered and scared, it will attack.
Finally, if you try to run away and stimulate a mountain lion’s predatory instinct, it could give chase and attack.