How to Handle a Cougar Encounter

The heavyweight champion of the wildcat family, the cougar (aka catamount, mountain cat, mountain lion, panther and puma) is perhaps one of the most feared and misunderstood predators. It may surprise you to learn that, since 1890, mountain lions have claimed fewer than 25 fatalities in North America. In fact, you are more likely to get struck by lightning, attacked by a dog or get shot in a hunting accident than face the wrath of the so-called ghost cat of the wilderness.

That said, you don't want to end up a statistic. Safe is smart in the Great Outdoors, especially in cougar country.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Mind the Mountain Lion

Step 1
Recognize the signs. Mountain lion tracks span 3 to 5 inches without claw marks. Also watch for territorial markings such as "scrapes," mounds of dirt, detritus, urine and mountain lion scat (large, segmented cylindrical feces).
Step 2
Keep your pets on a leash. Only you can prevent your dog from becoming cougar cuisine.
Step 3
Never hike in cougar country alone, and never trail behind the group. Ideally, one should always hike in a small group.
Step 4
Jogging in cougar country is verboten: Mountain lions do not actively engage in human hunting, but cats live for the thrill of the chase. Act like a cougar's prey and you risk discovering the mountain lion's predatory instincts.

Cougar Encounter

Step 1
Don't panic. Yes, this is easier said than done, but at least try to remain composed. Do not try to sneak past or leave the scene. Chances are the cat sensed your presence long before you spotted it.
Step 2
Stop, but don't drop. Square your shoulders and stand tall stretching your arms and legs to appear larger. Do not turn, bend over or crouch.
Step 3
Scoop up children and grab your hiking mates. Interlace arms upright as if you are about to take a bow (just don't).
Step 4
Shout and stare into the cat's eyes. Mountain lions generally avoid confrontation and will not want to mess with anything that poses danger.
Step 5
Maintain composure and eye contact. Allow the cougar a way out. Mountain lions are physically incapable of backing up without deliberately stepping forward and turning around. Let the cat do what it has to do to retreat from the scene.
Step 6
Slowly back away toward a road, building or busy area. Do not walk toward or past the cougar.
Step 7
Be prepared, if all efforts fail, to fight for your life. Remain standing and scream and fight aggressively with whatever makeshift weapon you have on-hand (such as keys, water bottles, rocks or even your bike).
Step 8
Report your encounter and help avoid another. Try 911, if you are fortunate enough to have phone reception, or flag down other hikers and/or a ranger.

Tips & Warnings

Mountain lions are typically found in foothills and mountains ranging from Canada's southwest to the western states of North America and throughout most western parts of the South America.
Do not, under any circumstances, approach a mountain lion.
Do not feed wildlife.
Mountain lions can jump up to 20 feet vertically and 40 feet horizontally.
Do not approach a mountain lion kitten. Chances are its mother is close by.

Article Written By Lindsay Morris

A professional writer and editor since 1994, Lindsay Morris has worked at publications including "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel," "Folio," and "Shape." Currently manager of titling and strategy for Demand Media, Morris' freelance writing has been published in "Women's Adventure" and "Chicago Tribune." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Marquette University.

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