What to do if you encounter a cougar

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The Press article July 25, “Cougar sightings put agencies on alert,” was nice coverage by staff writer Brian Walker. However, I’d like to provide some perspective and more information on cougar encounters for the general public: Hikers, bikers and hunters.

Jordan Root did all the right things and survived. PF Police Chief Pat Knight’s suggestion to set up cameras is an excellent idea. IDFG Chip Corsi’s comments were good but I strongly encourage government agencies to consider trap and relocate first, and especially leave a cougar with kittens alone. The risks far outweigh the benefits.

If you kill the mother then you must find a home for the kittens (Oregon Zoo, PDX — Michelle Schiremen finds homes for orphaned cubs). Mr. Corsi is right when he says they are generally active dusk to dawn. Daytime they are usually transient unless feeding kittens. The cougar is generally a nocturnal species. And cougars are usually afraid of humans — curious, but rarely seen.

I believe we need to learn to co-exist, like California, which outlawed sport/trophy hunting cougars more than 22 years ago (depredation and protection is still being worked out). Ninety-three percent of our population agrees with Sigourney Weaver, who said “that it’s in humans’ best interests to protect wildlife and wild places.” We need to stop the old-school shoot everything first and sport/trophy hunting (especially with dogs — a form of canned hunting) of the cougar. It is unsustainable!

I’m including “How to Survive a Cougar Encounter 3” with expanded information (hand to paw) not found yet on MLF, Cougar Fund sites.




Encounters with mountain lions/cougars/pumas are very rare. In fact, most people who have gone into the wildlands/mountains of the West may have been tracked by a curious cougar and were never aware of the elusive cat’s presence. Attacks are even rarer!

However, with the influx of human population, increased outdoor activity and their loss of habitat in the Northwest, encounters may increase. We can co-exist and harmonize with the Big Cat. The following is a compilation of good advice for hikers, bikers, hunters, outdoorsmen and urbanites who live on the edge of the forests and wildlands.

Seem as large as possible. Make yourself big, appear larger by picking up children, leashing pets in, and standing close to other people. Wave your raised arms slowly; do not challenge.

Make noise, get the animal’s attention. Speak slowly to the cat and increase loudly as he approaches to disrupt and discourage the lion’s hunting instincts. Yell, holler, bang your walking stick or water bottle, making any loud sound that cannot be confused by the lion as the sound of prey. And scream if necessary to make sure he knows you’re there. Wear and use a whistle.

Do NOT run, and stay together if in group. Act defiant, not afraid. They can read your body language and expression. Stand your ground. Aggressively wave your arms, throw stones or branches, do not turn away. And do not aggravate the Big Cat!

Slowly create distance. Assess the situation. Consider whether you might be between the lion and its kittens, prey or cache. Then back away slowly to give the mountain lion a path to retreat, never turning your back. Give the lion time and ability to get away.

Maintain eye contact. Never run past or away from a mountain lion. Don’t bend over or crouch down.

Bring out the bear spray. Bikers should consider bear spray bottle cages for easy access, and hikers should get belt-clip canisters and know how to use with quick access.

Protect yourself, Fight back. If all of the above fails, people have used rocks, jackets, garden tools, tree branches, walking sticks, fanny packs and even bare hands to turn away mountain lions if the cougar attacks. How do you fight a cougar?

Immediately size him up. In the western mountain states (except California) where the culling, “harvesting” trophy hunting (which is ineffective — average take is 3-year-olds) can kill 600-900 (or more) in each state per year (averages 300-400 takes per year), you rarely see a cougar in the wild over 7 years old in these areas and they normally weigh 100–150 pounds. Your approach might be a little different in the remote areas where they can average 8 to 12 years of age in the wild and weigh in at 150 to 200 pounds or more!

When he confronts you (barring a surprise attack — highly unusual), connect and read the cat. And when he goes down on his front legs, ears go back, tail swishes (or any combination) he is going to come at you! You instantaneously must change from defensive posture to offensive posture and go at him. The surprise may throw him off. Regardless, punch him as hard as you can in the nose. He will be quick and strong. If you miss, grab him by the throat/neck and hang on because he will do damage, but your adrenaline will counteract the pain momentarily. Then put a knee to his ribs/stomach. Stay on your feet. Don’t give up. Whatever you do, do not let him get to your throat or neck, and never let him get behind you, or on your back. Even Ambassador handlers and private owners will tell you that with captive bonded companion big cats, there’s a respect there. Be sure to let him go whenever he’s had enough, but watch for a counterattack.

Note: Those who pack guns: (Many women pack in the backpacking/hiking areas for encounters with wildlife predators and human predators). All the above applies except after “When he confronts you. Connect and read the cat. And when he goes down on his front legs, ears go back, tail swishes (or any combination) he is going to come at you.” You normally will have sufficient warning to get your gun out, shoot at the ground in front of him to distract and deflect his attention to stop an attack. There usually is no reason to shoot him. If you only wound him he will be one angry cat!

This should be modified for various other big cat species encounters, depending on character.

Not counting hands-on captive big cat experience, I have had only one encounter with a cougar in the wild. That was while working for the USFS in the Cascades in the early ’60s, and the Cougar was not interested in a confrontation … thank goodness.


James H. Mundy IV is a big cat specialist and Coeur d’Alene resident. For more on his background, look him up on Facebook.

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