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what to do if you encounter a cougar

What To Do If You Encounter a Cougar: 7 Great Tips

Seeing a cougar in the wild is a very uncommon, but amazing event. In most cases, it’s a nonviolent encounter – a moment where your eyes meet, before the mountain lion sprints away into the trees. However in extremely rare moments, a cougar can stalk, attack, or even hill a human – especially small children. There are things you can do when meeting a cougar to reduce the chance of a violent incident. Here is what to do if you encounter a cougar.

Table of Contents

First: Stay Calm and Scan the Scene

You are likely to get excited when you first see a cougar in the wild… and probably a bit scared as well. Take a moment to collect yourself with deep breaths, and scan the area around you. Did you startle the cougar? Does it have any cubs nearby? Does it seem like it was walking you? Is it attacking? In most cases, before you have time to do anything else, the cougar will flee. Here is what to do if you encounter a cougar and it doesn’t run away.  

Second: Do Not Run

If the cougar starts to approach you, snarly or is otherwise aggressive, fight the natural urge to turn and run. This may elicit a chase response in the cougar and encourage them to run after you… and you cannot outrun a cougar. Stay put and do not run away.

Third: Face the Cat

Look directly at the cat and try to appear as aggressive and large as you can. Wave your arms, a jacket or your trekking poles and try to look scary. Maintain eye contact with the cougar the entire time.

Fourth: Slowly Back Away

If it is safe to do so (i.e. you are not on exposed terrain and there are no tripping hazards) back away from the cougar slowly. Continue to maintain eye contact as you go. Never turn your back on a cougar or you may be chased.

Fifth: Throw Things

In the extremely unlikely event the cougar is not scared of you and continues to approach, you will need to escalate your response. Try throwing things at the cougar, like a water bottle, rocks, or branches, so long as you do not have to bend down far or turn your back to the cougar to grab them. Do not worry about hurting – in this rare type of situation, your life is at risk.

Sixth: Shout Loudly

Throughout the entire situation, you should raise your voice and shout loudly at the cougar. You can yell words, swear, or just scream at the cougar, so long as you sound aggressive. This may also attract assistance from others that will help scare the cougar away. Do not try to calm the cougar down with gentle language – it will not work.

Seventh: If Needed, Fight Back

If the cougar ultimately begins to run towards you, lunge, or otherwise attack, you need to fight back. You can punch, kick, or otherwise try to fight the cougar. In most cases, a few seconds of resistance is enough to scare them away, as most humans outweigh a cougar significantly. You can also use bear spray or other pepper spray products on cougars, as they dislike the odor and will usually run away. With the attack over you can treat yourself for any wounds and evacuate the area.

How Common are Cougar Encounters?

While these tips may sound terrifying, the chance of a cougar attack is exceedingly rare. There have been less than deadly 24 attacks in North America over the past 100 years. On average, that’s one death every 4-5 years. Cougars are not usually interested in humans as prey, and have massive ranges that usually prevent encounters. However, when a cougar is very hungry or is protecting its young, there is a chance it may attack.

Where Are You Likely to Encounter a Cougar?

Cougars are found throughout western America, but especially in California, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Washington. Interestingly enough, Vancouver Island has the world’s highest density of cougars – the best place to go if you want to see one yourself. They most often frequent forest edges along meadows where it is easy for them to hunt in areas away from regular human activity.

What To Do if You Encounter A Cougar: Now You Know!

Though cougar attacks are very rare, it is still a good idea to know what to do if you encounter a cougar. It can happen. If you travel through the backcountry, it. is best to be prepared. Remember the seven steps shared here to help you stay safe should it happen to you.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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