Mountain Lion Safety Tips

Aggressive Mountain Lion

You may or may not have heard about the mountain lion incident over in my neck of the woods on January 3, 2007. The cat was after two large dogs in the back yard of a local resident. Unfortunately the animal was wounded—which will make it more dangerous. You can read more about this mountain lion incident at

Mountain lion issues are not something new around these parts and wildlife encounters are on the rise. It used to be that only older or sick animals attacked humans but some of us believe that the increase in mountain lion encounters are because younger lions are being moved out of territories by established males. This is probably also complicated by our excessive building and invasion into their habitat–which drives out prey and reduces the actual territory by human over development.

Just the other day, after one of my hikes with Shadow (a neighbors dog), I chatted about wildlife encounters and issues with Paul, who lives down the road. This discussion sort of piggy backed with my thought of pulling out my pistol because Shadow and I have been walking in isolated areas–and recently walking without another human escort. I know that after the fire damage the likelihood of wildlife encounters is on the increase.

Paul told me about a recent incident where a coyote was chattering at Amo, his big Labrador. Anyway, Waylon (a large German shepherd and Amo’s pal) showed up and the three of them advanced and flushed four more coyotes out of the brush.

The coyote clan likes to pick off pets, a problem that surfaces around these parts once in a while, but that is super common with urban coyotes. Both Waylon and Amo are large dogs and the presence of Paul did not intimidate the coyotes. Paul added that they treated Waylon for wildlife attackinjuries about a month ago.

In case you are wondering, Waylon belongs to another neighbor. In my little town, we all look after each other and the neighborhood animals are frequent visitors. Also, I just grab the key to Shadow’s house and let myself in and am known for being pals with most of the animals who live in this area.

Anyway, I always pay attention to my instincts which is why I have been thinking about packing a pistol again. A few years ago I walked just before dawn and then my sixth sense told me to change my walking habits. This sense has served me well when it comes to training animals and in other situations.

So, back then I quit walking so early and changed my patterns so that I ambled down the highway instead of the trails and into the woods. A short time after I changed those habits, I noticed all the lower level predators moved out of the area and the smaller “lion snacks” (small wildlife creatures such as squirrels, rabbits, etc) down the street also became scarce.

Then both a mountain lion and bear began to be regularly sighted down my street. There is a wildlife channel there that follows the creek bed and since no residents live up where the private property meets the national forest—it is a popular place for critters and once the street lights were turned off, I think the “cloaked by darkness” factor emboldened the critters.

Since then, the cat seems to show up around September and hangs around for a while. Mountain lions have fairly large territories and move through them in pretty predictable patterns. This cat was getting too comfortable around humans and was seen in daylight up by Camp Whittle and down here on the road at dawn, dusk, and during the late night hours.

The bear seemed to also move in and was a disagreeable neighbor and so had a few altercations with the cat—which made for some pretty darn scary excitement for the neighbors. Recently, the bear has been ambling around again…but I have not heard about the cat for over a month or so.

I have not seen any large animal tracks but I have seen a lot more bear poop scat in the area. Paul confirmed that he has seen a large bear has been hanging around Grout Creek and the roads near his house—even digging in the garbage.

But back to the mountain lion commentary, last I heard, the current mountain lion population estimate for California is 4,000-6,000 adult cougars. These creatures are known by many names including [tag]cougar[/tag], puma, panther, catamount, and more.

Mountain lions generally weigh in about an average of 100 pounds or so. Males can weigh from about 110 to 180 pounds, while the females are slightly smaller, weighing in from 80 to 130 pounds.

These cats are a tan color with striking black highlights above the eyes, mouth, and on the tip of the tail. The tail is long and measures about two-thirds the length of the head and body. I find it hard to believe that people confuse the mountain lion with the bobcat, a smaller cat of about 22 pounds, recognizable by its spotted coat, pointed ears, and short tail.

Known also as the American lion, the territory of cougars can range from 25 square miles in prey rich areas to up to 1000 square miles. What is amazing is their agility. From a standing position, estimates are that mountain lions can jump a vertical distance of up to 15 feet and horizontally to about 40 feet.

Mountain lions choose deer as prey most often, but they also feed on wild hogs, raccoons, rabbits and hares, porcupine, birds—and pets. Although verified mountain lion attacks are rare in the scheme of things, residents and visitors should take precautions.

Here are eight mountain lion attack safety tips:

1. Don’t hike alone. Travel in groups or pairs.

2. Keep kids close. Adults should keep children close and supervise them on trails or in camp grounds. Predators will hunt weak, small, or sick animals. Children trigger predatory behavior through their activities and vocalizations. Small children should be pulled into you, or picked up if possible. Keep them quiet and prevent panic.

3. Do not approach wild animals. Most wild animals will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape and don’t purposely approach them.

4. Don’t run to escape from a mountain lion. Stand still. Running can stimulate the instinct to attack. Department of Fish & Game recommends that you stand, face the animal, and make eye contact.

5. Remain upright. Squatting, crouching, or bending presents a similar image to that of a four-legged prey animal. Avoid those activities.

6. Appear more threatening. Raise and wave your arms slowly. Throw stones, branches, or whatever is within reach without crouching or turning your back. Speak firmly in a loud voice. Convince the animal that you are not prey and be dangerous.

7. Fight back if attacked. A mountain lion (cougar) usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. People have fought successfully with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands.

8. Consider other preventative measures. Carry pepper spray, stun gun, or another animal deterrent. You might read my article on captive animal attacks for additional ideas.

What else can you do?
Avoid walking in the early morning, dusk, or after dark to cut down the risk. Animals can attack at any time, but verified attacks on humans is rare and by using common sense you can reduce your risk.

What you might find interesting is that the last couple of attacks in Northern California were thwarted by female humans…so maybe there is something good behind PMS–you never know, being in that state could be an advantage out in the woods! 🙂

If you live in a mountain area or plan to vacation in the mountains you might want to order one or more of the following books:

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  1. Lots of good information! Just a couple nights ago while in the backyard with my dogs my wife and I heard a couple coyotes calling to each other on either side of us – they were both within 50 yards but we never saw them. It was more fascinating than unnerving, but definitely both.

    One thing I’ve heard about fighting back against a predator (if it gets to that point) is that you have to be as physically violent as possible. The reasoning is that these animals are used to sustaining injury when bringing down prey and can tolerate a lot more pain than humans.

    Living in Michigan, one wouldn’t think of lions being an issue but in the past several years there have been persistent rumors that lions have returned to Michigan in the wild. Is this something I should be concerned about when running the trails with my dogs?

  2. Karen Hunter says

    I live in the Denver metro area, a little south. It is a neighborhood, the suburbs, and 2 blocks away is an older area with alot of open space.
    We have lost several cats to foxes that we see often, even in the day. Then last week I went outside and across the street was an animal a little taller and leaner than my chow mixed dog. I was stunned because it registered that this was not a canine. It’s tail was very long and I really think that it was a mountain lion.
    It sounds so crazy, but it turned and looked at me and then just sauntered off. Could it really be a big cat here?

  3. Yes, it isn’t unusual for mountain lions to enter into urban areas. This is more common if you have wildlife corridors in the area or wilderness around you. It isn’t common to see them because they tend to be more elusive.