If you’re a hiker, like me, then you likely worry about wild animals like bears and mountain lions (depending on the region you’re in). Mountain lions, specifically, can inflict a lot of damage and are typically seen in the Western regions of the United States and Canada. Knowing how to survive a mountain lion attack could save your life.
If you live somewhere where these dangerous predators are indigineous, then I’m here to tell you that while the threat of mountain lions is low (they typically keep their distance from humans) it’s better to be safe than sorry.
With this in mind, you should be aware of these animals when hiking and have a sense of their behavior so you’re prepared to deal with one should your paths cross. Now, I must admit that I’ve never ran into one when hiking before, and I’ve hiked hundreds of miles worth of trail and mountainous terrain in multiple states.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility. All it takes is one nasty encounter to potentially put your life at risk. So, read on to learn how to survive a mountain lion attack.
Stopping a Mountain Lion From Pouncing
More often than not if you are attacked by a mountain lion you won’t know until it is too late. They are quiet and talented stalkers. If you do see them they may be curious and trying to see if you are good prey.
If you see a mountain lion do not run or turn your back. Both of these actions are similar to how prey would act. You want to show that you are not prey and you will not outrun a mountain lion as they can run up to 50 mph.
Here is what to do instead:
- Act menacing and big by waving your arms or backpack. Make loud noises.
- If you have trekking poles, wave them in the air over your head.
- Use an air horn.
- Use bear spray if the mountain lion approaches.
- Don’t antagonize it by approaching, cornering or threatening it.
Mountain lions will eat and attack anything from mice to deer. Mountain lions only eat meat and will eat up to 10 pounds of it a day. Be sure if you see a mountain lion to report it to a ranger. Call them immediately if you are able or as soon as you can make it to a phone or ranger station.
What if They Still Pounce?
In a mountain lion attack you will usually not have any warning it is coming. They will aim to pounce on you and use their bite to crush your neck. If this happens use any tools you have to scare it away whether that is your hiking poles, air horn, or bear spray. Be sure to aim the spray at the mountain lion’s face.
Find and grab anything within reach that you can use as a weapon such as a rock, knife, even a pen will do. If you have nothing use your fists to hit the mountain lion.
Use whatever you have to hit the animal in the head, focusing on its eyes. The longer you can fight off the animal the more likely you will convince it that you are not suitable prey. Use bear spray in the animal’s face.
Your only focus should be surviving and fighting. Remind yourself that people have survived mountain lion attacks and you can too. Don’t give up! You can also try and choke it if you end up behind the animal.
These same principles can and should be followed if your companion is being attacked.
Gear to Help You Survive a Mountain Lion Attack
There are many ways you can prepare yourself and your gear if you are afraid of a mountain lion attack.
Purchase an air horn from a marine supply or hardware store and keep it easily accessible.
The best way to survive a mountain lion attack is to avoid one in the first place. So be vigilant and know how to look for signs of their presence.
Preventing a Mountain Lion Attack
Mountain lions can live anywhere where they have access to prey but are known mostly to the western part of the US and Canada. I’ve never encountered one face to face but have certainly seen evidence of them. Their typical range can be 30 square miles so even if you see evidence they may be long gone.
Be prepared to see them anywhere including in the deserts and mountains. The typical ranger station will post about sightings or signs of mountain lions and try to spread the word. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will meet one on the trail but it is best to be prepared as discussed above.
Pull out your hiking poles and have your bear spray or air horn ready when and if you do see evidence of a mountain lion in your area.
Signs a Mountain Lion is Nearby
Signs of mountain lions you should be aware of:
- Signs of animals that are good mountain lion prey such as deer and sheep.
- An animal carcass, even if they didn’t kill it they may come in to feed on it.
- Fresh mountain lion scat will be warm and moist. While it can be hard to identify it will be large like human feces and may have animal hair in it.
- Mountain lion tracks are usually a reliable sign they are in the area. They can however be hard to see and notice depending on where you are. They will be about 2 inches by 4 inches with no claw marks (unlike a dog). In dog tracks both top toes will be level but with a cat track the top toe is in front of the others.
Don’t Rest Without Being Vigilant
As we discussed mountain lions are very good at knowing what they can successfully attack. If you are sitting, squatting, or crouched down you look much more enticing to the animal.
While crouching down can’t always be avoided it is important to be extra alert. For example, when sitting around the campfire just be vigilant listening to what is going on around you.
In a mountain lion attack near my home a woman was believed to be attacked when she crouched down to fix her bike. Be aware!
Protect Children & Dogs
Naturally children and dogs are smaller and make easier targets for mountain lions. If you have them with you be extra vigilant about the danger they could be in.
Don’t let your kids wander off alone. If you see a mountain lion while with a child grab them which will make you both look bigger and more menacing.
Dogs are very good at alerting us to danger and can be helpful in the case of mountain lions. The same logic applies here and if you see a mountain lion pull your dog closer to you. You will be much less enticing to a mountain lion.