By Cheri Sicard
As more and more civilization encroaches on wilderness, wildlife encounters are becoming more frequent. In the video below, Dixie from Homemade Wanderlust, a YouTube channel specializing in hiking and backpacking, is here to share her best mountain lion safety tips.
Dixie says that people talk a lot about bear safety, but not so much about mountain lions. She suddenly realized this when she found herself face-to-face with a mountain lion on one of her hikes. Thankfully, that encounter ended well, but it prompted her to create the video to help others who might find themselves in similar circumstances.
The video is not meant to scare you. Dixie stresses that encountering a mountain lion on a trail happens only rarely. However, the time to learn what to do about it is before you are faced with this stressful situation.
Dixie starts the presentation with some interesting mountain lion facts and statistics:
- Dixie says it is kind of strange that we don’t encounter mountain lions more often as, second only to humans, mountain lions have the largest geographical range in the Western hemisphere.
- Mountain lions can be found in every state west of the Mississippi and a few states east of it as well.
- Fatal mountain lion attacks in the U.S. have been recorded since 1890. Still, they are rare. For instance, in the entire state of California, there have only been eight mountain lion fatalities since that recorded history began. Most states have never had any, a few others have had one or two. All in all, since 1890 there have only been 17 mountain lion fatalities in the United States!
- Seven of the 17 U.S. mountain lion fatalities were children, and most of the adults were either running or biking. Children look more like prey to a mountain lion and fast motion can trigger an instinct to pursue.
How to avoid a mountain lion encounter
- Be aware of your surroundings. Mountain lions are stealthy and it would be easy to be stalked by one without even knowing it. Therefore, always be vigilant and aware of your surroundings in mountain lion territory. Take time to look around and stop every now and again and give a listen.
- Hike in groups. As Dixie succinctly puts it, the more you hike in groups, the less you look like lunch. Groups also make more noise, which most likely will cause the mountain lion to go in the other direction.
- Keep your dogs and children close when in mountain lion territory as both can look like their next meal to a mountain lion. Having a dog leading the hike can attract a mountain lion that might otherwise have left you alone. Children, especially smaller ones, can fall into the same potential prey category.
- Be especially alert at dawn and dusk, times when mountain lions are generally more active.
- As much as possible, avoid crouching and bending, or at least do a quick visual check of the surroundings before you do.
What to do if you encounter a mountain lion
- Try to stay calm, difficult as that may be.
- DON’T RUN! Running will trigger the mountain lion’s instinct to pursue.
- Don’t approach the mountain lion. Stand firm and stand your ground.
- Maintain direct eye contact. This is a big no-no with bears, but interestingly enough, it is recommended with mountain lions.
- Raise your voice and speak firmly.
- If you have children with you, pick them up (but don’t crouch down to do it).
- Get big! If after doing all of the above the mountain lion has still not retreated, make yourself appear as large as possible, raise and outstretch your arms, raise your hiking poles in the air, open your coat, or anything else you can do to make yourself appear as large as possible.
- If things continue to escalate, clap your hands or perhaps throw a rock or stick at the mountain lion.
What to do if you are attacked by a mountain lion
If none of these tactics have worked and a mountain lion is attacking you, Dixie says you literally need to fight for your life. It is not like a bear encounter where playing dead can make the animal back off. If a mountain lion attacks, he is trying to kill you.
- Protect your head and neck.
- Use whatever weapons you have on hand: rocks, sticks, knives, etc. Aim for the face and throat.
- It may seem impossible to think that you could fight off a mountain lion, but if you are being attacked, that is your only option. Know that it can be done and has been done in the past.
Not only practical, but the video below is also fascinating. Dixie ends with a personal evaluation of her own mountain lion encounter, what she did right and what she could have improved upon to increase her chance of safety (even though that encounter did end without incident).