How Do I Avoid Cougar Attacks?

I’m well-versed in bear safety techniques, but I have no idea how to handle a cougar encounter on the trail. Help!


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Cougars can often seem mysterious, and malicious, in a way that grizzly bears don’t. (As you can probably tell, I’m not a cat person.) Attacks have occurred throughout the western rim of North America, from California to British Columbia. With the warming climate pushing mule deer north into my home, the Yukon Territory, I’m dreading the day that the big felines arrive.

Fortunately, the facts say my fears are unfounded: you’re 60 times more likely to be killed by bees than by a cougar.

There are several risk factors that can increase the probability of human-cougar conflict. The first is the cougar’s age: After they leave their mothers, young “teenage” cougars go in search of a range of their own. As they roam in search of unclaimed territory, they sometimes stray into populated rural areas. A second factor is the human’s age. Most cougar attacks, both fatal and non-fatal, have been aimed at children under 16.

The solution? If you’re camping in cougar country with kids, make sure they’re playing together – and ideally, with adult supervision. A dog’s presence can serve as an “early-warning system,” too, though it may not scare off a cat on the prowl. Dusk and dawn are the cougar’s prime hunting hours, so be especially sure to keep the kids close at hand at those times.

On the trail, the recommended precautions are similar to standard bear protocol. Travel in groups of two or more. Make plenty of noise while you hike, and watch for cougar sign. Any sighting of cougar kittens is an immediate signal to retreat.

If you do encounter a cougar in the wild, remain calm. Do not approach the cougar, and do speak in a confident voice. Be sure to leave the cougar its own avenue of escape as you move away. Pick up your children, and do not run or turn your back on the cat. Try to make yourself look big and tall, and grab a large stick if you have one handy.

In the event of attack, fight. Many people have fended off angry cats using their fists, water bottle, or anything else at hand.

Cougars have a reputation as mysterious killers, but a large part of the mystery comes from the fact that our encounters with them are so rare. Chances are slim that you’ll ever have to put these guidelines into effect.