What To Do If You See A Cougar While Hiking

Cougars, sometimes called mountain lions or pumas (and numerous other names), are very risky predators of the highest order.

Likely, you won’t see one while exploring areas with high numbers of them. They’re very elusive. However, if you happen to see this, here’s what you should do when you spot one while out hiking.

I’ve pieced together a short guide from my own experience of encountering a cougar (thankfully, I’m alive) and conversations with a wild animal expert.

Are Cougar Attacks Common?

Cougars are mighty killing machines. They can kill an adult bull moose that is several times heavier than them. Therefore, a cougar attack on one of us is extremely likely to result in death.

Fortunately, cougar attacks are extremely uncommon due to two reasons:

  • One is that cougars are challenging to spot and are often hidden within thick trees. The majority of hikers do not encounter an elusive cougar on their hikes.
  • Two, cougars don’t consider humans prey. Therefore, even if they spot people walking around, they are not compelled to strike. Humans appear and behave differently from other prey species like deer.

According to Wikipedia, cougar attacks contain 27 fatal assaults (out of 127 attacks) by cougars across North America in the last 100 years.

In many states where mountain lions can be found, attacks by cougars are nearly never heard of.

Are Cougars Dangerous To Humans?

Cougars, which are apex predators, can be dangerous. They can easily slay and kill a human being. It’s similar to a beginner boxer being thrown into the ring with a prime Mike Tyson…

But encounters with cougars are usually not serious. Most of the time, it’s not necessary to take any action to repeal the cougar. It will leave when it spots you.

If the cougar appears to be bold or curious, a strong gaze and other intimidation tricks are often enough to deter the animal.

There are some situations where the encounter with a cougar can be risky and even fatal, such as the following:

  • If a cougar can see an individual child, the likelihood is higher for a target. The majority of fatal cougar attacks in the US involved children.
  • Dogs can provoke the cougar to attack. Be cautious when you go on hikes with your pet, and keep its leash on in high-risk areas. As protective as your dog may be, do not let your dog defend you or pursue the cougar, as it will be killed.
  • A cougar who is cornered is likely to feel threatened and take action. As you try to scare the cougar away, ensure that you’re not blocking all escape routes.
  • A cougar protecting her cubs will strike at anything she sees as a threat. Don’t approach a cougar’s cubs or stand in front of them or the mother.
  • Based on the CNN story, starvation could cause cougars to become more aggressive and more likely to attack humans. A frightened bear attacked two cyclists and killed one of them.

What Should You Do If You Spot A Cougar When Hiking

In contrast to larger animals such as bears or moose, the cougars are slender and quiet. They aren’t known for their presence. Many people get terrified and try to escape quickly from the predator. It’s a mistake that could result in an untimely attack.

A cougar’s pursuit is one of the most dangerous things you should do. The cougar will pursue you and capture you – similar to Liam Neeson’s famous line in Taken, “I will find you, and I will kill you.”

Don’t believe that you’ll climb an old tree or plunge into the nearby lake or river to escape. Cougars can climb trees and are also excellent swimmers.

When you’ve overcome the shock of being close to the cougar, remain as calm as possible and do the following steps:

  • Keep your distance and look at the cougar. It is crucial to present yourself as a threat, not a prey for the cougar so that it will move away. Being on your feet and looking directly at the cougar is likely to cause it to reconsider taking action.
  • If you have children accompanying you, make sure you pick them up right away. If you’re walking with a pet, keep it in a secure place by a leash. The worst thing you could have is your pet or child moving towards or away from the Cougar.
  • Look big by lifting your arms and flapping them around. Make sure to spread your legs widely.
  • Make lots of noise by making your hands clap and shouting at the female cougar.
  • Please keep your eyes on the cougar as it departs. Don’t let it go. the cougar (as you might with bears) or tilt your head and turn away for an instant.
  • Be firm for a few more minutes after the cougar is gone to make sure that the cougar is gone. Cougars are observed to wait for the chance for another strike. When you think the cougar is gone, it comes back to give it another shot.

How to Survive A Cougar Attack

These tips can successfully deter the cougar and cause it to leave in most instances. If the cougar seems particularly aggressive, it may begin to signal an attack.

If the cougar isn’t moving away or appears poised to attack, It’s time to increase your protection, so you should consider the following, which worked for me:

  • Throw twigs and rocks at the animal. Grab rocks and twigs without breaking eye contact with the animal.
  • Make yourself louder and more powerful to appear more intimidating. You can throw things at the cougar to force it to stop.
  • Suppose a cougar comes after you. Take a stand and do not run. Instead, raise your hands to shield your neck and face (cougars instinctively attack your neck) and fight. Kick, punch and hit the cougar in the eye or nose and other sensitive places. Engaging in a fight could cause the cougar to relax and let go.

If you do not succumb to the attack, go to a safe place and seek medical attention, even with only small bites or scratches.

It is vital to inform the local wildlife agency. They’ll look into the incident and decide if the cougar should be killed to safeguard others hiking.

How To Avoid A Cougar Attack

If you are hiking in mountain lion or cougar countries, such as in Colorado and Texas, be extra vigilant to avoid an attack by a cougar.

One thing that you could do is go hiking with your friends. An entire group creates lots of noise that informs wild animals that they are there. Animals don’t want to be taken by surprise.

If you’re hiking on your own, you can sing, talk, and wear bells or rings to signal your presence.

Cougars are generally opposed to being around even the pet. Problems arise when the Cougar chases your dog.

Many pet owners automatically run to help their pets and risk injury or death. Sometimes, dogs will run away and lead the cougar back to you.

If your dog cannot stay on the trails, make sure you make sure they’re on a leash.

If you’re in a region with recent news of sightings or attacks, it’s likely to keep your dog home, and you should consider staying at home with your dog too!

Do You Need to Stay Away From A Cougar?

If you come across many wild animals such as bears, coyotes, and moose, the general suggestion is to remain at a safe distance, frighten the animal (unless it’s a bear), and then walk backward and keep your eyes on the animal.

This is a major no-no when dealing with the cougar.

A cougar isn’t likely to think of you as prey. However, specific movements could cause it to change its mind and see you as an easy dinner.

Moving away, turning your back, or tripping or falling could cause a cougar to attack. Because they’re so quick, they can leap a great distance and fast; just two seconds of turning your back or head are enough for a cougar to come at your back and grab you.

Do not leave an elusive cougar until you’re confident that the cougar has gone away from you far enough.

Keep your distance, make eye contact, and scare the cougar by appearing big and loud. Be sure to leave the area when the cougar is gone.

Do Cougars Have A Tendency To Stalk Humans?

One of the fears individuals face when out in the open is the possibility of a cougar snooping around in search of the perfect moment to strike.

The truth is that cougars are their prey. But bear in mind that cougars don’t think of humans as prey, and it’s unlikely that a cougar would be watching you as you’re hiking.

Cougars prefer to remain away from humans and are rarely likely to meet anyone.

However, there are instances where the cougar may stalk people and even attack them.

A hungry and hungry animal could be in a state of extreme hunger to strike an individual. The orphaned cougars have been reported to be able to approach humans, perhaps because they haven’t been taught what the correct target is.

A person moving fast, like cycling or running, may cause a cougar to attack. This is because the motion causes the cougar to think of themselves as prey.

Remember never to let a child go alone when they are out in the open. The majority of cougar attacks happen to children and are often fatal.

Written by Den Kyle, verified, and edited by David Myer.

Was this helpful?
Den Kyle

Den Kyle

I'm the founder of Dens Camp Guide. After many years of hiking and trekking worldwide, I decided to share my experiences by making my guide website! Former science teacher, Ohio State graduate, and now full-time adventurer!