What to Do if you See a Mountain Lion While Hiking

Mountain Lions (also known a cougars or pumas) are a commonly feared animal to encounter while hiking. They can be very aggressive if threatened, and because of their stealth you likely won’t ever see one until you’re already in danger of an attack. But, if you know what you lookout for you’ll be better prepared on when to expect a mountain lion while hiking, and what to do in an encounter.

The best approach to handling a mountain lion while hiking is to look out for signs, like scat, prints, and other marks that a mountain lion is around. Should you see a mountain lion on the trail hold your ground and do not run or bend over. Back away slowly speaking loudly and make yourself look as big as possible. Be prepared to fight back if necessary.

Although it may be very uncommon to encounter a mountain lion while hiking, it’s always good to be prepared just in case. Let’s discuss how to identify signs of a mountain lion while hiking, as well as how to protect yourself in an encounter should you run into one in the woods.

a mountain lion perched on the side of a large rock in the woods. An example of a mountain lion while hiking encounter

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Will Mountain Lions Attack Hikers?

Mountain lions are incredibly elusive creatures. I have personally never seen one while hiking, and even the most avid hikers won’t ever see one at all, even after a lifetime of hiking.

But, just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Luckily though, mountain lions really don’t want to attack humans. We’re not their typical prey source and we can fight back pretty well when we need to, so mountain lions typically avoid us while we’re hiking.

However, if a mountain lion mistakes a hiker for prey it is likely to attack that hiker. And should it attack you while you’re hiking, it’s an extremely dangerous, and life threatening situation.

So, you’ll want to be on the lookout for mountain lions while hiking in order to identify when they might be around and be prepared for an attack should one occur.

How Can I Tell if a Mountain Lion is Around While Hiking?

You’re extremely unlikely to see a mountain lion while hiking. They like to hide out and have a natural camouflage that will hide them from your eyes while hiking.

You’ll likely only ever see one if you’re actively being attacked. And since we don’t really want to wait until an attack happens to be aware one is around, it’s good to know the signs of a mountain lion so you can determine if one may be in the area where you’re hiking.

  • Scat (aka poop): We’re really looking for fresh scat here, as old, dried up scat would mean that a mountain lion was in the area days or even weeks ago – which isn’t really a danger for you. But fresh scat is a great indication a mountain lion is nearby. Mountain lion scat will be as large as a human’s, and often have lots of hair in it.
  • Tracks: It can be difficult to tell the difference between a dog’s track and a mountain lion track, as you’re looking for a paw print around 2″ tall and 4″ wide. But a mountain lion will generally have one toe that’s sticking out above the others.
  • Dead animals: Seeing a dead deer or coyote (or any other larger animal) is a good sign a mountain lion is around.

If you see any of these be more aware of your surroundings and maybe have that safety gear even more accessible than normal, just in case.

Mountain Lion Scat

What Do I Do if I See a Mountain Lion While Hiking?

If you see a mountain lion while hiking, you likely only have a minute or two to make yourself look dangerous before an attack happens. So, what you do NOT want to do is look like prey. This includes not running, turning your back to the mountain lion, or crouching down. All of these activities make you look like prey and an easy target for the cougar.

Instead, you’ll want to make yourself as big as possible and make a lot of noise. This could be yelling, or talking loudly and angrily, blowing an emergency whistle, banging metal water bottles together, or using hiking poles to look larger. Whatever resources you have with you that are loud and large, use them to make as much noise as possible and to make yourself look as big as possible.

Additionally, you can throw objects as well – like a water bottle or a rock. Just be careful to not bend down to pick up a rock or other object to throw. Crouching down will make you seem like prey. Remain standing and throw whatever objects you have within easy reach without bending over.

Upclose portrait of a mountain lion with it

What Do I Do if a Mountain Lion Attacks?

If all of your preventative techniques didn’t work and the mountain has decided to attack you then you’ll need to fight back. As the determination period for the mountain lion to attack or not will likely happen within a minute or two – while you’re making yourself big and loud you’ll want to also be pulling out your safety gear to protect yourself.

I personally always carry bear spray and knife with me on hikes to protect myself from any type of attack. As soon as the mountain lion heads towards you be prepared to spray them. And if they get close enough to use their claws or teeth be prepared to fight back with whatever you have. I’ll always have my knife, but hiking poles can also be useful weapons to stab if necessary.

As soon as a mountain lion attacks you, you’re now in a fight for your life. So, be fully prepared to protect yourself and fight back as hard as you can if you ever find yourself in this situation.

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Hopefully you’ve found all the information you need about what to do if you encounter a mountain lion while hiking. Even though encounters and attacks are extremely rare, they do occasionally occur. Prepare yourself by knowing what signs to lookout for while hiking and how to scare away a mountain lion or fight back in an attack so you can keep yourself safe on the trail.

Want to know what to do in other animal encounters? Check out our articles on bears, bobcats, snakes, scorpions, or ticks.

If you want more hiking recommendations please check out our hiking tips page, or check out any of the articles below.

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Understanding Mountain Lions When Hiking

One of my most asked questions is “do I have to worry about mountain lions when I hike?” The answer is no and yes. 99.99999% of the time, mountain lions keep their distance from humans and avoid hikers. But it makes sense to be aware of them and their behavior, and be prepared for anything that could occur.

  • Avoiding mountain lion attacks
  • What to do if you’re attacked
  • Gear to help fend off mountain lions
  • Spotting signs of mountain lion activity

To start, I’ve never been attacked by a mountain lion. After thousands of hours on the trail, I’ve never even seen one. That should be your goal too. This article goes over how to understand mountain lion behavior, what to look for to spot their activity, and what to do if you encounter one.

mountain lion at oc zoo

This is the best way to see a mountain lion. Here Lauren Serrano explains mountain lion behavior at the OC Zoo.

I spent some time interviewing Lauren Serrano and Kelly Andersen at the Orange County Zoo, where they have two adult mountain lions in captivity (orphans rescued at birth). Lauren and Kelly went into detail to answer your questions about mountain lions and how to enjoy the outdoors in mountain lion country. And FYI, mountain lions, cougars, pumas, and Florida panthers are all the same thing.

Let’s start by getting the most dramatic scenarios out of the way first.

How To Stop a Mountain Lion Attack

If a mountain lion attacks you, you probably won’t see it coming. Even though they’re big, they’re also very quiet, and will generally stalk and pounce. But sometimes you will see them when they’re curious and maybe sizing you up to determine if you’re prey.

If you are lucky enough to see the mountain lion before it’s on you, DO NOT RUN AWAY OR TURN YOUR BACK TO IT, as these are signals that you are prey. Mountain lions normally eat things like deer and sheep, but will eat anything from mice to elk. They eat about 10 pounds of meat a day, and only eat meat. You want to show it that you are not prey and you are not scared. And FYI, you cannot outrun a mountain lion, they can run up to 50mph.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Put your hands in the air, make noise, and act bigger than you are.
  • If you have trekking poles, raise them up too and get ready to use them if it approaches you.
  • If you have an air horn, give that some blasts.
  • If you have bear spray, get ready to let it loose if the mountain lion approaches. It works on mountain lions too.
  • Wave sticks, wave your pack, whatever you can do to look scary.
  • Don’t antagonize it. Some people say not to look it in the eye, but there’s nothing empirical about that advice. Just don’t come at it, corner it, or antagonize it in any way.

Here you can see a trail runner fending off mountain lions with bear spray. It’s a great tool to have with you. Also note that he’s running, which makes him seem like prey.

In this next video, you can see a hiker who encounters a mountain lion sitting on the trail. He does all the right things and the mountain lion leaves him alone. You can see that once the mountain lion realizes he’s not prey, it’s quickly lost interest.

And lastly, check out these hikers who are stuck with a mountain lion on a fenced walkway. This one really hits home the point that if the lion knows that you’re human, they generally don’t want anything to do with you.

If you do spot a mountain lion, proper etiquette is to report it to a ranger. If you have reception, call it in from the spot, if not, call the ranger when you’re done your hike.

What To Do If a Mountain Lion Attacks You

Usually the previous steps will do enough to convince the mountain lion that you’re not a deer, and scare it off. If it does start to charge you, use any of the tools previously mentioned to start swinging at it. Or shoot at its face with bear spray.

If a mountain lion really wants to attack you, you probably won’t see it coming. Ideally they’ll ambush you and try and crush the back of your neck with their bite. Not a good situation to be in.

mountain lion hides

A mountain lion will see you long before you ever see it. Photo from Tristan Higbee

If you do find a mountain lion attacking you, here’s what to do.

  • Try to grab something to fight back with. A women in Northern California fended off an attack with a ballpoint pen. Grab a knife, a GPS, a rock, a stick, anything hard that you can hit with. If you don’t have anything, use your fists.
  • Start hitting the animal in the head, specifically the eyes. The longer you can punch, hit, and fight it off, the more you will convince the mountain lion that you’re not worth the effort.
  • If you do have bear spray clipped on your pack, and you haven’t discharged it, do it now directly into the mountain lion’s face.
  • Focus on nothing other than surviving and hitting back. Take it one hit at a time. Tell yourself that people have survived this and you can too.
  • If you find yourself behind the lion when grappling around, you can also try to choke and suffocate it. Whatever works.

If your companion is being attacked, apply those same principles and attack the lion. There are many accounts of a second person successfully scaring a mountain lion off of a companion.

Gear to Survive a Mountain Lion Attack

If you’re really terrified of getting attacked by a lion, I would highly recommend clipping bear spray and a straight blade knife to your backpack straps, ready to be deployed if you’re rolling around on the ground with a mountain lion. Personally, I think this is overkill, but I understand the power of fear (and the power of mountain lions)!

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bear spray

Bear spray comes in aerosol cans that can clip onto your belt or pack. Photo from Kobuk Valley National Park

My personal strategy is to avoid attacks and then be vigilant if I see signs of activity (see below). If I do think there are mountain lions active where I’m hiking, I’ll clip bear spray and a knife to my pack, and will hike with trekking poles.

Some folks also bring an air horn (like you’d find on a boat). You can pick one up in any hardware store, Walmart, etc., which makes it a good option.

How to Avoid a Mountain Lion Attack

While I haven’t ever encountered a mountain lion on the trail, I have seen plenty of signs of their presence. Mountain lions live anywhere and everywhere there is prey, with the greatest concentration in the western half of the USA and Canada. They’re in the deserts, they’re in the mountains. So assume they could be anywhere. Many ranger offices are good about posting notices and signs at trailheads in areas where they are active.

mountain lion sign

It’s common to see warning signs where mountain lions are active. Do I pull my knife out when I see this? No. But I am on the lookout for signs of activity as I hike.

The key to avoiding a mountain lion attack is to be aware of signs that they’ve been active where you are. If you see a sign that there might be one in your area, take your trekking poles out, get your spray ready, and be extra alert. I like to sing out loud and make a lot of noise too, which is also good at keeping humans away. The average range of a mountain lion is 30 square miles, so even if you see signs, it could be miles away from you.

Signs of Mountain Lion Activity

Here are the signs that put me on extra alert for mountain lions:

  • Seeing deer, sheep, or other bigger animals that would be mountain lion prey.
  • Seeing a dead animal carcass, especially a fresh one. Mountain lions have no problem feeding from a carcass, whether they killed it or not.
  • Seeing fresh mountain lion scat. The problem is identifying it. In general, it can be big, almost the size of human poop, especially in circumference. Sometimes it will have hair from the prey in it. If it’s dry, it’s old, if it’s moist and warm, it’s probably new.
    Here’s an example of older scat with hair from prey in it. In this case, the scat is old and the mountain lion is probably long gone. Photo from Alan English
  • Seeing fresh mountain lion tracks puts me on alert too. Unless you have experience in tracking, or you see a paw print in snow, it will be hard to tell how fresh the track is. Either way, just seeing tracks means that the lion has been where you are and could come back. Their paw print is about 2″ tall by 4″ wide, and doesn’t have claw/nail prints (dogs do). You can also tell them apart from dog tracks by looking at the top toe. If one toe is in front of the others, it’s a cat. If both top toes are level, it’s a dog. There are exceptions but that’s a good general rule. A mountain lion’s hind foot steps in his front track, creating overlapping patterns too.
    Here’s a mountain lion paw print in the snow. Notice the absence of any claws and a leading toe (second from left). Photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service

Being Vigilant When Resting

We talked about mountain lions preferring to attack something that’s smaller or easier to kill. When you crouch or sit down, you become a much more attractive target for them, and it triggers their natural instinct to attack. Check out this video of the principle in action at a big cat rescue facility.

In a fatal attack near my home, it was believed that the mountain lion attacked a mountain biker when he was crouched down to put the chain back on his bike. Crouching is bad.

I realize it’s tough to never crouch or sit down, and that’s not what I’m suggesting. When I’m camping, sitting around a campfire, am I constantly thinking that a mountain lion will jump on me? No. But I do try and be extra aware, especially I know that mountain lions are active. And if you’re in your tent, you’re probably fine.

Dogs and Kids Are Targets

Because kids and dogs are small and look like easier prey, you need to take some extra steps.

Keep your kids close to you when hiking, and don’t let them wander off at night. If you do see a mountain lion, you want to grab your child and pick them up or keep them close to you. It will help you look bigger.

For dogs, there are two schools of thought. The first is that a dog has more awareness than people and will alert you if a mountain lion is near, and might even scare the mountain lion off. Check out this video of a coyote doing just that.

The other school of thought is that dogs are a lot like coyotes, which mountain lions can eat. If you keep the dog on a leash, it will alert you to danger but you can also pull it in close to protect. A person and a dog close together probably doesn’t look like prey to a mountain lion.

Being Practical About Mountain Lion Attacks

I realize mountain lions are scary. Should it stop you from hiking or enjoying the outdoors? Absolutely not. If you read this article, you have the tools to successfully coexist with mountain lions in the wilderness. If you want to get empirical about your chances, it’s pretty interesting.

How to deter mountain lions while hiking

switchbacks-in-hiking

If you’re planning to hike in mountain lion territory, there are a few things you can do to deter them from attacking. First, avoid hiking alone and make sure to keep children close by. Secondly, make noise while you hike, so the lions know you’re coming and won’t be startled. Finally, carry a large stick with you and be prepared to use it if necessary. With these tips in mind, you can enjoy a safe and exciting hike through the wilderness!

How to Deter Mountain Lion While Hiking

There are a few simple steps you can take to decrease your chances of encountering a mountain lion while hiking.
Make plenty of noise. Sing, clap or talk loudly as you hike to avoid surprising a lion.
Keep children close. If you are hiking with children, keep them close to you and within your sight at all times.
Do not approach a lion. If you see a mountain lion, do not approach it. Give the lion plenty of space to escape.
Carry pepper spray. Pepper spray is an effective way to deter a mountain lion attack.
Be prepared. Be aware of your surroundings and know what to do if you encounter a mountain lion

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The Dangers of Mountain Lion Encounters

Mountain lions are large, wild cats that can be found in North and South America. These predators are also known as pumas, cougars, and panthers.

While mountain lion encounters are rare, they can be dangerous. If you find yourself in mountain lion territory, there are some things you can do to reduce your chances of becoming prey.

Make yourself as big as possible by putting your arms in the air and opening your jacket if you have one.
Make noise by shouting or banging pots and pans together.
Do not approach the mountain lion. Try to maintain a distance of at least 50 feet between you and the animal.
Do not run away from a mountain lion. Running may trigger the animal’s predatory instincts.
If a mountain lion does attack, fight back with whatever you have available: rocks, sticks, pepper spray, etc.

How to Avoid Mountain Lion Attacks

Mountain lions are shy, elusive animals, but encounters do happen. Here are some tips if you should find yourself in mountain lion country.

Avoid hiking alone.
Make plenty of noise while you hike.
Keep children close to you and within your sight at all times.
Do not approach a mountain lion.
If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run away from it.
Stand your ground and make yourself look as big as possible.
Wave your arms and speak loudly in a firm voice.
Throw rocks or other objects at the mountain lion if it becomes aggressive.
Fight back if the mountain lion attacks you.

What to Do If You Encounter a Mountain Lion

If you encounter a mountain lion on a hike, there are some things you can do to deter the animal and avoid conflict. The first thing to do is to make yourself appear as large and threatening as possible. Stand up tall, wave your arms, and make noise by yelling or banging rocks together. You want the lion to understand that you are not prey and that it should move on.

If the mountain lion does not back down, continue to make yourself look as big and threatening as possible and slowly back away from the animal. Do not run, as this will trigger the lion’s predatory instincts. If the lion does attack, fight back with whatever you have available, such as rocks or sticks. The goal is to convince the lion that you are not easy prey and that it should look for an easier target.

How to Protect Yourself From Mountain Lion Attacks

While attacks by mountain lions are rare, they do happen. In the event that you find yourself in close proximity to one of these animals, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.

The first and most important thing to remember is not to run away. Running away will trigger the mountain lion’s natural instinct to chase and could lead to an attack. Instead, stand your ground and make yourself appear as large as possible. Raise your arms above your head and open your jacket if you are wearing one. If you have small children with you, pick them up so they are not easy prey for the mountain lion.

Make noise by shouting or waving your arms to make yourself look more threatening. Try to remain calm and avoid direct eye contact with the animal. Finally, if the mountain lion does attack, fight back with whatever you have available. Use rocks, sticks, or even your fists if necessary. Remember,mountain lions are wild animals and their instinct is to hunt for food. Do not give them a reason to see you as food.

The Importance of Being Aware of Your Surroundings

Mountain lions are the largest cats in North America, and they can be found in remote areas throughout the West. Although attacks on humans are rare, it’s still important to take precautions when hiking in mountain lion country.

The best way to avoid an encounter with a mountain lion is to hike in a group and make plenty of noise. Mountain lions are more likely to attack if they feel startled or threatened, so it’s important to let them know you’re there. If you do see a mountain lion, do not run away. Stand your ground, make yourself as big as possible, and make noise. You can also try throwing rocks or sticks at the mountain lion, but be sure not to turn your back on it or bend down.

Although mountain lion attacks are rare, it’s still important to be aware of your surroundings when hiking in their territory. By following these simple tips, you can reduce your chances of an encounter with a mountain lion.

Tips for Hiking in Mountain Lion Country

Mountain lions are stealthy predators that can be found in many areas of North America. Although attacks on humans are rare, they do occur, and it’s important to take precautions when hiking or camping in mountain lion country.

Here are some tips to help you deter mountain lions and stay safe while enjoying the outdoors:

-Make noise. Sing, talk loudly, or clap your hands regularly while hiking to avoid surprising a lion.
-Keep children close. Mountain lions typically avoid humans, but children may be seen as prey.
-Hike in groups. There is safety in numbers, and mountain lions are less likely to approach a group of people.
-Keep dogs on a leash. Dogs can attract mountain lions, and an encounter between your dog and a lion could be dangerous for both of them.
-Carry bear spray. Bear spray is a deterrent that can also be used on mountain lions.

following these simple tips will help you enjoy the outdoors safely in mountain lion country.

How to Keep Yourself Safe While Hiking

Be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you see a mountain lion, do not approach it. Give the animal a chance to retreat.

Make yourself as big as possible if the mountain lion does not retreat. Open your jacket and wave your arms slowly over your head. Throw rocks or sticks at the animal, but do not turn your back on it or run away.

Carry a large stick with you while hiking. This can be used to defend yourself if necessary.

Hike in groups whenever possible. There is safety in numbers.

Do not hike alone in areas known to have mountain lion activity.

Make noise while you hike. Sing songs or carry a whistle with you to avoid surprising a mountain lion that may be lurking nearby.

Source https://kgadventures.com/mountain-lion-hiking-safety-tips/

Source https://hikingguy.com/how-to-hike/understanding-mountain-lions-when-hiking/

Source https://www.catamaran-emelia.com/how-to-deter-mountain-lions-while-hiking/

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