Things were so much simpler in the old days. A person could go for a hike and look forward to seeing beautiful scenery while getting some great exercise. Now, everyone seems to be afraid that an encounter with a mountain lion is just over the next ridge. Reports of attacks from California would seem to indicate that hikers all carry shotguns while taking in the breathtaking scenery, an oxymoron if there ever was one. Two developing patterns could possibly lead to a mountain lion sighting. First, people enjoy hiking through the wilderness. Backpacking and camping are both extremely enjoyable and healthy pastimes. Second, other people enjoy hunting game animals. A balance needs to be struck to protect both the mountain lion and the outdoorsman.
Mountain lions are solitary and nocturnal creatures. These cats feed on such other animals as moose, caribou, mule deer, raccoons, coyotes, foxes and voles. The mountain lion needs a good sized area to roam to be able to feed. In an ideal world, that space would be around eighty square miles. With the continued urbanization of the wilderness, some habitats are currently compressed to about fifty square miles. If there is a dearth of food in the area, due to reduced deer populations or other factors, that is when things can go wrong.
If you are venturing into the wilderness, try to travel in pairs or groups. Multiple members in the group will help keep the cat at bay. If children are along for the outdoor experience, keep close tabs on them at all times. To a starving mountain lion, a small child is the same as any other small prey. Also, walking sticks make great protection if worst case scenarios arise. A cat attack will most likely occur at night and if the hiker is alone.
Let us pretend that you are strolling through the wilderness and, curse of curses, a mountain lion appears. What should you do? The cardinal rule is never, EVER try to run away. The natural instinct of any cat is to pursue a fleeing object. If you try to run, what the mountain lion will see is a McSandwhich chock full of sauce. The correct thing to do is to make noise and be sure that the cat has an avenue of escape. Always leave space for the animal to get away. There are other actions that are important as well. Try to throw items that are handy while waving and yelling. Act as “large” as you can (Hulk Hogan or Shaquille O’Neal large). Mountain lions will not attack if they feel overmatched. Finally, do not bend over at the waist or kneel.
You have done everything by the book but the cat is still measuring you up for dinner. Do not panic and fall into the fetal position. These cats will go for the back of the head or neck for the kill. The average adult male cat will weigh about 130-150 pounds. If you are on the ground, it will be incredibly difficult to get the cat off of you. Remember, mountain lions can feed on animals as large as moose, they are that strong. Try to remain upright and fight back. Once attacked, you are in a back alley brawl for your life. Protect yourself by any means possible. Scratch at the eyes, throw dirt in the eyes, anything to drive the animal away from you. Kick and scream, but always try to remain on your feet and keep the cat in front of you and away from your neck.
Finally, some things to remember about mountain lions. There is a school of thought that states the ferociousness of a mountain lion attack is overstated. Well, house cats scratch and mountain lions claw. The difference between the two is huge. A mountain lion bites with about 200 pounds p.s.i. and will leave pathogens in the wounds that will need to be treated. If you go into the wilderness and stumble upon a mountain lion, remember what you have just read. Now, where is my walking stick?