While it is very rare these days, it is still possible to come across a cougar in the wild if you’re hiking within the United States.
Experts state that approximately 30,000 cougars live in the western United States. They are hunters and typically travel alone – this makes them even more difficult to come across, (and to accurately guess the total numbers).
However, if you are lucky enough to stumble across one while hiking your trail, it is good practice to know how you should act.
What are the risks?
The fact is, cougars do not attack people very often. As solitary creatures, they prefer to slope away stealth like in a manner than means you never know they were actually there.
That being said, there have been enough recorded incidents of cougar attacks in the wild for us to exercise a level of caution.
From those attacks a couple of revealing stats have surfaced;
- Cougars are more likely to go after lone hikers rather than individuals in a group;
- They have been more prone to attacking children under 16 years of age.
From that we can deduce that cougars will not attack unless they feel the target is easy pickings.
What you should do
So, apart from making sure you hike in a group with no minors in tow, (which of course is not always possible to do), what measures should you take to ensure a safe trail?
While a cougar may be able to creep up on you undetected, it is still possible to keep your senses to other tell-tale signs that a cougar has been in the area.
Cougar tracks (four toes with out claw marks as they generally retract their claws while they walk), and droppings will give the game away. As will claw marks at the base of large trees.
If you spot such signs it could be that you’ve walked into a Cougar’s domain. Turning around, and following a different course, is the recommended option.
No room for stealth
While cougars are allowed to quietly roam the forest in stealth mode, you shouldn’t do the same. If you startle an animal, they are far more likely to act in a way you rather they didn’t.
Cougars are no different. Make a point of talking to your fellow hikers, and if the weather conditions mean heavy rain or winds, realise that your follow will need to be increased also.
Watch out for your pets
As we stated above, cougars rarely go for humans however they find it hard to resist an easy target. Your dog running up and down the trail like its Christmas falls into that category.
If you feel as if you may have walked into cougar territory, ensure your pet is on a short leash at all times.
Baby Cougars are even more dangerous
Don’t be fooled by the cute and adorable nature of a baby cougar should you come across one. If anything you should exhibit even greater caution because not only will a baby cub have the capacity to claw at you, the mother will also be close by and feeling extra protective.
Where as before the mother may have retreated, if she thinks her cub is in danger she is far more likely to attack.
Back away and move along, that’s our advice to you.
Enough of the avoidance tactics, what about an actual attack!
Okay, so we have gone through the various ways you should avoid coming across a cougar that wants to attack.
Now it’s time to discuss what you should do in the actual event of an attack.
Easier said than done we know. However, if a cougar is coming towards you with snarled teeth, you still have a chance for it to back away.
If you remain calm and ensure that it is not backed into a corner, (move yourself so that exit opportunities present themselves), there’s a good chance the cougar will move on with out attacking.
Without causing undue panic, you should also ensure that kids are protected and out of the firing line.
As you and your party back away from the area of danger, make yourself look as large as possible, keep eye contact with the cougar and avoid sudden movements.
Last resort tactics
If while you are backing away the cougar continues to show aggression and follows you, you will need to up the anti.
Don’t back down now, be loud, even shouting if you have to, and bear your teeth.
You need to show that you are the dominant one and that entering a fight with you will end up bad news for the cougar.
Eye contact has to be maintained and you should make your body larger by stretching out limbs and swinging your arms, (you can also use a stick or branch if you can grab one).
If these last resort tactics do not work and the cougar attacks you will have no choice but to fight back. As brutal as it sounds you should aim for the eyes and the face for the best chance of ending the bout in a timely fashion.
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