New study disputes the conventional wisdom to stay put or risk triggering lion’s instinct to pursue-

The study was based on what 185 people did who were attacked by mountain lions. The data was from 1890 to 2000. It came from the U.S. and Canada. I can see from the abstract on which the article below is based that additional information is in the original which is not reported below.

Should You Run or Freeze When You See a Mountain Lion? By Sushma Subramanian. Scientific American.

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Why don’t they do this for wolves? Probably because predatory attacks are so few, analysis of figures would be meaningless.

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Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

20 Responses to Should You Run or Freeze When You See a Mountain Lion?

  1. I think the study is flawed because of the low numbers. I think you would be better off being aggressive toward the cougar. I always carry bear/cougar/wolf spray and a firearm when out in the wild in Idaho. If the spray doesn’t work I would shoot as a last resort. I have never been forced to use either.
    Yesterday I howled in a pack of Idaho wolves. Two large gray wolves moved toward me to investigate the howl. They retreated when they saw me moving toward them to get a photo(unsuccessful) through the trees. I don’t think it would have been a good idea for me to have run away from the wolves. Even small dogs get brave and will chase and BITE humans who flee.

  2. Larry,

    They had the complete population, not a sample. It’s the best that can be done.

    On the other hand, they have no data about encounters where nothing happened versus those that did. I’m sure in the vast majority nothing happens regardless of what a person does.

  3. avatar Jeff says:

    About 12 years ago in SW Colorado I had an encounter on foot with a cougar. I was with another guy, we walked up on a cougar on a trail. It was going the same way as us and was unaware of our presence. It was about 50yds away. Not wanting to surprise it we waited until it was about 100 yds away until we purposefully coughed to let it know we were there. It turned quickly around and stared at us for about a minute then it disappeared into the aspens. Piercing predatory eyes are what I remember. We stood tall shoulder to shoulder with pocket knives, fishing poles, and a rock or two. Fortunately nothing happenend.

  4. avatar timz says:

    I’m most afraid of the one I don’t see.

  5. avatar April Clauson says:

    I think the study is flawed because of the low numbers. I think you would be better off being aggressive toward the cougar. I always carry bear/cougar/wolf spray and a firearm when out in the wild in Idaho. If the spray doesn’t work I would shoot as a last resort. I have never been forced to use either.
    Yesterday I howled in a pack of Idaho wolves. Two large gray wolves moved toward me to investigate the howl. They retreated when they saw me moving toward them to get a photo(unsuccessful) through the trees. I don’t think it would have been a good idea for me to have run away from the wolves. Even small dogs get brave and will chase and BITE humans who flee.

    ______________
    So, since you called the wolves, so to say, what if they had advanced towards you, would you have sprayed or shot them? You acted irresponsibly by howling to them and if you had hurt or shot them, you would be responsible for them. Get your picture without disturbing wild life in any way! One day you may call the wrong animal and find yourself in a bad situation. And if that ever happens I hope the animal will be the one to walk away unharmed, and if you get hurt or killed by that animal, put on your head stone, I did it to myself!!!!

  6. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    It was interesting that the two common responses were to hold still or run. . no mention was made of moving toward a cougar which is my preferred plan. And yes Timz it is the one you don’t see sometimes. Not acting like prey is kinda important out there.

  7. April
    Feel free to run around in the woods as you see fit. I will do the same.
    You might spend more time worrying about the the 26 Idaho wolf packs that are slated for removal by IDFG and Wildlife Services. I suspect that this pack is on the hit list. One of the wolves was carrying a radio collar which will guide the Wildlife Services shooters in for the kill. I am trying to get some photos before they all get exterminated. I will keep trying and howling.

  8. avatar Alan says:

    I too had an encounter with a mountain lion while hiking. I was resting on a log when it appeared, no more than fifty feet away. I stood up and took a couple of pictures before it realized I was there. When it did, it stared at me for what seemed like a long time, but was really only seconds; and I stared back. Then it was gone in an instant.
    I just can’t imagine running from any predator. That is what prey does. Just watch a housecat when a mouse tries to run. If the mouse stays still, the cat soon loses interest.
    This study did seem to be more about what to do in the event of an attack, not simply an encounter. I remain convinced that in an encounter such as mine, running would be a very bad idea.

  9. avatar April Clauson says:

    Larry,
    Oh, I get it, they are going to be killed anyway so that is why you howled to them, to get one last picture. I cannot do much about the wildlife svcs or IDFG, but as a person you and I can leave the wild life alone. Like I said, do not endanger them or yourself to get that picture. If I had my way, of course I would not have any wolf, or animal killed. But with our governments, cities, towns, and all the nice hunters in the west, that just will not happen…..be safe out there!

  10. avatar TimothyB says:

    What I took out of the article is:
    1. Personally I don’t know what my initial response will be so that may influence the lions behavior. I might run away from the “demon” like a 6 year old kid or I might freeze like a 7 year old kid.

    2. If I can keep my wits, I’d likely try back away slowly as I have done with bears in Montana. I’m still walking the face of this earth so that tactic worked with bears and possibly in-line with the author recommendations.

    3. If the lion attacks fast and hard, my inbred fight or flight response will tell me, not what I should do but what I will actually do.

    4. All encounters will likely be situational?

    While I’d love to see a mountain lion in the wild, I can honestly say it would be better for all parties concerned that we never get close enough to to find out what either one of us would do. Maybe one should just flip a coin each time they go out in lion country to decide what your reaction should be?

  11. The time I encountered one, I saw its long tail sticking out from behind a Douglas fir.

    I yelled, “hey cat” or something simillar. It came out and faced me. I snapped a photo with the normal lens on my old film camera, feeling fortunate it didn’t run away, but then it continued to stand there about 30 feet away.

    Then I spoke again kind like I did to our house cat, but in a louder voice. The cat kind of shook a bit, then it turned and leaped over a large creek, up a rock slide and into the grove of fir above the rocks.

  12. avatar timz says:

    How would anyone ever out run one anyway? You have to hope your with someone that’s a little slower than you. 😉

  13. avatar paulWTAMU says:

    I slowly backed away and tried not to soil myself the one time I came up on one near my house. I don’t think the animal much cared about me either way though; it glanced at me, and stayed lounged out in a sheltered spot between my wall and my van. I was more scared of it than it was of me.

  14. avatar Elizabeth Parker says:

    Ralph,

    Did the picture turn out? If so, what an amazing souvenir!

    Elizabeth

  15. avatar ChrisH says:

    My experience was about twelve years ago as well. I was hiking in Sugarite State Park in New Mexico (near Raton and Trinidad, Co.). My black lab recue dog, Chama, was with me. At that time, I did not think many, if any large mammals were so close to the Great Plains – stupid me! Anyway we were on the return trip of the trail and rounded a sharp bend. There, perhaps 100 ft away were to cougars. We chose to freeze. They eyed us a couple of seconds then bounded off. It was both thrilling and chilling. I am fortunate that my dog is well trained

  16. Elizabeth,

    I will try to find it. It was taken about 6 AM in June 199?. It is a slide. The cougar is clear, but it isn’t any great wildlife shot.

  17. avatar ProWolf in WY says:

    I was always under the impression that you were supposed to fight back with a mountain lion, make yourself look bigger, etc. I will agree that the scariest one is the one that you don’t see but it sees you. I had one follow me for a while once and didn’t know it until I saw the tracks when I got back to the truck.

  18. avatar Scott MacButch says:

    I have had two encounters with mountain lions, both ended without problems. In the late ’80s while mountain biking up the west fork of mink cr, I thought at first a bobcat was crossing the trail 50′ in front of me. My attention immediately was diverted to my left and about 12′ away a mother lion jumped off the hill side, landed in the trail in front of me, opened her mouth and roared at me while displaying huge pearly white canines. With out even thinking I dropped my bike and ran like hell. The mother headed down slope into the drainage after her cub. There was no further encounter.

  19. avatar ProWolf in WY says:

    Scott MacButch, good story. Good thing she just settled for you having to change your shorts and didn’t attack. 🙂

  20. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    I have had three close encounters with mountain lions. .one I was on my mountain bike and rounded a corner and saw one coming down the road toward me with a sort of jaunty walk. It stopped, I stopped and put my foot down, we starred at each other and then I said out loud “Cool!” and started riding towards it. When I stepped on my pedals and propelled the bike in its direction it leaped straight up in the air and twisted . . bounding once it took off down the side of the road and hit about 50 feet down and then sped away. The second time my husband and I were riding up a remote road and we found a still steaming fresh deer kill with the fetus dragged out and the classic neck bite. I found cat tracks and we continued up the asphalt road for another 40 minutes or so. When we turned to come back down we decided to glide read quietly to see if we could surprise the cat. When we rounded the corner there it was with the deer in its mouth just pulling it off the road. We stopped to watch but it was so stealthy all we got was that one glimpse.
    The last time I was driving when one crossed the road in front of me and went up a steep bank. I immediately stopped the car and got my camera cause I wanted cougar track pictures. It left some great ones in the clay bank and I was slowly following them when I noticed a bush shaking just under the crest of the bank. There was the cougar hiding from me with “sewing machine leg” and shaking all over. I don’t think they are used to being tracked. I backed off and it bounded to the ridge and took off.

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