Gear Guy

Should I carry some kind of protection when hiking in mountain lion country?

What is the best protection if a mountain lion is encountered on a hike? They have been spotted in our area, and we love to hike in our local wilderness park. Susan La Crescenta, California


You live in California. Half the state is mountain lion habitat. So, no, it’s no big surprise that one has been reported near you. A few years ago my friend Phil insisted he saw a mountain lion face down in a road-kill deer carcass not ten yards off one of our most popular mountain-biking routes in Port Townsend. And that was near a busy street and a number of houses. I wish we had more mountain lions here. The deer have become insufferable.



Mountain lions prefer deer. Lacking that, pets and livestock become target=s. A little bit further down the menu, humans. Mountain lion attacks are rare, but hardly unheard of. This past January, north of Eureka, a mountain lion attacked a 70-year-old man hiking with his wife. The wife clubbed the cat in the nose with a stick, surely saving her husband’s life.

So, the first thing to do is avoid hiking in areas were cats are known to prowl. Easier said than done, I know. The next line of defense is to always hike with someone else (see above anecdote). I’m not sure carrying any sort of a weapon would be helpful, but some kind of short club-like device might prove useful in a pinch. Be especially careful at dawn, dusk, and at night—that’s when mountain lions are most active. Pay attention to your surroundings. If you’re at all concerned that you’re in cat country, stop occasionally and look around. Mountain lions are stalking animals; they’ll follow you until they find a time to pounce. Keep children and dogs close to you.

If you do see a cat, don’t try to run. You look all the more tasty by doing so. Face the animal, yell at it, and try to make yourself bigger than you really are by waving your arms or flapping your jacket. If a rock is handy, throw it.

And, if attacked, fight back. Don’t curl into a ball. Throw dirt in its face. Find a rock or stick and hit it. If you are with someone fighting off a lion, do the same.

Whew. Now I’m all fight-or-flight-y. Keep in mind that such attacks are very, very uncommon. There’s probably a much bigger risk of stepping on a rattler. But that’s a topic for another day.

P.S. Gear Guy loves any questions that relate to poisonous reptiles.

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