Knowing what to do when encountering a cougar on a trail may save your life and the cougar’s life. Before you enter cougar country, it is essential to prepare yourself for a possible encounter. This chapter will tell you how.
As we expand our recreational activities and residential homes further into cougar territory, cougar-human encounters may become more frequent. Knowing what to do when encountering a cougar may save your life and a cougar’s life.
Cougars prefer to avoid people and are masters at camouflage. If a cougar is in the area, it will most likely stay hidden in bush coverings or trees. Cougars can usually be found in densely wooded areas, rocky terrain, under logs, or rock caves¹. They are rarely seen in open, flat terrain, but will follow prey into these areas¹.
Before you enter cougar country, prepare yourself for a possible encounter. Always travel with others, do not wear headphones, and stay alert of your surroundings. A phone call to Fish and Wildlife before entering an area to determine if cougars have been seen can also be beneficial. Pack bear spray and a noise deterrent, such as an air horn, and carry a walking stick or umbrella as a possible defensive tactic¹.
As cougars can sometimes mistake children and pets for prey, it is crucial to keep children close or in the middle of the group at all times¹. Do not let them run ahead or lag behind. If possible, leave your pet at home or keep them on a leash and close to you.
Knowing what to do if encountering a cougar beforehand is the key to reducing human-cougar conflicts. Always be aware of your surroundings, stay alert, and watch for signs that a cougar is in the area, such as paw prints, claw marks, or signs of a fresh kill¹. Cougars often bury their prey under leaves and debris¹. Watch for flocks of ravens or magpies which may also indicate a kill site. If you see any of these signs, leave the area immediately.
If you encounter a cougar, it is important to have a plan of action ahead of time. If the cougar is in the distance, avoid provoking it. Back away slowly as a group without turning your back to it or running. Prepare your bear spray and noise deterrent, as well as your defence tactics.
If the cougar is closer, it may track your movements, hiss, or snarl¹. It is imperative that you remain calm, avoid screaming, and keep your children and pets close. Do not run or turn your back on a cougar. Make yourself look as big as possible, use your deterrents, and speak to the cougar in a load yet firm voice to let it know you are human.
In the rare event that a cougar makes contact with you, continue to use your deterrents. If you are knocked down, try to get up as quickly as possible. Always fight back, aiming for the cougar's face and eyes. Never play dead with a cougar and never stop fighting!
Here are a few strategies that can be used on the trails to reduce cougar encounters¹ ²:
Whenever possible, leaving your pets at home is the best. If allowed off-leash on trails, dogs can bring a cougar back to you. Thus, when recreating on trails, keeping dogs on a secure leash (6ft long or less) is a must to keep you and your pet safe.
In the rare event a cougar encounter occurs¹ ²:
In the extreme and rare chance that a cougar attacks, fight back with everything and anything you can.
This is the end of our Cougar series in the Knowledge Base. We hope you feel more informed, and better prepared if you were to encounter a cougar.