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What to Do If You Encounter a Mountain Lion

Getty: Avalon

Here's how to keep yourself safe if you run into one of these big cats.

While mountain lion attacks aren't incredibly common, sightings are a normal occurrence for hikers in mountain lion country, such as national parks in California, Florida and Colorado.

You'll hear people interchangeably refer to these animals as mountain lions, pumas or cougars, but the caution you should use stays exactly the same.

Here's what to do if you come across one of these big cats on your next outdoor adventure.

Mountain Lion Encounter Procedure

If you see a mountain lion while hiking or walking through the woods, remember these things:

  • Try to remain calm. Don't approach it but don't panic and retreat quickly either.
  • Don't turn your back or run. Instead, stand still or slowly back away while maintaining eye contact with the mountain lion.
  • Stand up tall. Because a mountain lion's instinct is to perceive anything lower to the ground as easy prey, you should stand upright at all times and try to appear as big as possible.
  • Pick up any small children without completely bending over.

Although it's unlikely, a mountain lion could continue to move in your direction and show some signs of aggression. If that happens, try to intimidate the mountain lion. Do anything you can to look big, such as holding your hands above your head or slowly waving your arms back and forth.

You can also speak in a loud, firm voice and bang together anything you're carrying to create noise. If you're able, try to send warning shots in its direction. Throw rocks, stones or branches--anything you can grab. You don't have to try to hurt the animal, but instead just send these projectiles flying in its direction to land on the ground near it.

Then, if the mountain lion gets too close for comfort and/or begins to attack, throw objects directly at it, while avoiding its head if possible. If that doesn't stop it, fight it off with all your might. Use whatever you have: a walking stick, a water bottle or, as a last resort, your bare hands.

It's possible to survive a mountain lion attack, but it's even better to avoid a run-in in the first place. Be sure to follow big cat safety tips from organizations like the Mountain Lion Foundation, National Park Service and your state wildlife agencies.

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What to Do If You Encounter a Mountain Lion