Are Mountain Lions Dangerous? (How To Scare Them Away)

Being one of the country’s fiercest predators, mountain lions are a sight to behold from a distance. But when they’re up close and personal with you, it can be quite frightening. One wrong move and you can end up as cougar snacks. 

But although they are dangerous, there are ways to escape sticky situations like that (in one piece too.) All you need is to keep cool and follow a few careful steps that might convince these big cats to leave you alone.

Should I Be Afraid Of Mountain Lions?

Yes, you should be wary if you come face to face with a mountain lion. Cougars are dangerous wild animals even if they aren’t acting aggressively at the moment. Because of that, you should be incredibly cautious around them to avoid spooking them.

However, there is a difference between being afraid and panicking. No matter how scared you are, you shouldn’t let it get the better of you because that will only worsen the situation. There are ways to escape a mountain lion encounter, but only if you remain calm.

However, you can relax if you are worried about finding mountain lions while hiking or camping. Mountain lion attacks against people are rare, so you don’t need to worry too much about encountering one. 

Are Mountain Lions Scared Of People?

In the same way that we fear mountain lions, these big felines are also scared of us. Humans have hunted these big cats for centuries, in some places to extinction. Aside from hunting, we are responsible for environmental damage to their habitat. Mountain lions now associate humans with danger and learn to avoid them. 

Some studies show that cougars run away from the sound of humans, even abandoning kills to try and get away from them.

How Often Do Mountain Lions Attack People?

Despite how frightening it is to think about, you can at least take comfort in the fact that mountain lion attacks are rare. They are so uncommon that you are a thousand times more likely to get struck by lightning than getting attacked by one of these big cats. Even among that already small number, only a handful of previous cougar attacks were fatal.

As of 2019, there have been 127 registered cougar attacks on humans in the last hundred years. Of those attacks, 26 were fatal, while the rest resulted in injuries. That leaves a rate of 1.27 people attacked by cougars per year with a fatality rate of 4.88%. The number of incidents is far smaller than other animals such as snakes and alligators.

Why Do Mountain Lions End Up Attacking People?

So with all that in mind, it raises the question, why do mountain lions end up attacking people? There can be several reasons for that:

  • Mistaking People for Prey: Depending on how you move, these big cats might mistake you for a prey animal, such as a deer. This can happen if you are riding a bike or hunched down while you walk.
  • Protecting Their Young: Mountain lions may attack because their cubs are nearby and you are getting too close. 
  • You Are in Their Territory: Mountain lions are territorial creatures; if they see you in their territory, they will take you as a challenger and try to get rid of you.
  • Habitat Loss: These big cats require a lot of space for their territory, meaning that environmental loss is a big issue. When that happens, it can push mountain lions to approach populated areas hoping to find food, which might lead to confrontation.

Should You Avoid Looking Mountain Lions In The Eyes?

No, avoiding eye contact is the worst thing you can do. Keeping your eyes on these big cats is key to keeping safe. For one, it allows you to watch what the mountain lion is doing and if it looks like it is going to attack.

Second, keeping eye contact shows you’re not intimidated by it. Seeing this can convince cougars that you’re not going to be an easy meal.

When Are Mountain Lions The Most Dangerous?

There are certain times when mountain lions are particularly dangerous. These times can be either the time of day or the season, but understanding this can save your life. If you plan to go on a forest outing, consider when you will be there.

Nighttime

Mountain lions are mainly nocturnal, meaning they’re mostly active at night. That is when they are out hunting, so if you want to avoid running into one, you should avoid being outside when the sun starts to set.

Winter

You should also consider avoiding trips to the forest during winter. The snowy environment heightens a cougar’s natural abilities and gives them an easier time tracking prey. As a result, they spend more time hunting during this season

How Can I Avoid Running Into Mountain Lions?

Prevention is better than a cure, as the saying goes. Although it might seem out of your control, there are some things you can do to help keep the mountain lions away.

Sticking To a Group

There is safety in numbers when you are traveling in the forest. Mountain lions are ambush predators and prefer to wait until they sense weakness before quickly taking down their prey. With multiple people in one place, though, there are fewer opportunities for just that. 

In some cases, mountain lion attacks occur because one person separates from the rest of the group. If you are planning on going on a hike, be sure always to stick close together.

Sticking to Well-Travelled Trails

You are far less likely to get attacked on well-traveled mountain trails. Local park rangers mark these areas and ensure they are not part of a mountain lion’s territory, meaning mountain lions won’t have any reason to pass through these parts. 

Keep an Eye Out for Signs

Mountain lions are notoriously elusive creatures making spotting them difficult, but that doesn’t mean they don’t leave any signs of their presence. Usually, you can find things such as remains of other animals, paw prints, cougar droppings, and other signs that they were there. 

If you do, you should take that as a sign to stay away.

You can also check local sources for reports of mountain lions being spotted around the area you are visiting. Visitors and rangers mention sightings such as this to prevent hikers like you from having an encounter with these big cats. 

What To Do If A Mountain Lion Is Stalking You?

If you find a mountain lion following you, you must not panic. In any crisis, you must keep a clear head and consider the situation carefully. 

Most importantly among them is to avoid making rash or sudden movements. You don’t know how these big cats might respond, and surprising them like that might cause them to pounce.

Never Run From A Mountain Lion

Although it is tempting to get as far away from a predator like this as possible, running is the worst thing you can do. First of all, do not take your eyes off the mountain lion. The moment you lower your guard like that, it will sense an opportunity and try to attack. 

Second, running triggers the hunter instinct in predators. They will view you as prey and give chase. Mountain lions can sprint 40 miles an hour; if you try to run, you won’t get very far.

If you do want to leave the area, do so carefully. Take slow, deliberate steps back while maintaining constant eye contact with the mountain lion. The big cats are more likely to let you go. 

Keep Kids And Pets Close 

If you are with kids or pets during an encounter with a mountain lion, keep them close to you at all times.  

Small animals and stray kids can be a tempting sight for mountain lions, and seeing a child wandering along might cause them to attack. (Although this is very rare!)

That means you should always watch your kids and pets closely. If your kids run into a mountain lion, do everything you can to keep them calm because they might panic and provoke these big cats. 

Make Some Noise

A common misconception is that the mountain lion might not find you interesting and leave you alone if you remain quiet.

On the contrary, if you think a mountain lion is nearby, you might benefit from making some noise. It makes a chance encounter less likely since the big cats are more likely to flee when hearing human sounds.

Try To Appear Intimidating

Since running is out of the question, you can try and hold your ground and intimidate the mountain lion. By appearing more threatening, you might be able to convince a mountain lion back off. 

To intimidate a mountain lion, you must act calmly but assertively. A common tactic is to wave your jacket or other things over your head in order to appear bigger. You can also try to make loud noises or even throw things.

What matters though is you move carefully and deliberately. Avoid certain gestures like crouching down, looking away, or suddenly moving forward or backward.

Mountain lions are opportunistic hunters, which means they will go after things they think won’t put up a fight. If they see that you will not back down, they might decide to try their luck hunting something else.

Should You Try To Scare Off A Mountain Lion?

While it sounds crazy to think these fierce cats can be frightened off, it makes more sense than you think. 

These predators respond to strength; they won’t back down unless they feel you’re a threat, so you can frighten them by acting fearsome and powerful.

There are several ways you can do this.

Finding a Weapon

If you want to intimidate a big cat like this, one way is by having a weapon. You can use whatever objects you have with you. Some items you can use are:

  • Walking stick
  • Rocks
  • Backpack
  • Jacket
  • Flashlight

Raise these over your head and wave them around to try and appear more imposing. However, even with a weapon, you mustn’t actually try to attack the big cat. Hitting the mountain lion might make it feel cornered and make it strike back. 

However, if the mountain lion tries to attack you, you can use these items to try and fight it off. Having a weapon with you can dramatically improve your odds of winning.

Keep Upright and Look Big

When encountering a mountain lion, your appearance and body language is key to how things go down. They don’t like to attack animals that are bigger than them, so that is your key to escaping.

Try to keep upright at all times to make yourself look more imposing. Humans are naturally taller than cougars, so emphasizing that size difference might be enough to give them second thoughts. If possible, make yourself look even bigger by taking off your jacket and waving it over your head.

Standing straight also protects the back of your neck and spine by keeping these areas away from these big cats. These are the two areas that mountain lions usually go for when they attack.

If you bend down, it can be a sign of intimidation that mountain lions might take as a chance to attack. No matter what is happening, avoid getting on all fours or bending down even to retrieve something.

Are Mountain Lions Afraid Of Loud Noises?

Mountain lions have excellent hearing, but this can also be used against them. During a mountain lion encounter, you can hold your ground by making a lot of noise. 

There are a lot of things you can use to make noise, so be sure to keep the following handy with you:

  • Horns
  • Whistles
  • Portable alarms
  • Shouting

These sounds can disorient a mountain lion and give you the chance to escape. You can use your voice if you don’t have anything else that produces sound ready on hand. In a mountain lion encounter, speak firmly and loudly to assert your dominance and show you’re not afraid.

Can You Scare Off A Mountain Lion By Throwing Stones?

Sometimes, appearing intimidating might not be enough to stop one of these fearsome felines, so you might have to resort to action. One common method safety groups recommend for stopping mountain lions is throwing things.

Tossing a few small items like rocks, water bottles, or whatever you have close by can cause a mountain lion to lose heart and leave. 

If you are throwing things, throw them around the mountain lion first. You’re just trying to scare it off, and if you accidentally hit it, the mountain lion might become aggressive.

However, if throwing around the mountain lion isn’t enough, and it continues to act aggressively, you can start throwing things directly at it. 

Can You Use Pepper Spray, Bear Spray, Or Other Deterrents Against Mountain Lions?

Yes, things like pepper sprays or bear repellents are some of the things you can use to defend yourself against mountain lion attacks. Many agencies recommend that you have a bottle of repellent on hand if you decide to take a trip to the woods.

Aside from pepper spray, you can also use a flashlight or an air horn. These deterrents irritate the senses of a mountain lion which can either confuse them or force them to flee, allowing you to get out of there.

Will Mountain Lions Back Off If You Move Towards It?

Just like running away is a bad idea, trying to approach it is equally bad for opposite reasons. While running away makes you look like prey, going closer to a mountain lion makes it feel cornered

Cornered animals are the most dangerous because they will do whatever it takes to escape, including fighting. You must give them space to retreat if you want to scare them off. 

It is also important to remember that in most cases, a mountain lion only tries to protect its territory or its young. If they see you coming closer, they might mistake it as you trying to take either of those, which will escalate the situation. 

Can A Human Fight Off A Mountain Lion?

If it comes down to it, you could fight off a mountain lion. While this is far from ideal, there are some situations where this may be your only option. Usually, if a mountain lion refuses to back down to anything else, getting physical might do the trick.

There are many cases of humans successfully beating back a mountain lion. They use sticks, rocks, or backpacks to swat at the animal, and some even use their bare hands and manage to win, but it’s not an enjoyable experience, and you’ll surely need some medical attention afterward.

Do Mountain Lions Eventually Stop Stalking You?

If you do all these things and get a mountain lion to leave, you shouldn’t expect too much trouble since they will likely give up trying to go after you. In their eyes, you are too dangerous to risk attacking, so you should be safe as long as you don’t provoke them.

However, it might be a good idea to leave the area immediately once they are gone. You should report your encounter to the authorities immediately, especially if the area is near a public place or hiking trail where other people might pass by.

What To Do If You Encounter A Mountain Lion When You’re Walking Your Dog?

Suppose you encounter a mountain lion with your dog; having a pet around can complicate things. Dogs can be a wild card in situations like this because they might try to run away or attack, making predators more aggressive.

When this happens, it’s critical that you keep your dog close and under control. The best thing you can do is carry your pets in your hands so they can’t do anything, but be sure to avoid bending down to try and pick them up.

Do Mountain Lions Go For Unaccompanied Dogs?

Yes, mountain lions are not shy about attacking dogs if they are alone. These big cats might think of them as prey and try to make a meal of them. These attacks mostly happen in the forest, but some mountain lions are bold enough to break into houses and attack livestock and pets.

That is why it is essential to watch your pets closely, especially if you live near a forest or if you are visiting the wilderness. Do not let them wander off; if you sense danger, take them and leave the area at once.

Are Mountain Lions Afraid Of Dogs?

Scared is the wrong word; a better description is some dogs can deter mountain lions from attacking. This is especially true in farms where guard dogs are trained to protect the place from animals such as mountain lions. A big dog might be able to scare off a mountain lion through loud noises and acting assertively. 

Can Dogs Provoke Mountain Lions To Attack?

Yes, dogs can be unpredictable when facing a mountain lion, leading to the big cats attacking. Unless they are specially trained, most dogs might not know how to respond.

There are two main ways this can happen.

The first is if the dog is particularly aggressive and tries to approach the big cat. When that happens, a cougar might think it’s under attack and fight back. The second is if the dog tries to run away, which might get the mountain lion to chase after it.

Are Some Dogs Stronger Than Mountain Lions?

Yes, depending on the dog’s size, breed, and training, some canines might be stronger and better able to fend off mountain lions. It is essential to know that these dogs aren’t normal housepets but guard dogs.

Dogs like these are specially trained to be protectors of your home and livestock and will attack anything they deem a threat.

Some of the most popular breeds of guard dogs are the Akbash, Great Pyrenees, and Tibetan Mastiffs. Having a guard dog around your farm can reduce the risks of predator attacks by as much as 93%, including mountain lions.

Why Might Mountain Lions Back Away From Dogs?

They might back away from dogs for the same reason they will back away from humans and other large animals, the danger. Mountain lions are opportunistic hunters who rely on speed and strength to take down their prey, and the point is to take animals who won’t fight back.

In the case of guard dogs, these pooches are alert, showing that they aren’t easily scared. If a mountain lion sees that the other creatures are willing to fight and keep vigilant, they won’t risk attacking.

Author: Quade Ong

Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!

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