Mountain Lion Lunch, Bear Brunch
How to avoid becoming itby Alex Sepulveda
Occasionally I’ll be hiking in my local mountains confidently and without a care in the world. Suddenly, it creeps into my mind: Is a cougar stalking me? Is a bear up ahead? And just as the hair bristles on my neck, sure to be pierced by feline teeth any second, I remind myself that the chances of becoming mountain lion lunch or bear brunch are exceedingly slim.
On average, bears kill three and injure between five and fifteen people every year in North America. Even more rare are cougar attacks, which have only killed a dozen people in the U.S. since 1890—though over half occurred in the last fifteen years, indicating they’re on the rise. Your chances of being killed by a domestic dog are far greater.
Nonetheless, encounters do occur, and we’re in the middle of bear and cougar season. Here are some precautionary and worst-case-scenario measures when venturing into bear and cougar country.
MOUNTAIN LION (a.k.a. cougar, puma, panther)
Don't hike alone. Statistics show that nearly all recorded attacks in California have involved lone trail runners and children.
Be especially wary of allowing children to wander by themselves as cougars prefer their smaller size.
Do not bring your dog hiking. If you must, use a leash.
Cougars are most active at night. They tend to stalk their prey, often from above a trail, and strike at the base of the skull from close range.
If faced with a mountain lion, do not run as this triggers its hunting instinct. If you’re with small children, pick them up without bending or crouching over. Or stand directly in front or behind them to mask their size.
Try appearing larger than you really are by raising arms, backpack or other gear high above your head. (Recently, a Coloradoan successfully staved off a mountain lion poised to attack by throwing his water bottle at it, raising his bike over his head, and shouting to intimidate the animal.)
If physically attacked, fight back protecting your head and neck at all cost. Playing dead will promptly become reality.
Investigate the area you’ll be visiting to determine if there has been recent bear activity.
Travel in groups and during daytime only.
Watch for bear tracks, droppings, claw marks and any other evidence that bears have been in the area.
Recent studies show that bear bells may be ineffective. These are often worn or hung from a walking stick while hiking to create noise and scare bears off.
Transport your food in airtight, bear-proof receptacles, and avoid strong-smelling foods and items, like cosmetics, entirely.
Cook and store food at least 100 yards away but visible from where you’ll sleep. Clean up well, removing grease from your stove and cooking/eating surfaces.
Many experts now suggest NOT playing dead if attacked by a grizzly bear. Instead, fight back, trying to appear dominant, and shouting to frighten the bear away.
Besides avoidance, the most effective means of staving off a bear attack is bear (pepper) spray—75% effective in stopping a charging bear. Use spray sparingly, only from close range (within 25’), and aim for eyes, nose and mouth.
Do NOT apply bear spray to your gear (tent, pack, etc.) as this may actually attract bears.
Once the bear is blinded by the spray, leave the area as quickly as possible by backing up slowly and not running.