What to do if you encounter a cougar while skiing or snowshoeing in the backcountry.
It’s February, and the snow is flying in the western mountains. For many of us, that means putting on skis or snowshoes and exploring the backcountry. Many of us head outdoors to find wildlife, but what should you do if the animal you spot while enjoying pristine powder is a cougar?
- Don’t run. This can trigger a natural predator/prey response in the cat.
- Don’t approach! While it may seem like a perfect photo opportunity, getting closer will likely make the animal feel threatened or cornered, and could result in aggressive, defensive behavior.
- Keep pets and small children nearby. Cougars may single them out.
What if the sighting is more akin to brushing shoulders with a cougar, and you are simply too close to the animal?
- Stay calm.
- Stand your ground. Do not turn around, bend down, or make sudden movements.
- Make yourself big and scary. Raise your arms, open up your jacket (think batman extending his bat-wings), speak with a firm voice, and if necessary, make a barrier between yourself and the animal (i.e., with skis, bike, etc).
- If the situation allows, slowly back away.
- Fight back in the rare event that a cougar attacks you.
- If you have a hostile encounter with a cougar or believe there is a public safety issue, contact state wildlife officials and local wildlife organizations.
- Cougar attacks on people are EXTREMELY rare. (This video helps highlight the point).
- Traveling in groups dramatically reduces the risk of being attacked.
- Know beforehand if you will be recreating in cougar country and make the appropriate preparations. If you are, be alert, be aware of your surroundings, and make noise.
- Cougars (and most other wildlife, for that matter) frequently use roads and trails. If you see a cougar cache (recently eaten/buried carcass) or evidence of recent activity near an area frequented by people, leave the area immediately.