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CALIFORNIA SPORTS PARADISE
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AVOIDING A COUGAR ENCOUNTER
OR SURVIVING ONE

By Douglas Zimmer
Reprinted without permission from the February 2001 issue of Outdoor Life magazine.

Millions of people live and recreate in cougar country each yar, and many of them do so within eyesight of cougar. Hunters are in a special group: Their choice of recreation places them in the same habitat, pursuing the same species, as cougars.

What can you do to minimize the chances of an unpleasant or dangerous encounter? Like any predator, cougars target the seemingly easy mark, the unwary and the defenseless. The most important thing you can do is to stay alert and be aware of what is going on around you.

Here are other ways to decrease the possibilities of a cougar attack.

Keep a clean camp, much like you already do to avoid conflicts with bears. Cougars are extremely curious and quickly can become acclimatized to humans. Cougars routinely prowl camps in many areas and they may be more attracted to camps with a lot of food and cooking odors present.

Leave your pet at home or keep it under close control. A dog fleeing from a cougar can lead the mountain lion straight back to you.

Be especially alert when you are cleaning downed game animals and keep your firearm close at hand. If the worst happens and you find yourself in a confrontation with a mountain lion, what you do next can make the difference between a story you tell your friends and one they tell about you. Convincing a cougar that you are more than it wants to tangle with takes some courage on your part.

Make yourself look as big as possible; stand tall, spread your arms and open your coat.

Maintain eye contact, speak loudly and firmly and bare your teeth.

Do not turn your back on the cat, even to get uphill. If you decide to back up, be sure of your footing. Slipping while climbing could trigger an attack, and poor footing leaves you less able to fight if an attack occurs.

Do not stoop, squat or bend.

Do not make quick movements or sudden noises that may trigger an attack.

Do not run. Cougars chase down deer for a living.

If attacked, your option is simple: fight back with everything you have. Although cougars will defend a kill, their young or possibly even a den site, their most likely motivation for an attack is predation - they intend to eat you. Playing dead is not going to work. Plenty of people, even childre, have fought off cougar attacks successfully, but I know of no one who has survived an attack by feigning death.

Use a stick, a club, your hands, a fishing pole, a camera - whatever. If you have to, shoot the animal. Remember that wildlife agents are going to have to be convinced that your life was in danger if you are going to avoid a citation. At close range, your rifle may be more useful as a club.

If you kill the cougar, leave the scene intact and contact wildlife authorities immediately. Better yet, stay put and have a friend contact the fish and game department. Get the names and telephone numbers of any witnesses. If you see other hunters, ask them if they have had any cougar contact in the area that might corroborate your experience. Carefully note where you were standing when the attack occurred, where the cat was and other relevant locations. Mark these spots in some way that will not be erased by bad weather - hunting season is a busy time for wildlife agents and it might take a while for one to reach you.

If you or a friend is injured, get treatment for shock, bleeding and sepsis. Tetanus is always a possibility, so keep your shots up to date. Rabies is another possibility and your margin of safety increases if you are treated within 72 hours of exposure. Although rabies treatment has improved in the last few yers, it is still very expensive, but a cheap remedy considering the alternative. Get professinal medical help as soon as possible. Cougars kill by biting, and puncture wounds often cause internal bleeding and other injuries that may go undetected by nonprofessionals.

The chance that you will be confronted or attacked by a cougar are remote. However, should an encounter occur, the chances that you will survive intact are much greater if you have thought things out ahead of time and are prepared to react accordingly.

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