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Have you ever been hiking through the wilderness at night and gotten the feeling that you were being watched?
If so and you live in Colorado, there’s a good chance it was a mountain lion.
I’ve spent a good part of 20 years hiking, running, and exploring the wilderness, and a decent part of that time has been in the dark.
There’s something about the darkness that never fails to make a challenge more vibrant.
Traveling alone is preferable for me most of the time, and I generally steer clear of areas that involve high risk of wild predator interaction. Even seasoned outdoorsmen with honed risk management skills can be caught off guard.
It’s a gut feeling like something isn’t right. Sometimes it feels like a pair of eyes that you can’t see, or you can hear crunching leaves in the silence.
Side Note: Interestingly enough, some neuroscientists believe the sensation of being watched to be a real thing, and hypothesize that our brains subconsciously communicate with other people and animals through mirror neurons.
When I encounter a feelings of uneasiness, I’ll slow my pace to a light walk, and even stay still and hold my breath if needed, so to quiet my body and listen with intense closeness.
As an outdoorsman who explores the wilderness, you should always be prepared to meet a mountain lion, no matter how rare it may be.
Even though cougars are rarely seen, you can rest assured they see us.
An article published in March 2020 by CNN, showed just how dangerous the animals can be.
Their article referenced how Colorado has recently been experiencing an increase in mountain lion attacks, and showed video footage of a mountain lion attacking a local sheriff.
If you have plans on travelling or bugging out to a new area which is a potential risk zone, practice these 9 methods to keep yourself undetected:
1. Bring defense
If you know the area you will be traveling through has reports of mountain lions, bring a high powered side arm.
If you dont own a firearm, consider taking a long fixed blade (non folding) or fighting axe.
Melee weapons can be quickly deployed and repositioned, as well as have advantages over firearms.
While bullets travel faster than sharp blades, aiming close range with a limited field of vision, at a fast-moving target, will be almost impossible in the dark.
Consider your field of vision while hiking in the dark with a headlamp. The beam only illuminates about 90 degrees in your front, and temporarily duals your vision if turned off.
If I got taken by surprise in the dark and had to wrestle a cougar (not my preferred option), I’d want a fighting knife.
Another cost efficient and basic defense option would be the Assegai with a short shaft, made by the company Cold Steel.
If you’re not a fan of hand weapons, bear spray can be easily purchased at most sports stores, and would be better to have than nothing.
2. Proceed with caution
As you’re traveling by dark, be mindful that you are moving during prime hunting time.
If the area you are traveling in has limited vision, and the natural surroundings make for a tight space, reconsider your route approach for where you can get a better sense of your surroundings.
3. Listen to your gut
You may think that your mind is playing tricks on you and nothing is there, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
4. Stay quiet
The wilderness is a beautiful place and good reason to be nostalgic over. Though you may be tired after a long day and want to get back to camp, always be alert of the dangers around any hill or tree.
Speak quietly and keep conversation at a minimum. If you are loud or boisterous, a mountain cougar may perceive your tone as a challenge or threat.
5. Travel by moonlight
If you are on a trail and not at risk of getting lost, turn off your lights and travel by moonlight. You will be surprised how much you can see after your eyes adjust to the darkness.
Though the light may bring confidence, be aware that same light will draw attention to any predator in your surrounding area. If you can see the light, so can they.
6. Keep a moderate pace
Traveling by darkness can consume more of your energy. While traveling, you will need to stay on constant alert of your direct surroundings, often negotiate difficult obstacles, and check your navigation tools more often.
A good rule is to keep moving. If you unknowingly cross into Cougar territory, it’s better to cross it quickly and get out.
7. Be light on your feet
The harder your footstep is, the more noise you make. This is an often overlooked technique and good rule of thumb to travel by.
Any mountain lion nearby can hear crunching leaves, snapping twigs, and shuffling snow.
Even though you may be within a lions’ territory, your chances at moving through without drawing attention to yourself are greater with silence.
8. Keep a guarded stance
As you walk through meadows and open valleys, it’s fine to stretch and have your arms flap about. Though when you navigate cliffs or cross through dense dark forest, anything can initiate a preemptive attack.
While traveling, walk with a defensive and closed stance. If ambushed, you’ll have a better chance of maintaining a firm stance, and not be tossed on your back with your neck fully exposed.
To get an idea of how capable these creatures are, here are a few stats on Cougar abilities, provided by the nonprofit organization Mountain Lion Foundation:
- can bound up to 40 feet running
- can leap 15 feet up a tree
- can climb over a 12 foot fence
- can travel many miles at 10 mph
- can reach speeds of 50 mph in a sprint
9. Don’t panic, don’t run
The worst thing you can do in a wilderness situation is panic and run. You won’t be able to outrun a lion, and if your back is turned, he will jump and attack your neck. Logic is lost during panic, and you may run in the wrong direction, or worse, fail to see a long drop or obstacle in your way.
On their official government website, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Service offers a few practical tips on what to do if you come face to face with a mountain lion.
- Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.
- Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run.
- If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion.
- Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and their bare hands successfully. Remain standing or try to get back up!”
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COLORADO PARKS & WILDLIFE. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://cpw.state.co.us/lions
Guzman, F., & Valdes, R. (2020, March 12). A witness captured the moment when a Colorado deputy escaped the jaws of a mountain lion. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/12/us/mountain-lion-attack-colorado-deputy-trnd/index.html
The Mountain Lion Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.mountainlion.org/FAQfrequentlyaskedquestions.php
What are Mirror Neurons? (2019, February 27). Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Mirror-Neurons.aspx