What To Do If You ‘Run’ Into a Mountain Lion

This is a specifically requested follow-up to ‘What To Do If You ‘Run’ Into a Rattlesnake.’

Mountain lions are also quite common around here. People are always seeing them wandering down from the hills — even all the way into the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley. Steve swears he saw one at the top of Fairfax-Bolinas Road, by the golf course. He also says he wasn’t worried about it because the lion was eating a deer, so something in that story doesn’t sound totally right.

Whenever anyone says they saw a mountain lion, the police always assume it was really a bobcat (which are, evidently, less dangerous), because they’re easy to confuse. You’re supposed to look at the tail to tell the difference. So, if a large cat is running at you, remember to have it turn around.


On the prowl. With a shorter tail.
On the prowl. With a shorter tail. From Tory Kallman

Mountain Lion:

With a long tail.
With a long tail.

With a rattlesnake, the main things you need to know are about what to do after you’re bitten while running on trails. With a mountain lion, the main things you need to know are about not getting bitten. Once you’ve been attacked, there’s really only one thing to do: call 9-1-1.

1. Not that many people get killed by mountain lions — just 20 in the last 100 years. So, you know, not a huge problem. Mostly, it’s small children that get attacked, suggesting that the best way to not be attacked is to not be small. In recent years, more adults running, hiking, biking, skiing in lion territory have been attacked, suggesting that the second best way to not be attacked is not to wander into their territory.

2. Avoid mountain lions in the first place. Which sounds stupid, but, well, apparently needs to be said. If you’re on a trail in the hills where there is nature and shit, you really shouldn’t be wearing headphones. Mountain lions are more active at dusk and dawn. They also like to go after small things — children, dogs, people by themselves. Don’t run on trails at night. Run in groups at those times — large cats are less likely to attack herds. Stick to trails, especially frequently used trails, instead of wandering into undergrowth. If I do end up stuck on a trail at night (thank YOU Steve and Justin), then it’s always helpful to yell or talk loudly while you go, so as not to surprise any animals out. This led to one instance where I was running full speed, sprinting to get back to my car as dusk fell, and yelling at the top of my lungs, “DON’T EAT ME,” the entire time.

3. If you happen upon a mountain lion, back away. Be large. As is always the advice with these kinds of things: stay calm.  You’re supposed to essentially convince it that you’re the scariest thing out there, which means raise your arms, talk loudly but calmly, pick up any kids or dogs with you so they don’t run. If it starts to behave aggressively, you should throw things and yell –while backing away. But, don’t bend over or crouch to pick up things to throw, because then you’ll look small and it’ll attack. (How you’re supposed to throw things without picking them up is a mystery to me. Presumably, you carry rocks for just such an occasion.)

4. Don’t run, but don’t stand. Traditional logic has always said that if you turn and start to run, then the lion will instinctively chase, which has caused me to be afraid that a lion in the brush will mistake me running on the trail for me running away and try to chase me. New research is suggesting that ‘Don’t Run’ may not be the best advice. If you can run quickly on relatively even ground, you have a decent chase of escaping, but if it catches you then you’re more likely to be killed. If you run on uneven ground, it may mistake you for limping or being weak, which encourages it to attack. If you turn your back, it may go for your spinal cord. But, if you stand totally still, you are almost definitely going to be attacked. Make sense? Good.

5. Fight back. Again, this also sounds stupid, but some animals, supposedly, are less likely to kill you if you play dead. That is NOT the case with mountain lions. You need to convince it that you are too much trouble to eat. If a lion attacks you, hit it. People have been successful in getting away after hitting it with sticks, rocks, gardening tools, etc. This is partially why many people carry a walking stick.

Really, when I think too hard about all the things that can attack me, I start to lose my shit. I generally just take comfort in the fact that if I get attacked by a mountain lion, I will be the first in Marin County and it will definitely be big news.

23 thoughts on “What To Do If You ‘Run’ Into a Mountain Lion

  1. I’m going to hope that my practice wrestling with our 130-lb Saint Bernard really helps if I have to fight a mountain lion off because…I don’t have a chance of passing as large (#1, #3). After Courtenay’s post about the mountain lion in her neighborhood, I’m starting to think I’m really going to have to think about this all in Boulder.

    1. Try it again without the unnecessary foul language! Your advice is good but didn’t pass it along to my grandkids to read! They are exposed to enough unnecessary foul language as it is! Oh, BTW, most military people don’t have foul mouths and still have successful military and then civilian careers! 3o years of enlisted and officer service and I never had to use foul language! You are a great writer so save the foul stuff for a novel not stuff kids might read! Enough said! Best! Dr Dan

  2. I love this post. Next you should do bears.

    Molly you have to worry more about pets and kids than you do yourself, according to the bazillion resident experts in these parts. Mountain lions are smart, like Kelly said they don’t go after stuff that’s too much trouble, such as healthy-adult-us trying to beat the crap out of them. Dogs are another story. A mountain lion got my neighbor’s 100+ lb dog a couple springs ago after a month or so of them heading out for a walk at about the same time daily.

  3. Sharks:
    1.) don’t bleed
    2.) don’t thrash about and splash (aka don’t look like an injured seal)
    3.) punch it in the nose (that’s where all it’s special ampullae are)
    4.) don’t swim where there are sharks


  4. In other words…. It’s a crap shoot. You run trails, at night, you take your chances. I live in the Sierra foothills. Lots of mountain lion sightings, they have a very long hunting range, and where I run, there is lots of distance (¼ -1 mile in most cases) between houses, even when I do run paved roads. I wear reflective clothing ( for cars) wear LED headlamps ( forward & rear facing) and play my iPhone on my armband with no headphone. I constantly look around, which keeps my light bobbing around. When I lived in the bay area I say one in the brush near Crystal Springs reservoir running trails. Have not seen a mountain lion yet in the Sierras, though one night a passing car stopped and warned me of a bear near the road. My neighbor, 3 miles away, recently lost livestock to a 135 lb (which was live trapped and killed) young male cougar this year. I love my night runs, and maximize safety. I’m usually at about 155 lbs, and am 5’10, so I’m about the same size as a medium sized male.

  5. I’ve seen them in AZ…..and since I can carry..we’re all good. Lol Nothing 21 rounds from a sig p226 won’t fix, instantly. Haha

  6. Bear Mace. $20 bucks stops anything in it’s tracks from Bears, Mountain Lions, Dogs, Bottle Kids you name it.

  7. Ran into a full grown 150lbs mountain lion Tuesday night on a run home from work. I was on a paved trail that passes by Chatfield State Park in Littleton, Colorado. One of the scariest moments of my life. I stood my ground and made a bunch of noise until a bicyclist passed by and let me tag along with her for the rest of the run.

  8. Lol! Stumbled upon this article because my daughter wanted to know what to do if we ever came across a mountain lion. My 10 year old thought your writing was hilarious! (& interestesing she made me add)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s