What do I do if I run into a mountain lion or a bear on the trails?
I recently moved from PA to AZ. In PA we mainly had black bears, which are a fairly docile species. You don’t want to get between them and their cubs, but other than that you basically want to make enough noise that you don’t startle them and they’ll happily lumber away into the forest. Coming to AZ I was aware that there were mountain lions, and I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for those, so I asked a volunteer at a park: “So, what would I do if I encounter a mountain lion?” “Well, we would want you to report it to the rangers with an approximate location, time and what it was doing.” “OK, but what do I do to make sure I make it BACK to the range station?” Turns out, it’s much the same as a black bear. Be loud, be big, back away slowly but don’t turn your back.That being said, different predators in different areas have different protocols. You would not want to try to make yourself big and loud when confronted with a grizzly, it will not go well. However, I think there’s a few rules that apply across the board:
- Ask locals: Find a knowledgeable local, maybe even a trail runner, and get advice on how to handle the local flora and fauna (sometimes the plants bite too)
- Google it: As with anything, verify your source, and make sure you’re looking up the correct species for your local area.
- Pay attention: One of the surest ways to upset any animal is to startle it. The sooner you are aware of its presence the more chance you’ll have of giving it the space it prefers.
- Make sure someone can figure out if they need to help you: Maybe this is giving the location of your run and approximate times, maybe it’s having a whistle to alert people nearby, maybe it’s a cell phone or other contact device depending on the remoteness of your location.
- Enjoy it: To quote one of my favorite race directors “If you see a bear, a porcupine, or a rattlesnake today….AWESOME.”
Make sure your safety comes first, but also make sure you appreciate that one of the great things about our sport is that it allows us the opportunity to explore wild places where wild things live.
This actually happened to me last month…or I think it may have. I was out alone on an out/back trail in northern Colorado when I heard what I thought may have been a mountain lion behind me — clicking + chirping sounds that didn’t sound quite bird-like. Now, from the safety of my couch I have doubts about the validity of my fear, but at the time it was very real. The sound was between me + the car, so I pulled out my Delorme inReach, messaged my boyfriend what was happening + continued on with my run [slowly hiking away]. My hope was that the creature would carry on with its morning + be gone when I returned, rather than immediately going back past a woods full of warning signs. When I hit my turnaround point + headed back I was on high alert + did the following… …set my phone up to play an audiobook with just one click [for more noise + the sounds of more people]….picked up rocks + sticks [to throw at a mountain lion to scare it off]….talked to myself, loudly [so it sounded like more than just one person, alone in the woods!] Roughly a half mile beyond the point I first heard the clicking + chirping I dug my inReach out + give my boyfriend a heads up that all was most likely a-okay. I also messaged him via the inReach when I got back to my car, as I still didn’t have cell service. Then I upgraded my Delorme inReach to a plan that included real time tracking so I could message via satellite + if anything happened someone could at least find my inReach. Oh + I’d recommend getting an inReach or similar if you’re going to be out + about on your own without cell service.
I have spent my life working with animals learning to read/feel their energy, and that is the most important thing to figure out when deciding how to respond to wild life. There is no real “one reaction fits all” way to deal with it. If the animal is feeling threatened and defensive then puffing up and sounding mean will only escalate the situation. Unless they are actively charging at me I stand my ground and make sure to keep my energy as low as possible while speaking to them in a soothing voice. Usually within a minute of this they just turn and walk off. Living on the east coast I most commonly run into black bears. They are a generally non aggressive bear, though I have been charged by a mama who thought I was too close to her cubs. I cannot speak for approach towards more notably aggressive types of bears (such as Grizzly) but ALWAYS do your best to keep your energy as low as possible and don’t freak out (that thing about them sensing fear is a real thing.) It is also never a bad idea to have pepper spray with you and quickly accessible.
If this makes you feel any better, I have run into a mountain lion twice and bears more times than I can count. None of them have ever had any interest in me whatsoever. I follow the rules to look large and make noise so as not to startle the animal, and never turn my back on it. I’d also suggest resisting the urge to take a picture, at least until you are at a safe distance.
I have never come face to face with a mountain kitty, but I have been close enough to hear their calls and break into a cold sweat. You need to be loud and appear large. In my own opinion, they have never been a threat to me, they have just been letting me know that they are close. I tend to just continue on loudly and go about my business. As for a bear, back away slowly in the same direction you came from. Keep your eyes on it to make sure you can see how it’s reacting to you.