I remember the very first time I came out to the ranch, Mindy told me not to walk under very tall trees, especially at night, due to cougars. I thought she was kidding. Cougars are an abstract concept to native west-siders like myself — either they are the solitary hunters living way out in the wilderness, or they’re this guy:
But a quick look at the WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) website can show you that up in our corner of the state, cougar sitings and encounters are more common than you’d think. Since 2010, there have been more than 50 sitings in our county, with at least 10 of them occurring within 15 miles of our home.
I have not yet personally seen a cougar, nor am I sure I want to see one. But it is important to know that they are out there, and what to do if I should encounter one. WDFW has a handy fact sheet.
Do’s and Don’ts in Cougar Country
While recreating in cougar habitat, you should:
- Hike in small groups and make enough noise to avoid surprising a cougar.
- Keep your camp clean and store food and garbage in double plastic bags.
- Keep small children close to the group, preferably in plain sight just ahead of you.
- Do not approach dead animals, especially deer or elk; they could have been cougar prey left for a later meal.
If you encounter a cougar:
- Stop, stand tall and don’t run. Pick up small children. Don’t run. A cougar’s instinct is to chase.
- Do not approach the animal, especially if it is near a kill or with kittens.
- Try to appear larger than the cougar. Never take your eyes off the animal or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
- If the animal displays aggressive behavior, shout, wave your arms and throw rocks. The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger.
- If the cougar attacks, fight back aggressively and try to stay on your feet. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back.
Cougars prefer to remain unseen, and in areas disturbed by people, they’re most active from twilight til dawn, when human activity drops off. I would expect, especially since we don’t have animals of our own at our homesite, that cougars would be deterred by our noise and smell. However, as people move further and further out into the country, we encroach on natural cougar habitat. It’s reasonable to expect that once in awhile, no matter how rare, we might see a cougar.
Of course, the most effective way to keep a cougar off the property would be if we painted it like an end zone. Cougars never go there.