Staff at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Colville get a lot of questions from the public. One they have heard recently is: what do I do if I run into a cougar while hiking or recreating in the back country?
Cougars occur throughout Washington where suitable cover and prey are found. They use steep canyons, rock outcroppings and boulders, or dense brush and forests to remain hidden while hunting. A cougar’s primary prey is deer, so cougars can occur anywhere there is prey and a bit of cover.
Cougar sightings are rare and cougars usually move along quickly when they detect a human. Cougar attacks on humans are even more rare. However, it’s important to know what to do if you ever have an interaction with a cougar.
If you see a cougar, first, don’t run. If the cougar is far away, leave the area in the same direction you came from. If the cougar sees you or is close to you, face the cougar and keep eye contact with it. Talk to it firmly while slowly backing away and giving it a chance to escape.
If the cougar doesn’t leave, try to appear larger than it. Get above it by stepping onto a rock or stump. Hold your arms up or stand shoulder-to-shoulder if in a group.
Do not take your eyes off the cougar or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
If the cougar still does not flee, be more assertive, such as by shouting, waving your arms, and throwing anything you have available- such as a rock, water bottle or backpack- at it.
If the cougar attacks, fight back and try to stay on your feet. If you are aggressive enough, a cougar will flee.
And always hike, hunt, or do other recreational activities in the back country with bear spray. A shot of it to the face will work just as well on a big cat as on a bear.
WDFW has extensive information on cougars online. Just google “WDFW and cougar” for more safety tips, information on cougar biology, videos and more.
And if you have a question for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, send it to email@example.com or call 509-563-5495. One question a week will be answered. In the meantime, you can find a lot of answers to fish, wildlife and habitat questions at wdfw.wa.gov.