In the last few weeks, California news stations have reported more and more instances where humans and wild predators have some sort of contact.
The good news is that I have not seen any recent reports of these predators actually attacking people. A lot of that can probably be attributed to people learning the right way to deal with encounters but the news stories recently have presented a possible error in the advice they give.
In my pursuit of wildlife photos, I often employ calls intended to bring predators close. Knowing how to act in the presence of any predator is very close to my heart since I do not want to be that predators next snack. I have done my research and read accounts of people who survived encounters and those who did not.
My focus is on California and Nevada and I will try to give a little insight to dealing with predators you may encounter in those two states. Those include:
Cougar – also called mountain lion
Bobcat - Seldom attacks humans but is capable
Coyote – Not usually a threat to adult humans BUT can be a threat to small kids and pets
Black bear – Big, bad, and all about food.
There are general rules that can be applied pretty well across the board whenever you find yourself in the presence of all the above. First and foremost, DO NOT PANIC! Never, ever, run while in the presence of any of the predators mentioned above. Running is a main trigger that can cause these predators to give chase and attack. Obviously if you are only a few feet from a building and can get inside quickly, then go ahead and do that even it means a fast sprint but ONLY if you can do so fast enough to get inside WELL AHEAD of any pursuit. Otherwise, forget trying to run.
Now, let’s look at the actual predator you might be facing. Cougar and Bobcat are both formidable cats. Most people are well aware of the power of the Cougar but tend to dismiss the Bobcat. That’s a mistake! Bobcat are naturally very cautious around humans BUT they quite often take down game as large as deer and if you present yourself as fearful, they can easily decide to attempt taking down a human.
When in the presence of a big cat, Cougar or Bobcat, the way you react will determine what happens next. The big cats are thinkers and they DO weigh the risk before deciding whether or not to make a try for any possible prey. They simply cannot afford injury. With that in mind, you should present yourself as unafraid and 100% willing to kill them. I’m sure that many of the so-called environmentalists and animal rights folks have already started to cuss me out but I tell the truth here. You attitude and bearing can save your life and prevent an attack and that is the purpose. Here is how to accomplish what I suggest:
- Maintain eye contact – Look right at the big cat and try to keep eye contact at all times. The cat will see this as a threat communication and YOU will see every move the cat makes.
- Make yourself look BIG – In the animal world, size matters! Stand tall. If you are wearing a jacket or coat, open the front and spread it out to make you body look wider.
- SLOWLY move away – Taking one careful step at a time and maintaining eye contact with the cat, move away from the cat TOWARDS an area of safety. As you move off, try your best to keep track of the cat! The best ending will be if the cats moves away and forgets about you but sometimes, they will stalk a human just to see if they might get a chance to attack or simply out of curiosity.
If you get the chance, try to pick up something you can use effectively as a weapon too. I suggest a big stick IF one happens to be within easy reach. If you’re good at throwing things, fist sized rocks may be OK too. If you’re like me, and carry a large sheath knife when you go into wilderness areas, get it into your hand and ready to use if needed. If you do the things listed above, you stand a very good chance of your encounter being only an exciting event you can tell your friends about…otherwise, you may never tell anyone.
Most folks dismiss the lowly Coyote and that is also a big mistake. Though the Coyote will seldom show aggression toward and adult human, small kids and pets are a huge temptation for them. In fact, Coyotes kill and eat small dogs and cats all the time and there are many accounts of them trying to take kids right out of the back yards they play in.
In my personal encounters with Coyotes, I find that the same advice given about cats works very well and actually adding in a few aggressive lunges in their direction sends them running. If you have small kids, do not let them out of your sight when in Coyote territory and teach them to SEEM aggressive and threatening toward predators…heck, that goes for the two legged variety too!
I left the Black bear for last because this one actually presents the LEAST threat IF you use a bit of thought. The Black bear’s number one priority is FOOD. They are not like cats and Coyotes in that they would rather munch a berry than give chase to anything. If you see a bear in the wild, it is highly likely you will see it either eating or on the way to find something to eat. If you are out camping and a bear comes strolling into your camp, it is after food. If there are several people, you can probably drive it off by making lots of noise and not backing down. If you are by yourself or there are just two or three of you….get out of the bear’s way and let it eat! If you attempt, unarmed, to confront a bear, it is going to hurt or kill you. If you simply give way, the bear has better things to do than get in a fight with you….like eating all those camp goodies you have laying around.
The bottom line is that how you act when encountering wild predators will be the deciding factor of just how that encounter turns out.
Lastly, if any predator actually launches and attack, you will be fighting for your life. In such a fight, there are no rules! At that point, get it firmly in your mind that your objective is to kill the animal attacking you. DO NOT give up! Kick, bite, scratch, with every ounce of strength you have and do not quit until the predator is either dead or running full speed away from you. To do otherwise is the same as committing suicide.