If you encounter a cougar or bear on Mount Emily ...
Most of us love the outdoors. That’s why we live here. And, as
outdoor-loving people, we enjoy viewing wildlife in its natural
habitat. Mount Emily Recreation Area (MERA) is a wonderful place to see
deer, which are seemingly everywhere (just ask my wife about her
disappearing flowers), elk at certain times of the year, squirrels and
an abundance of birds including wild turkeys. Other denizens of the
forest are around too, those being bears and cougars, but they rarely
allow themselves to be seen.
A couple of autumns ago I had the rare, but exciting opportunity to come face to face with a rather large adult cougar. Here’s how it all went down.
Job and time constraints determine that I ride my mountain bike on MERA’s trails at 5 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the spring, summer and fall until the snow gets too deep. That means early spring and late fall rides are in the dark before sunrise, which necessitates powerful lights mounted on my handlebars and helmet.
One October morning I rode up from the Igo Lane trailhead to the Archery Range road, then turned south toward Owsley Canyon Road. I had just dropped down off of Archery Range Road onto a short singletrack that leads into the Owsley Canyon trails area when movement just on the edge of my light’s range caught my attention. Whatever it was looked big, so I stopped. I lifted the front of my bike up so I could scan the area just ahead. As I panned my light to the right, I saw it. Perhaps 30 feet away was a large, full-grown cougar standing dead still looking at me. Because my lights are so bright it probably couldn’t actually see me, but it was apparently curious about the lights. We stared at each other for a minute or two. I stood there frozen, not wanting to take my eyes off of it, all the while trying to figure out what my next move was going to be and what I’d do if it chose to attack. I decided I would use my bike as either a shield or a weapon, which ever would be necessary. After a while the cat seemed to get bored and turned its head back in the direction it had been going before I showed up. At that point it became clear that it wasn’t hungry for a breakfast of mountain biker that particular morning. As it started to slowly move away, I slowly backed away in the opposite direction.
When I got back to the road I hopped on my bike and rode straight down the mountain to my truck, loaded my bike and drove home feeling fortunate to be alive and yet exhilarated by the experience I’d just had.
So far, I’ve never met a bear, but I know they’re out there because I’ve seen plenty of bear sign on the trail. Although bears and cougars normally avoid humans, they are probably aware that you are in their territory. With this in mind, I think it appropriate to list a few tips on what to do if you meet a bear or cougar while on the trails.
• While on the trail watch for signs such as droppings, fresh tracks or bear’s strong scent
• Be careful near berry patches
• Never approach a fresh kill
• Carry a noise maker such as a bell or a can filled with pebbles to avoid startling a bear
• Do not let small children straggle behind
• Be especially careful when accompanied by a dog, as a barking dog can enrage a bear and draw a bear back to you
• Never approach a cub or get between a cub and its mother
If you meet a bear it will probably run away, but if, in characteristic bear unpredictability, it does not:
• Watch for signs of an attack such as the animal rearing up on its hind legs and growling with ears laid back
• Do not run or wave your arms as this will only provoke the bear
• Back away slowly, talking as calmly as possible
• If the attack is unavoidable, experts say to protect your stomach, thighs and neck by lying down in the fetal position with knees drawn up to your neck and hands clasped over your neck
• Try to lie as still as possible.
• Cougars usually hunt at dusk and dawn. Try to avoid being in their territory at these times.
• If you encounter one and it looks as if it is about to attack, make yourself as big as possible by waving your arms, or a stick (or your bike)
• Slowly back away (as much as you may want to, don’t turn and run)
• Make noise
For more information on bears and cougars just Google “bear and cougar precautions” on your computer and hundreds of websites on the subject will come up.