Running with Cougars and Black Bears

Early this morning I got this text from one of our athletes “… I got out to the mountains and it is dark as FUCK out here and POURING and I do not feel ok running all by my lonesome, because a bear will 100% eat me.” GIRRRRRRL! I feel your pain! With shorter days, longer nights, and winter weather rolling in, morning trail runs are starting to feel a bit sketchy, to say the least.

Even here in Oregon where there has never been a recorded Cougar attack in the wild, the thought of a big cat stalking you as the sun rises is enough to make the hair on your neck stand up while your focus slowly drifts away from your hill workout and towards stone age survival instincts.

Realistically, you shouldn’t be too worried. Statistically speaking you’re more likely to get hit by a car or mugged by a drug addict than assaulted by a bear or jumped by a cougar in the wild, still, it can happen and has happened. Pretending like you’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about won’t make the possibility go away.

It is highly unlikely that you’ll ever see a cougar. A cougar may have seen you, but sightings are rare and encounters even more so. Bears, on the other hand, are seen fairly often, especially here in Southern Oregon. I swear we have more Bears in Ashland than raccoons! They’re fairly common on the trails here, we even had one in our driveway last week. So what do you do to keep yourself safe while hitting the trails in Black Bear and Cougar country? And what do you do if you ever face an encounter?  

When you’re running in Black Bear and Cougar country be sure to be cautious at dawn and dusk when these animals are most active. Contrary to suggestions I’ve seen in publications like Trail Runner Magazine, DO NOT wear headphones on the trail or in wild places. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings. Stay alert and look up trail often. Glance around as well (while paying attention to your footing) and be cognizant of what’s above you if you’re approaching ledges. If you stop to rest, sit, or tie your shoe, be especially alert. Never stop and turn your back to a heavily wooded area. Be sure to make noise to alert wildlife so that you don’t come around a bend surprise a Bear or Cougar. When I start getting nervous I like to clap my hands to let the noise echo through the woods so that my presence is known.

If you do encounter a Black Bear or Cougar, remain calm. Give them space and back away slowly. Whatever you do, do not run, as running can trigger the animal’s instinct to give chase. Use your coat or pack to make yourself appear as large as possible and speak in a low and firm voice as you back away. Never turn your back on a Cougar or Black Bear. Face the animal, stay calm, back away slowly, and give them a way to escape.

In the unlikely event that you’re attacked by either a Black Bear or Cougar, you will need to fight back; you will be fighting for your life! Use your fists, rocks, sticks and anything else that is available to you. In the majority of recorded attacks, people have been able to fight the animals off and survive.

I’m not sharing these tips to scare you, but it is important to be aware of the risks you’re taking in the back country. Often times in life, the risks we take are well worth the rewards, so long as you’re aware of the the possible consequences associated with the choices you’re making.

The bears I’ve come across have been extremely skittish, even with cubs. And the chances of being attacked by a Cougar? Well, according to the Bay Area Puma Project, you’re 150 X more likely to be killed by hitting a deer with your car, 300 X more likely to be killed by a domestic dog, 500 X more likely to die drowning in your own bathtub, and 7,000 X more likely to die in a car crash!  It is literally more dangerous to walk down the street at night in any US city than it is to hit the trails in Cougar country.

Don’t be afraid, just be aware!

For more information about Mountain Lions and Puma FAQs visit this website.

Find more information about Bears here.

 

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