Wildlife Encounters in Winter

A friend was walking in the foothills the other day when he roused a cougar. The cat stood its ground and stared. My friend grabbed his dog and pulled the safety pin out of his bear spray. Fortunately, the cat retreated.

I let people know where I’m going and when I expect to return when I head out off the beaten path.

I carry a pack on longer trips with food, extra warm clothing, a lighter, and a first aid kit.

I wear an avalanche beacon and carry probe and shovel when I ski into the backcountry and avalanche terrain.

But I never thought to carry pepper spray on winter walks.

Winter Walking

Pepper spray – also called bear spray – can be used for many wildlife encounters. Good thing, because unlike bears, cougars don’t settle down for a long winter’s nap. Whether you call them cougars, pumas, mountain lions – these majestic cats are wild animals worthy of respect.

Cougars are the largest North American wild cats – reaching as long as 10 feet (three metres) from nose to tip of tail. Males can weigh upwards of 160 pounds (70 kilograms); females up to 110 pounds (50 kilograms). 

You’d think a cat this size would be readily seen in the wild. Not so! I’ve come across tracks and tail drag marks in winter months, but can honestly say that I’ve never seen a cougar.

Still, I think I’ll put a can of pepper spray in my pocket on the next winter walk!

To prevent encounters:

  • Be alert and aware of your surroundings.
  • Learn to recognize signs of cougar’s presence (tracks, scat and markings).
  • Watch for signs of kill sites (especially birds or other scavengers feeding on carrion).
  • Travel in groups and make noise in sheltered areas with poor visibility.
  • Walk your dog during daylight hours, in sight and in complete voice command or on a leash.

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