Does Bear Spray Work on Mountain Lions?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: April 18, 2022
© Scott E Read/Shutterstock.com
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Whether you call them cougars, mountain lions, or pumas, the largest cats found in North America are not mammals you want to encounter while hiking. However, as suburban sprawls enter mountain lion territory and more people are discovering the great outdoors, mountain lion attacks on humans are on the rise. Although these attacks are exceedingly rare, you need to know how to fend off an attack, including what countermeasures to use to end a fight. We will ask and answer, “does bear spray work on mountain lions?”  

Where Do Mountain Lions Live?

Zion National Park - Hidden Canyon Trail
Mountain lions are found in Zion National Park and other national parks throughout the U.S.

©VIKVAD/Shutterstock.com

Mountain lions are found primarily on the west coast of the United States, throughout Central America, and in most of South America, with a few exceptions. In North America, most mountain lions can be found in an area stretching from British Columbia, Canada, down through the western coast of the U.S. and Mexico.

In the U.S., these mountain lions can be found in the following states:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Illinois (sightings)
  • Iowa (sightings)
  • Kansas (sightings)
  • Michigan (sightings)
  • Missouri (sightings)
  • Montana
  • Nebraska (sightings)
  • New Mexico
  • New York (sightings)
  • North Dakota (sightings)
  • Oklahoma (sightings)
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin (sightings)
  • Wyoming

The estimates of mountain lion populations vary, but it’s believed that somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 of these cats exist throughout the United States. Other estimates place that number higher at 40,000, though.

Why Are Mountain Lions Dangerous?

What do mountain lions eat - mountain lion feeding
Mountain lions can easily bring down their prey in a single attack.

©Ipatov/Shutterstock.com

Mountain Lion
SizeWeight: 60lbs-190lbs on average, up to 220lb
Length: 5ft-8ft
Height: 2ft-3ft at the shoulder
Speed– 30-40 mph, perhaps up to 50 mph
Defenses– High speed
– Large size
– Good senses
– Ability to hide and use fur as camouflage
Offensive Capabilities– Powerful biting force of 1311N, over 400 PSI
–  Moderately powerful jaws
–  2-inch-long canines
– 2.5-inch claws
Predatory Behavior– Ambush predator that wraps its forelegs around prey and takes them to the ground
– Very quiet hunters that stalk potential prey before attacking

Mountain lions are apex predators in their range, with few animals capable of attacking and killing them. Their ability to stalk and attack their prey is remarkable. Also, their ability to deliver a single, often fatal attack means that any person or creature in their range needs to watch out for them.

Fortunately for humans, mountain lions are not as large as the real big cats. For the most part, mountain lions are smaller than humans, and that makes it possible to fight them off. Still, mountain lions, especially the largest mountain lion specimens, can kill humans or seriously harm humans.

How Often Do Mountain Lions Attack Humans?

Mountain lions are not as large as humans, but they are good at taking down large prey.

©A-Z-Animals.com

Mountain lion attacks are rare. In fact, only about 120 attacks and 27 fatal attacks have been recorded over the last 100 years in the U.S. That means it is very unlikely that you will encounter a mountain lion or that one will see you and attack.

Yet, mountain lion attacks are increasing in some areas. For example, California has recorded 11 mountain lion attacks in the last 20 years, and one of them has been fatal. Five of the most recent ones occurred in four years.

This uptick in mountain lion encounters can be traced to a few changes, including:

  1. An expansion of humans living in mountain lion territory
  2. Increasing mountain lion populations
  3. More people spending time outdoors in state parks

These are just some of the general factors that have influenced the number of mountain lion attacks in recent years. As more people spend time in mountain lion territory, it becomes necessary to learn how to avoid attacks and what to do in the event of a confrontation.

How to Avoid a Mountain Lion Attack

Redwood National Forest - Trail
Hiking in groups decreases the chances of a mountain lion attack.

©Ryan Kelehar/Shutterstock.com

Avoiding mountain lion attacks is a matter of being aware of one’s surroundings and knowing how to handle mountain lion sightings. The following tips can help keep you safe:

  1. Announce your presence by being loud, wearing bells, or talking while hiking
  2. Look and listen for signs of a mountain lion. They don’t roar, but they have a distinct screech. Also, look for claw patterns on trees or animal carcasses.
  3. Do not hike alone. A lone person is a potential prey, but a group of humans is not worth the risk to the mountain lion.
  4. Stay close together with your group. Children have been attacked after wandering away from the group.
  5. If you see a mountain lion and it doesn’t see you, leave the area
  6. Do not approach baby mountain lions.
  7. Ask about sightings in the area before hiking.
  8. Only walk on trails during the daytime.
  9. Practice proper camping safety by properly storing food, so you don’t draw animals to you.

These tips can help prevent an attack before it starts. Remember that mountain lions would rather avoid a confrontation with humans in most cases. Giving these animals a wide berth is the safest way to deal with them. That being said, you don’t want to invite disaster by making yourself an opportune target.  

Does Bear Spray Work on Mountain Lions?

puma vs mountain lion
Mountain lions are susceptible to the chemicals in bear spray, and they’ll most likely leave you alone if they catch a whiff.

©Christina Moraes/Shutterstock.com

Bear spray works on mountain lions, and the concept behind its usage remains the same for many large carnivores. The capsaicin in the bear spray will act as an irritant and will likely make the animal retreat. However, if you’re going to deploy bear spray against a mountain lion, then you need to make sure of a few things.

  • Shop for a bear spray that offers a good spray distance
  • Practice using the bear spray before you take it with you on a trail. You don’t want to read instructions with the cat bearing down on you.
  • Make sure you’re not spraying into the wind, or you’ll simply hurt yourself.
  • Keep the bear spray somewhere that you can easily grab while moving.
  • Try to spray the animal directly with the spray if possible.

Once the animal has left the area, it’s a good idea for you to leave as well. Report the incident to authorities once you are safe.

How to Fend Off a Mountain Lion Attack

puma vs mountain lion
Mountain lions attack fast, but you can still prepare for an assault.

©Kwadrat/Shutterstock.com

Now that we know that bear spray is a good item to carry with you, we can look at how to fend off a mountain lion attack as a process. If a mountain lion does attack, you need to be prepared. Take a look at some ways that you may fend off a mountain lion, including what to do if it turns into a fight. These tips work once a mountain lion sees you.

  1. Stay calm and don’t make sudden movements.
  2. Slowly move away from the mountain lion if it has not yet spotted you. Do not run.
  3. If a mountain lion has spotted you, give it room to escape. These animals often attack when cornered. Again, do not run.
  4. Do not lose sight of the mountain lion. These are ambush predators, after all.
  5. Make yourself look bigger by slowly waving your arms or by using your clothes to expand your profile.
  6. Do not turn away or bend over to pick up anything. That opening will invite the animal to attack.

If the animal starts behaving aggressively or coming toward you, then:

  • Make noise by speaking loudly and firmly at the lion, smacking sticks together, or slowly, loudly clapping.
  • Start throwing rocks or anything else you have at the animal to make it turn away.
  • Deploy bear spray or pepper spray against the mountain lion.
  • Prepare to fight if the animal comes close, protecting your head and neck from the assault.
  • Fight back with everything and anything you have if attacked. Use sticks, rocks, pocketknives, or anything else that can be reached without bending over. Try not to allow yourself to get taken to the ground.

You can usually ward off a mountain lion with bear spray. Yet, if the mountain lion is still attacking, you need to be prepared to hit it with everything you have. Several cases have emerged where people have fought off mountain lions, even with their bare hands. However, the very young and very old are still prone to be harmed by these animals. It’s best to have some way to ward off a mountain lion if you find yourself in their territory.

Final Thoughts on Mountain Lion Safety

We’ve answered, does bear spray work on mountain lions? Yes, bear spray can be a powerful way to prevent a physical attack from occurring, potentially saving your life. However, it’s also important to be proactive about one’s safety in the areas where mountain lions live.

You need to take a complete approach to safety and not rely on one item to survive. Stay alert, travel in groups, and know when it is better to leave an area being stalked by a mountain lion than to persist in an activity.  


The Featured Image

puma vs Mountain lion
Mountain lions have been spotted in Iowa.
© Scott E Read/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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