The Lion of the Mountains
As fierce and majestic as his African counterpart but far more stealthy and secretive! The ghost of the canyons ~
Spotting large predators in the wild is a thrill for any hiker or outdoorsmen, but coming face-to-face with a 220-pound cat can turn a walk in the woods into a fight for your life
Some Thoughts on being stalked by a Mountain Lion 

Setting the Stage
In the Pacific northwest of the United States there lies a mountain range known as the "Blue Mountains". These mountains span several states and contain one of the largest populations of big cats on the north american continent. While the "Blues" (as the natives call them) are not too high of a mountain range (6000+ ft elevation at the height) they are incredibly rough and diverse. Their majesty has yet to be fully conquered by man and his machines. Moving in the deep rough part of the mountains, even on horseback is near nigh unto impossible. They are that rough.

There are places where your compass will not work. Things seem to get all turned around. People disappear, people get lost. The terrain changes. Alpine, becomes sub-alpine. This later then turns into sand and scub brush, a desert with all the trappings. To go down into a canyon in the Blues is a four thousand foot hike and it is not uncommon. Then you'll straight back up the other wall for another four thousand feet and repeat ad infinitum! Elk, bigfoot, bears and wolves run this place. The lesser critters try to "get along" and there are plenty of them as well. Since few men penetrate the depths of these mountains the wildlife has remained truly wild. Only a few men each year go into these places. They are special breed and know how to play the game out here and survive to tell the tale.

Now in saying all this we must also consider the remoteness and animal life on a danger scale. If your horse runs away, your ATV breaks down, you slip and fall or any other unexpected event occurs you could be in dire straits in no time at all. File it under the "shit happens" label, but if it does occur just what are you going to do? To be alone in such a remote wilderness is daunting. Even with a large party of people it can be intimidating. These kind of daily liabilities are a normal reality here abouts where I live. In such places you want to have your game together and always have a plan B. Thinking ahead is a good habit.

Some Thoughts to Share
This article is about acquiring that special knowledge of what you might do if you ever find yourself alone in the dark of night in the deep woods where lions dwell. Armed with only a knife you must survive because once night falls you better have a plan, shit will probably start to get real pretty darn fast. Remember we are talking about mountain lions, not bears or wolves. A firearm in those particular cases might be just the ticket! But when dealing with a Puma at night the game change's and gets a little deadlier. Stealth and cunning are big factors now. In such conditions the knife is a better friend than the gun. The cats will always try to attack from the rear if they can some how arrange it. They are patient, true master hunters and will stalk a quarry for days until the time is right to pounce. Let' s take a minute and discuss a few stalking habits that a big cat uses to capture it's prey. Understanding is tantamount to surviving. 

When a mountain lion takes an interest in something it may be due to it being in need of food. Or it might only be curious. Lion's are curious by nature. For someone who is not familiar with their ways it can be difficult to discern their natural curiousity from that of a deadly threat. In cat country you got to keep your head on a swivel. Like a fighter pilot, you must look up, look down, look over and yonder. If you do see a cat, it will only be a flash of movement and gone, causing you to doubt your senses. This is how they get ever closer and closer until.... well, anyway, let's see how they do it!

Paralleling: Mountain lions will often watch and track on you as they parallel your own path or direction of travel. I had one follow me (out of curiousity) for over two miles once when I was walking home from fishing in the big Klickitat River canyon. It was at dusk, I had a creel full of trout that had been caught for the next day's breakfast. Maybe the smell of those fresh caught fish spurred the cat's attention. I never let on, just walked along, stopping now and then. It was a young cat, it liked to watch, I felt no threat at all. It would glide ahead, then hiding allow me to pass. Then it would move along just off and slightly behind the normal field of vision as it trailed me. When I reached my camp I had no idea where the cat had gone, it was full night by then. I never saw the cougar again after that. 

Death from above: Mountain lions are pretty good climbers. You must always remember to look up. Mountain lions much like their leopard cousins in Africa will attack from above. They do not climb just any tree either. They sort of know what tree's have bough's ample enough to hide or support their weight. They even hide a kill up in a tree if they can carry it up there. The conifer's are better than say a cottonwood tree. One can see the scratch tree's in cougar country where you see the claw marks on the trunks of tree's. These tree scratching rituals serve to sharpen the cougar's claws, to act as territorial markers and to serve as warning signs to other cats. Urine spraying is also probably going to be evident. Cougar and bobcat will bury their poop as does a normal housecat. Watch for little mounds, you'll see'em around. If you run with a dog or dogs, they'll find those piles for sure and then let you know too. Much of what we talk of is dictated by terrain. A lion uses the terrain differently than does a man - terrain is the number one factor in anticipating how an attack will go down, if it does "go down" at all. Think like the cat.

Head on: Meeting up head on with a mountain lion is certainly possible I reckon, but not really probable. If you do encounter such a situation just stay calm and keep a concentrated gaze on the cat's eyes at all times. Do not look away, nor must you become entranced by the stare of the beast. Move slowly and deliberately, if then it moves further toward you try startling the cat by screaming and using large movements. Keep your eye's on the cat, meet it's stare and make it become the prey instead of you! 

The Tools and Rules After Dark
So what would be the right knife to have upon your person if you were stranded after dark in cougar country? The opinions on this will vary from man to man, there is no "best knife". But there are a few considerations and caveats to be aware of. These only to help you stay alive. Not to tell you how to lead your life. These thoughts on cutlery are mine. Your own interpretation of all this stuff is valuable too. Afterall what else can one do other than to "make it yours"? 

For this article I have chosen some knives from my personal collection. I chose'em because they are good conceptual representations of the type of knives we should have for this situation. Of these there are four knives I will focus upon. Of the four knives there are two fixed blade knives and two folding knives. So what ever cutlery type you prefer you'll be covered. Meanwhile let's look over some cutlery that comes into mind for these conditions and requirements of puma country.

My first choice is the Blackjack Model #1 or the Randall model #1 with the seven inch blade and double guard. I like the leather washer handles on both. No micarta, no G-10. It is either leather or wood to get optimum results. The other recommendation would be the old classic Ka-bar the marines made famous. Again, double guard, leather grips and seven inch blade. The SOG Agency is another nice choice for what we seek. Leather handle, double guard and an eight inch blade.

If a folding knife is your choice, then make it a big folder with a strong locking mechanism. Such a folder is a good investment. The Cold Steel Recon XL is a big knife with a strong lock. It carries easily too. In the field when on foot and tired, less weight is a good thing. The Cold Steel Counter Point XL is another folder that could "do the job" nicely. 

All of these knives are fairly large. Why is that you may be thinking? Here's why: We need a fairly long blade of about seven inches (or close to this) for the larger predators. A seven inch blade is an ideal length to access the vital organs and to shut down the animal's aggression. The body (chest cavity) of a big animal is large and a knife with a blade under seven inches has a much harder time striking deeply into the vitals. A double guard (if your knife has one) assures that your hand stays where it should and won't slip onto the blade. The length also offers the correct amount of leverage to you the user. A knife that is too long can have it's leverage turned back against itself under the pressure of fighting a large animal. Don't forget, old Mr. Cougar is a knife fighter of sorts himself! . 

The Point of Impact
Ok, you have the right knife now. And again, you are stranded alone after dark in mountain lion country with just the knife you normally might carry. Let's get through the ordeal and live to tell the tale! For this application I want you to use the reverse grip (Ice pick). Edge in and contouring the arm somewhat. If you must run you will not fall upon your own knife. Hold it correctly - get it out of the sheath and into your hand as directed. This is open carry time. With your free hand raise it to your neck, all the way around. Elbow is pointing forwards. Your inner wrist area will be about at your ear level. Protect from behind and front, knife tucked like a wing ready to strike in any direction. Body slightly crouched, rotating often. Move, then stop, slowly rotate as you look, listen and feel for intent. (remember it will be pitch black). This is your protective shell or guard position for night movement in puma country.

If you have practiced the Hawkeen training to train the eye's then moving at night will be no big deal for you. Standard woodcraft and survival training will apply till rescue arrives. If you are hit by a cat, it will be hard! Seconds count, roll and strike, get that thing off of you before it cracks your skull! Protect with the "sacrificial hand" and strike / thrust, fight for your life. The downward backhand stroke to the rear and the cross body stroke are two actions to develop as instinct. Use your bandana that you always carry to help staunch wounds. Don't bleed out and stay alive! Adapt to the ever changing situation and take control as best as you can. 

When and if you do take a rest, be sure you have something to your back. A tree, a rock or cliff face is good. There are some who advise that by making noise it scares away predators. Well, maybe, or maybe it just gives them a reason to come looking - cats are opportunists first and foremost. I lean more toward the school of "silence is golden" myself. But every man is unto himself and just like the cats themselves, we are not all alike. I hope this piece has entertained or educated you. This is not meant as a "how to" type of article to hunt puma's with knives. What it is about is a most interesting means to employ the knife in personal defense setting that few consider or will ever have to face in this modern world. But if you do find yourself in such a predicament then you'll have a game plan now.

Thanx for reading!

James Keating  
Some wildlife are fast making headway into urban sprawl settings. Encounters with wildlife - predators in cities is common now.