Ask Dr. Dumb: How to Survive a Mountain Lion Encounter

Readers, did you hear about the runner in Colorado who killed a mountain lion in self-defense, with his bare hands? The Coloradoan related the story. So did Deadspin. And NPR. And Boing Boing. And Also The Idaho Press, HuffPost, USA Today, Time, Fox, Canadian Running, Runner’s World, CNN, The Washington Post,, U.S. News & World Report, and Thrillist.

Also Gizmodo, Vail Daily News, The Summit Daily News, BBC News, CBS Denver, NBC4i,, Vice, Yahoo News,, The Irish Times, and The Denver Post. And The Portland Press Herald. And The Daily Mail. And, of course, Baltimore Jewish Life.

There are many more, but we only have so much time.

Virtually all of those stories are interchangeable, by the way—just reworded, rehashed versions of each other, with little to no new information or original reporting—so if you somehow missed the story, it doesn’t matter much which one you click.

As opposed to, say,, where everything we publish is unique and original (and ad-free!), which perhaps, now that you think of it, is something worth supporting with a few dollars.

Sorry, where were we?

Ah, yes—mountain lions. How much do you know about these wild cats? Would you know what to do if you encountered one? And how do ungulates figure into all this?

To find answers, we turned to our in-house expert on wildlife and the gross inefficiencies of advertising-based media business models, Dr. Dumb.

Dumb Runner: Doctor, let’s start with the basics. What is a mountain lion?
Dr. Dumb: The mountain lion—otherwise known as the cougar, puma, panther, or catamount—is the biggest cat in North America, according to Wikipedia.

I thought the biggest cat in North America was this guy:

He may be a close second.

His name is Mr. Butters, and he likes to be scritched behind the ears.
That is all well and good for Mr. Butters, but I would not advise scritching a mountain lion anywhere.

Not even in Colorado?
Especially not in Colorado! These cats are wild animals and can be very dangerous—particularly if you trigger their “hunting instincts,” as happened in this most recent case.

Mountain lion attacks on humans are very rare, aren’t they?
Yes, but they’re becoming more common as humans encroach on the animals’ habitat.

Because humans are assholes?
That’s correct.

What do mountain lions usually attack, if not humans?
Their main sources of food are deer and other ungulates.

Ungulates! Like moose?
Precisely like moose—otherwise known as “metric deer,” as I noted in our earlier chat about moose attacks.

Ungulates is such a fun word.
Indeed. Also fun: the word crepuscular, which means “active at twilight.” As in, “Cougars are typically nocturnal and crepuscular.”

In the Colorado case, the runner in question killed the mountain lion by suffocating it. How does that work, exactly?
I assume he waited until the creature fell asleep, then put a pillow over its face and held it there until the animal stopped struggling.

So that’s why you’ve always advised runners to carry pillows.
Doesn’t sound so foolish now, does it?

This story reminds me of the 2017 tale of a runner in Maine who encountered a rabid raccoon during a run and killed it by drowning the animal in a puddle.
Well, that’s the official version. The deceased raccoon’s family told a very different story, and the last I checked, their lawsuit was still pending.

Some runners out there reading this will likely respond by saying, “That’s why I carry.” Does the story of the Colorado trail runner suggest to you that running with a loaded gun is a good idea?
That’s a question we all must answer for ourselves. Personally, I’ll stick with my pillow. Less chance of killing myself or others when I clean it.

Doctor, thank you for your time.
You’re welcome. Stay safe out there.