Thursday, July 13, 2023

Halting A Mountain Lion Assault: Quick Draw and Lethal Precision Unnecessary

The footage captures a moment of confrontation between an elk hunter in Idaho and a mountain lion. This encounter initially surfaced online during the fall season of 2022. The hunter is armed with a Glock, presumed to be a model 27. The large feline initiates an attack on the erstwhile hunter around the 20-second mark. However, as the cat lunges, the hunter discharges his .40 caliber handgun, halting the feline's advance. Despite this, the mountain lion lingers, not immediately fleeing. It's only after another round is fired that the big cat decides to retreat.

The mountain lion's behavior of slowly withdrawing displays a certain nonchalance towards the threat.

This video is a vivid illustration of "prey-testing", a tactic common amongst predators, including bears. A predator's survival hinges on its ability to avoid selecting prey that can inflict serious injury. Hence, they often "test" potential prey, particularly unfamiliar ones. This "testing" strategy aids the predator in preventing serious harm or death, hence ensuring the successful propagation of its genes.

Humans, being atypical prey, often get "tested". Similar behavior has been documented in black bears. Dr. Stephen Herrero, an emeritus professor at the University of Calgary, has said this about predatory black bears:

Dr. Herrero observed that the kind of bear that poses a danger isn't necessarily one that feels threatened by you, rather, it's evaluating you as potential prey. These bears silently stalk their potential prey, akin to a lion's hunting behavior. When confronted with a bear protecting her cubs, a calm retreat and granting of space is recommended. However, against a predatory bear, standing your ground, making noise, and even throwing rocks can be effective tactics in convincing the bear you're not an easy target.

Dr. Herrero does allude to lions in his statement, although it's not explicitly clear whether he's referring to the American mountain lion or the African variant. The depiction, nonetheless, fits the behavior exhibited in the video. It's evident that the man wielding the Glock had ample time to retrieve his weapon. His aim wasn't necessarily lethal, but it was enough to deter the animal. Such encounters between humans and mountain lions, and even more so with black bears, are likely more common than we think. Yet, they rarely make headlines unless injury is involved, and are usually relegated to campfire anecdotes. The advent of affordable video equipment, such as smartphones, has increased the documentation of these incidents.

In their 2012 research paper titled "Efficacy of Firearms for Bear Deterrence", Herrero and Smith made a claim about firearm usage. From the paper, "Efficacy of Firearms for Bear Deterrence in Alaska":

The utilization of firearms demands instantaneous reaction and precise aim, making it a challenging defense strategy, even for experts.

However, the data I've gathered about handgun use in bear defenses doesn't necessarily corroborate the claim made in Herrero and Smith's research. Out of 170 incidents where handguns were used defensively against bears, a quick response and deadly accuracy seemed necessary in at most, 16 cases. In several situations, individuals had plenty of time to ready their handguns. Of these incidents, 106 resulted in the bear's death, often after it had retreated from the attack site. Warning shots alone were sufficient to halt the attack in roughly ten percent of the cases.

Most bear-human conflicts allow adequate time to prepare a defensive weapon. Injuries typically result from uncommon instances where warnings are ignored, time is insufficient for weapon deployment, or individuals are reluctant to use their weapon. Mountain lion attacks are infrequently recorded, but as far as this author can remember, there hasn't been a successful attack on a firearm-armed individual.

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