Safety when photographing predators

Short story time: My father in law sent a text a couple days ago saying that he spotted a mountain lion in their backyard that morning but he didn’t have his phone to catch a picture of it. its very plausible to have seen one in the area they live in (outside San Antonio) and I have no reason to believe he would lie about that or even misidentify something as a cougar.

Naturally, I got very excited at the idea of staking out for a mountain lion to show up to catch some pictures of it. but then I started thinking about the safety aspect of shooting large predators and what I should do to make sure that the experience is the safest it can be for both me and the animal and thought maybe y’all might have some ideas outside of the usual “keep your distance” kind of thing.

Two items come to mind, Duncan.

Make sure both you and the animal, particularly the animal, have good and obvious escape routes.

Make sure there aren’t any pets out. They could mess up the situation in no time flat. I don’t know what kind of neighborhood your dad’s in, but a neighbor’s dog could block what otherwise looked like a great escape route for the cougar.

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Thanks for the response and tips!

They live pretty far out of town so there’s plenty of brush and natural property lines or low fences, as well as not many neighbor dogs out and about. So that shouldn’t be an issue.

It’s very possible the animal has been pushed out from its habitat by the construction of a new school in the area so that could make it a bit more on edge I suppose. I still need to do some behavioral research on mountain lions before I get out there though.

Duncan, the behavioral knowledge about Mt. lions, is that they rarely attack from the front, they are usually an ambush predator. However, that advice goes out the window if it’s starving (as I believe was the case in the recent attack and escape in CO) or (as Dennis points out) if it doesn’t have a clear escape route. They are notoriously hard to spot, so this one may have been around for a while without being seen. It could also have been displaced as you suggest.

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Appreciate the info Mark!

It sounds like I have my work cut out for me.

Since we’re talking specifically about cougars, I can relay my experience shooting a wild mountain lion in Utah a decade ago. I went down there specifically in hopes of seeing the cat, which had been showing up at a couple of natural springs on an acquaintance’s property. The area was also frequented by black bears.

I sat in a tree stand above the spring, and had bear spray on me as my first line of defense. The property owner was in a ground blind further away and had his bear spray and a gun. I am not a gun owner, but I believe something like bear spray is a good idea and possibly more effective in tight quarters–obviously when pursuing bear photo ops but possibly with other animals–since even with the most careful, thoughtful approach in a large predator/animal encounter things can get unpredictable.

In our case, the other guy heard a bear in the brush and undid the safety on his bear spray. He forgot to put it back on, and it discharged in the car later that morning. Now I know why the stuff works. :wink:

Oh, and I got the lion shots later that day. Since then I have had numerous encounters with large predators and other animals (lots of pumas/mountain lions, charged by elephants and gorillas, etc.)… the scariest situation of all involved a venomous snake that slithered out of the frame toward me! Anyway, I find it invaluable to be respectful of the animal and to constantly monitor its comfort level–not just my own–in order to obtain photos without applying undue pressure or creating an uncomfortable situation for both parties. It’s even more helpful to employ locals who have much more familiarity with animal behavior (e.g., bear guides in Alaska, my puma guides in Latin America). I often rely on their instincts and knowledge, and follow their lead in these situations.


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That’s quite a story Max

Assuming the shots you got are the ones on your site, I’d say they turned out quite well. Hopefully you think they were worth getting bear-maced over.