This attack from 2008 shows the utility of a handgun for defense against predators in the wild. In this case, the mountain lion was found to have rabies. That accounted for its lethargic behavior when it quietly approached they boy and his cousin near a river in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.
The lion ignored the adults in the group and went right for the children. P.J. Schalow was 10 years old at the time.
“You could see he was definitely sizing [P.J] up,” Smith said. “He put his paw on his shoulder. He put his mouth directly on top of his head, and I think if the head had been smaller, he’d have been picked up.”
Fortunately, another adult — P.J.’s uncle — in the party had brought a handgun along and had left it in a vehicle that was parked nearby. He ran to get the gun, and when the animal started to investigate whether P.J.’s head was bite-sized, Smith told him to shoot the animal, which he did with one extremely well-placed shot.
Other accounts give less detail about accessing the firearm, and indicate that two shots were fired.
Babb said the attack occurred while the boy and his family were taking a break from riding all-terrain vehicles. He said while the animal tried to bite Paul’s head, it didn’t actually do it, only slightly clawing the boy’s back.
A member of the group shot the lion twice, killing it, Babb said. He didn’t know what kind of weapon was used.
This account from the Camp Verde Bugle, also says there were two shots. In any case, the uncle deserves commendation for shooting straight in a tense situation.
Suddenly everyone was yelling at Paul “not to move” and the somewhat lethargic lion placed his jaw on the boy’s head and put its paw on him.
The young boy said he could not feel the teeth because they were dull, but Paul did feel the scratches from the big paw. The lion did not attack further and the boy’s uncle shot at the cat. The animal became a little “wobbly” and went to a tree then moved toward Paul again and it was shot a second time. The child was scratched by the cat’s paw when the lion was spooked by gunfire.
It can be very difficult to bring down a rabid animal. They don’t respond the same way as healthy animals. Mountain lion attacks often allow the victims a bit of time to access weapons. In this case, fortunately, the uncle had time to retrieve the handgun from a vehicle. The cougar was probably at the end of the “rage stage,” where attacks on almost anything are common. The next stage of the disease results in paralysis.
We don’t know what caliber, make or model the handgun was. Mountain lions don’t have a reputation for requiring powerful firearms to put them down. When they were hunted with dogs in the 1950s and 60s, many were shot with .22 rimfire cartridges from both rifles and pistols.
There is an interesting compilation of mountain lion incidents and attacks titled: Cougar Attacks & Other Incidents -2000 to date. I found it on the Internet in a read only document. It has been updated through June of 2017. The compilation lists 61 mountain lion attacks that resulted in injuries in the 16 and a half years, and at least 31 cases where attacks were thwarted by aggressive action.
While mountain lion attacks are rare, it is because mountain lions are not common, and interactions between mountain lions and humans are uncommon.
In ordinary life, people are much more likely to be attacked by another person, than by a mountain lion.
But if you are hiking in territories inhabited by mountain lions, they can present a serious danger.
©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.