Mountain Lion Attack PJ Schalow
Family photo of P.J. Schalow and lion that attacked him
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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.

From Today.comm:

“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.

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  1. If that is the mountain lion in the background why is it field dressed. Did they field dress and later skin it ? Something doesn’t fit here.

    • Absolutely. A rabid animal is something you do not even want to touch. Their saliva or blood can kill you even after the animal itself is already dead.

      • Mark N.,

        The people who shot the cougar had no way of knowing that the cougar had rabies when they shot it. Laboratory work several days after the attack would have indicated rabies.

        • If it was acting as weird as they say, they were idiots for not assuming that it was rabid. Mountain lions are normally very secretive and cautious. You don’t need a laboratory test to confirm that it was behaving strangely. These people were lucky they didn’t get rabies

  2. And this is why Glock 29s and Smith & Wesson 329s exist. Don’t leave your gun in the car.

    • No, they don’t. Moutain Lions aren’t bear-zombie-meat-tanks. They respond pretty well to people calibers without the need to go full-on hand cannon.

  3. “Mountain lions don’t have a reputation for requiring powerful firearms to put them down.”

    Does that mean my woods gun — a .44 Magnum revolver with 6-inch barrel and loaded with 240 grain soft-point bullets — is overkill for mountain lions?

    All silliness aside, this illustrates a challenge for a “woods gun”. If you carry an effective caliber/bullet combination for 400+ pound bears, wild boars, and feral hogs, you are carrying way too much gun for coyotes and small mountain lions. And yet if you carry an effective caliber/bullet combination for coyotes and small mountain lions, you are seriously underpowered for the big beasts in the woods. What to do?

    • Carry to fit your states wild life? 9MM hollow points will kill anything in Texas short of a feral hog. Now that we have hogs in the area, I want to upgrade to either an AR pistol in .50beo, a revolver in 500SW / 454Casull.

      If the Hellsing 454 Casull is ever made (semi- auto), I want one. I don’t care if my hand probably won’t wrap around the grip.

      • You could get pretty close to a semi-auto .454 Casull if you had a .440 Cor-Bon Desert Eagle. It would beat the pants off any .44mag for sure.

      • arc,

        All of these four-legged animals that have attacked humans are in my state:
        — feral dogs
        — coyotes
        — coyote-wolf hybrids
        — wolves
        — bobcats
        — cougars
        — feral hogs
        — wild boars
        — black bears
        — white-tailed deer
        — elk
        — moose

        With those animals ranging from 30 pounds to 1200 pounds, there is no single optimum caliber/bullet combination. As I think about it, I very well might start doing what commenter New Continental Army suggested: carry two guns. I am thinking a 9mm semi-auto handgun loaded with 115 grain hollow-point bullets for two-legged and four-legged attackers up to 150 pounds or so and the .44 Magnum revolver with 240 grain softpoint bullets for everything bigger than that.

    • Carry big. They’ll put down vermin, but small may not put down dangerous game. Robert Rourke famously said, “Use enough gun.”

    • There’s no such thing as overkill. A 22 may kill a mountain lion, but a 44 magnum will kill their soul as well.

  4. A woman was killed by a cougar, in Washington State a couple of weeks ago, while mountain biking. People started carrying bear spray in that area. That wouldn’t do it for me. I’d be packing heat.

  5. Cue the whining about how much of a shame it is to kill such a majestic animal. All cats are rats.

  6. We’ve got them here in the Central Mountains of Utah. I saw one 200 yards from my home while deer hunting several years ago. A neighbor, 1/2 mile away lost some pheasants to one. They called me to come over and look at the tracks. Holy shit! I’d never seen tracks that huge. I called out local F&G agent. He agreed the animal was huge. I placed a dollar bill next to the track and took a photo. Not being a cougar hunter, didn’t pay much attention to it. Then when we were at Cabelas, I compared the photo on my phone to all the cougar mounts and none came anywhere close. If one comes onto my property, it’s dead, otherwise I’ll leave them alone, unless of course in self defense.

  7. While not nearly as large as a puma, I’ve shot three rabid racoon’s around here. I call those DGU”s as easily as a person on person. Were they harder to kill then healthy racoon’s, no. I do not shoot rabid animals in the head for fear of spreading the rabies virus from the brain, I do not know if this is true or not but that’s what I’ve been told. All shots were heart lung.The racoon dispatched with a .45 was knocked about 4 inches sideways, crawled about a foot and died, the racoon’s shot with the 9 mm flinched and continued staggering towards a brushy ditch and escape, I placed a shot between the shoulder blades as I had gotten behind it and advanced from the high bank of the ditch. It turned it’s head, but did not appear to see me growled and went into its death throes. The third racoon’s I shot was hit behind the heart lung area with a 7.62x 25 , it flinched from the shot, turned, growled, and continued towards a timbered embankment and possible escape. I stopped the pickup and as it went down the incline one shot hit the abdominal cavity and another between the shoulder blades, it crawled about two feet and died. I’ve racoon’s hunted quite a bit and upon shooting healthy racoon’s they either crash dead or make as fleet of an escape as the wounds will allow. The rabid coons were like a drunk, or drugged as they did not acknowledge being shot…Ammo used.45 corbon 185 gr hp + p. 9 mm Federal hydroshok 124gr. 7.62×25 Red Army Standard 86gr. FMJ. Definitely not in the same category as a Mounain lion. I’m still skeered o rabbies

  8. I will keep my 4″ Smith and Wesson (K-Frame) Model 66 “stainless” .357 Combat
    Magnum revolver for not only armed defense against both two and four legged
    predators, but also as a general purpose handgun. For self defense/house protection/
    concealed carry and for the outdoors: hiking, fishing, camping, bird watching, gathering
    wild berries and plums, and of course during hunting season (deer and elk for instance)
    the sidearm nicely supplements the rifle, as a companion piece. Also, my pre-1982
    vintage Smith and Wesson Model 66 is a classic beautiful handgun with pinned barrel,
    counter-shrunk chambers, and original factory Goncalo Alves target grips. Back in
    1988 a Montana Fish and Game Officer utilized same handgun to dispatch a Grizzly
    bear which turned on him. They were relocating a Grizzly to a remote wilderness area.
    While attempting to release the Grizzly an accident occurred with the bear on top of
    the game warden. Fortunately the latter emptied his 4″ Smith and Wesson Model 66
    into the Grizzly point blank range killing it. Yes I admit this was a freak happening. But
    had the game warden not had his .357 Magnum holstered on his person the Grizzly
    would have killed him by a horrible mauling! Even if the game warden had survived, he
    would have been just as well dead anyway. Again, his Smith and Wesson Model 66
    delivered him from a mortal fate. For both wilderness/rural vs. urban/metro I cannot
    think of anything better to own, carry, keep, and have instantly accessible than a good
    .357 Magnum revolver. Inside the house, condo, apartment, or indoors such should
    of course be loaded and kept down loaded with .38 Special ammo (modern). Even
    against a pack of feral dogs a .38 Special is highly effective and lethal.

    James A. “Jim” Farmer
    Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)

    • A revolver is a one threat gun so unless you are Jerry Miculek you will run out of ammo with a revolver.

      • Not totally true. It’s been years since I’ve regularly shot revolvers. However many decades ago, I was a PPC competitor. Back in the 70’s, this form of competition was only for revolvers. The entire time I was a patrol officer, 5 years, I carried a revolver. With speed loaders in the hands of a competent shooter, the revolver can be reloaded almost as quickly as a pistol. Yea, a revolver and it’s speed loaders generally only hold 6 rounds each, but it can be reloaded very quickly. I’m a pistol guy now, and except for my Ruger Super Red Hawk, I seldom shoot revolvers.

        • The way I see it there exists no substitute for accuracy, proper shot placement, and
          having confidence in your weapon. Sure, semi-automatics have their place. But so
          do revolvers. Though perhaps semi-obsolete, if not obsolete for law enforcement
          within the last 30 years, this doesn’t necessarily need to apply to civilians. My thought
          on this subject is this: self defense/house protection/concealed carry is only half
          the reason to own a .38/.357 revolver. For the outdoors person a revolver can likewise
          be utilized for small game hunting: rabbit, squirrel, and grouse. Even for dispatching
          vermin such as raccoon, skunk, possum, etc. Or even for butchering livestock. Next
          to a .22 or .32 the .38 Special 148 grain lead target wad-cutter is ideal for these purposes. Also, for killing venomous snakes. CCI’s classic .38 Special shot or “snake”
          load of No. 9 shot can shred the head of a rattlesnake up close.

          A .38 caliber revolver naturally makes an ideal companion for fishing, camping, hunting,
          bird watching, hiking, backpacking, and enjoying nature. On a personal note I don’t like
          chasing after and retrieving spent brass. With a double-action police type service revolver I can unload all six spent shell casings into the palm of my hand and thus
          not litter the landscape. It’s much harder to retrieve spent brass fired from a semi-auto
          pistol. The spent shell casings can end up lost in the grass, sagebrush, bushes, woods,
          or wherever. Yes I admit, I’m a revolver person. Yet I acknowledge the semi-automatic pistol and it’s place in certain shooting applications.

          • I some what agree. I’m not against revolvers. I used them for too many years to be so. Although, for me, the closest I want to get to a rattler is a 44 mag snake load, preferably my Judge in .410 7 shot. While out horseback riding, I can’t tell you how many rattlers I’ve killed rattlers with my 9mm. .38 special have been a huge disappointment for me. Absolute .357 Mag in a revolver for me is a minimum. .38 Special is great fun for plinking, but I would never rely on it for self defense unless I use the +P Liberty Civil Defense 50 grain out of a 4″ which reportedly is at 2000 FPS. My wife carries an old Model 60. I’m glad she now carries the Liberty ammo. The 148 grain SC is great as long as it is a hollow base, and loaded backwards with the hollow base facing out. You have to be a reloader or know a reloader to get this, but it is well worth it. For small game, a 38 Spcl. is excellent. Little meat damage and with a WC or Semi WC will certainly do the job.

      • An attack by a pack of feral dogs is not anything like an encounter with a single individual or a shooting competition. You aren’t aren’t going to get to reload and the targets are moving really fast.

  9. I got a buddy who is a duputy with Harris County (Tx) Sherrif’s office. He killed the first recorded Texas alligator attack on a man on land EVER! I believe he used a 9mm. Pretty cool!

  10. We live in a world that has an exploding human population and dangerous animals are always the losers. And ditto even for herbivorous who often destroy and damage crops. In Africa the wholesale slaughter of wild game was done to make room for agriculture and the safety of the farmers many of whom blasted off their feet the entire big game population for miles around. Government paid hunters were also paid to do the same.

    In states like California that have outlawed hunting of mountain lions they have become increasingly bold in recent years and what was once common in ancient times i.e. death by wild beast is now becoming more common. In the end the animals will lose as even the anti-hunting crowd will realize that dangerous animals cannot be tolerated around civilization as there is no room for both humans and dangerous animals or wild animals that destroy crops.

    We now have on earth more humans than were ever born since the beginning of mans evolution and with the masses of excess pollution we have already destroyed the planet we are living on. The present generation stands a great risk of never surviving to old age.

    • Can you show any proof that we are destroying anything? Changing, yes, but then you look at the ravages of the recent volcanoes and all the CO2 released. Now that is change of Biblical proportions.
      We were given dominance over the animals, and we all got here at the same time. The Creator has a great plan, and I do not really miss the dodo bird or the carrier pigeon. The free enterprise system in Africa works for big game, and for the villagers. Look it up.

      • Its a free country Plinker you are free to engage in Prayer, Ritual and Incantations by the light of the moon. But in advanced Industrialized Countries your a dying bread of cat. Thousands of empty Ancient Churches that have been converted into libraries and or apartment buildings are testament to that.

        • Clearly the real Cisco.

          And those advanced industrial countries will collapse when their native population collapses in 20-30 years.

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