Kyle Burgess was having a bad day one Saturday earlier this month.
Nearing the end of his 10-mile trail run on Utah’s Slate Canyon, the 26-year-old thought he spied four bobcat kittens and took out his phone to record a video.
He ended up recording something much more frightening.
The animals were kittens, but they were mountain lions, not bobcats. And the mother was lurking just inside the tree line, defensive and unhappy.
“I took three or four steps, and I saw mama cougar,” Burgess told the New York Times. “She made a crazy growl. I started backing up like crazy. I am just running backward.”
In the six-minute video Burgess recorded, the mountain lion follows him along the trail, growling, snarling, and periodically charging. Meanwhile, Burgess can be heard attempting every form of persuasion to get the animal to leave him alone.
He tries insults (“f— you!”), intimidation (“I’m big and scary!”), befriending (“what’s up, dude?”), compliments (“dude, you’re scary!”), begging (“please go away”), reminding (“go get your babies!”), assertions (“I’m not going to back down, I promise”), and direct orders (“get the f— away!”). He also growls, yells, hisses and roars.
“Gosh, where’s my gun?” he asks about halfway through the encounter.
The cat remains unphased, at one point charging him with her paws up, claws out, and ears back. Burgess told Good Morning America that she got within four feet of him.
There are rocks all along the path, but Burgess said that the cat would charge and hiss each time he tried to bend down and pick one up. Eventually, however, Burgess managed to pick up a rock and hurl it at the cat, which runs back up the path.
“Wow, that just happened,” Burgess recalled thinking after she finally took off. “Honestly right now it still feels like a dream.”
Many media outlets reported that the cat “stalked” Burgess in an apparent attempt to kill him. But mountain lion experts say the cat’s behavior, while dangerous and aggressive, did not indicate that it wanted to eat the hiker.
“She clearly did not view him as prey,” the Mountain Lion Foundation said in a statement. “The behavior was meant to chase him away, which it did very well. The mother lion was reacting to a perceived threat to her young.”
The MLF points out that mountain lions try to remain out of sight while stalking their prey. The fact that this mother lion remained on the path suggests that her primary intention was to get Burgess away from her cubs—not to kill him and eat him.
Wildlife biologists praised Burgess for how he handled the encounter.
Scott Root, the Division of Wildlife Resources’ conservation outreach manager for central Utah, told Deseret News that Burgess did almost everything right.
“He backed away. He didn’t go toward the mountain lion or her kittens. He made a lot of noise. … He stayed large, he stayed loud and he backed away from the area for quite a while. I think he did everything really well,” Ross said.
If hunters encounter a mountain lion on a hunt, experts suggest doing more or less what Burgess did. The MLF has published a list of recommendations that align almost perfectly with Burgess’ actions:
- Back away slowly
- Maintain eye contact and talk in a loud, firm tone
- Wave your arms, open your coat, or make other motions to make yourself appear larger
- Avoid crouching or leaning over; stand tall
- If the animal is aggressive, throw your backpack, water bottle, whatever you have
- If attacked, fight back.