PAT NEAL: The problem with cougars

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news. An 8-year-old was attacked by a cougar at Lake Angeles, a popular hiking and camping destination in the mountains above Port Angeles. While cougar attacks are rare, what makes this story even more astonishing is the fact that an 8-year-old hiked up to Lake Angeles in the first place. Walking up to Lake Angeles is not something most grown-ups would attempt even if they weren’t packing their camp on their backs. The kid had to be tough to do it. That could be why they survived. Even more incredible was the story of how the child’s mother ran the cougar off by yelling and screaming at it during the attack. Fortunately, the child survived with minor injuries. This is surprising since cougars are capable of taking down 200-pound deer and 1,000-pound elk. Maybe we don’t taste that good. Or perhaps these other large prey animals don’t have a fierce mother to protect them.

All of which begs the question, are cougars dangerous? Duh. In 1917, The Sequim Press reported an epic cougar attack in the hills above Sequim. Maggie Schmith and Clifford Heath were driving a team of horses pulling a wagon when a cougar jumped on the horses. Miss Schmith grabbed an ax and drove the cougar off. Mr. Heath whacked the cougar several times with a crosscut saw. The cougar kept jumping at them. The couple slowly backed away a half-mile to a house where some hound hunters were called who killed the cougar that was 8 feet, 6 inches from its nose to the tip of its tail. The cougar was blind and starving, but still attacked a team of horses, a wagon and a pair of pioneers with an ax and a saw.

Cougars can be dangerous, but compared to what? Cougar attacks are rare, isolated incidents compared to the carnage on our highways in the last couple of weeks. Where people drove head-on into oncoming vehicles, drove into a building and drove off the road and flipped over for no apparent reason.

Ask yourself these questions. Has a cougar ever chugged a case of beer and run you off the road? Has a cougar ever passed you around a blind corner? Has a cougar ever slammed on their brakes right in front of you and stopped in the middle of the road just because they felt like it? No. All of which begs the question. What is the most dangerous animal on the Olympic Peninsula? The cougar or the road-hog?

Seeing a cougar in the woods is a thrill most people will never experience. There are many old timers who’ve lived on the Olympic Peninsula their entire lives and have never seen a cougar. Most of the cougars I’ve seen were crossing the road like a bolt of brown lightning. They jump out of the ditch, bound off the centerline and disappear so quickly all you see is a brown streak that moves so fast the brain cannot register what the eyes have seen. Except for the long brown tail that lays out behind the cat like a rudder for balance, that lets you know you’ve seen a cougar.

The problem with cougars is they invariably attack the wrong people. Instead of attacking a brave child and their courageous mother, cougars should go after people who deserve it. You know the ones. They leave sacks of garbage and burning campfires in the tinder dry woods. In a perfect world these people would get attacked by cougars, but they never seem to.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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