GREAT FALLS — Matt Winkle was driving in Great Falls on Monday night and saw what he believed to be a mountain lion.
He shared a brief video with MTN News of the mountain lion, which was in the vicinity of 8th Avenue North and 10th Street.
Winkle said in a Facebook post: "I first saw it cross 9th st right at the bridge. Tried to tail it, lost it around 11 st and 6th ave... Cops swarmed the area, but I had lost sight of it by then. It ducked into an alley and went in someone's yard. Then vanished...."
Winkle told MTN on Tuesday: “Well, I saw it run across the road and initially it was coming from the dog park over to the Cascade Electric building. And I see deer do that all the time, so I thought it was a small deer, but it was moving weirdly. And then when it stopped and turned its head back toward me like cats do, it was like, holy crap, that’s a mountain lion.”
Several other people have commented that have seen a mountain lion in town within the last several days.
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks say it’s uncommon to see mountain lions in city limits, but also that it is not unheard of.
FWP Region 4 spokeperson Dave Hagengruber says mountain lions have been reported in town before, but it is rare and says people don’t have to be overly concerned: “Generally, in regard to mountain lion distribution, if there’s deer in the area, pretty much anywhere in Montana, it would not be unheard of to have a mountain lion. So while it’s rare, certainly to have one within city limits, it’s not unheard of."
He also advised what to do if you encounter a mountain lion, regardless of where you are: “Any predator like that, I think it goes without saying, but give them room. Certainly don’t approach the mountain lion. Make yourself larger, make yourself big. Put your hood up over your head. Wave your arms, yell, make lots of noise. Let them know that you’re not a deer. If you’re in a vehicle, stay in your vehicle. Blow the horn, make some noise. The lion’s going to take off. They don’t want a run-in with humans, so if you give them the chance, they’ll escape. I am almost certain it’s just a transient lion passing through looking for something to eat.”
The National Park Service provides the following guidelines if you encounter a mountain lion:
- Do not approach a lion. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
- Do not run from a lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If you have small children with you, pick them up if possible so that they don't panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lion.
- Do not crouch down or bend over. A human standing up is just not the right shape for a lion's prey. Conversely, a person squatting or bending over resembles a four-legged prey animal. In mountain lion country, avoid squatting, crouching or bending over, even when picking up children.
- Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Again, pick up small children. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.
- Fight back if attacked. A hiker in southern California used a rock to fend off a mountain lion that was attacking his son. Others have fought back successfully with sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal
- Bear Spray. Carry bear spray with you while hiking. Although it is called “bear” spray, the pepper powder will work on just about any wild or domestic animal that attacks.
Residents should report any possible mountain lion sightings immediately to law enforcement or to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
February 23, 2021: Jay Kinsey was driving northeast of White Sulphur Springs last week when he saw something unusual: three young mountain lions running along the road.