It’s rare, but mountain lions will respond when hunters mimic the calls of wild animals. They might even attack, as one California hunter experienced last week.

The incident occurred Feb. 24 near the northern shore of Mono Lake, between Yosemite National Park and the Nevada border, The Sacramento Bee reports.

The unidentified hunter blew a wounded rabbit call while lying on his stomach, working to call in coyotes. That’s when the hunter caught a flash of movement over his shoulder. He turned just in time to see a mountain lion leaping toward his head. The Sacramento Bee reports the hunter used his hands to protect his face when the animal struck. Lt. Bill Dailey of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told the newspaper that’s when the hunter fired two shots to kill the cat.

“It happened extremely fast,” Dailey told the newspaper. “He didn’t even have time to aim. … It was 100 percent instinctual. It wasn’t like he was pre-mediating this.”

The hunter suffered a minor injury to his head. Because the mountain lion is a protected specifies by state law, the hunter notified wildlife officers of the kill and it was investigated. Officers determined the kill was justified “given the suddenness of the attack. The newspaper added the hunter also had “fear for his life”. The hunter will not be charged.

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California’s Mountain Lions

A mountain-lion attack, like the one reported in California, is rare. Still, other types of mountain lion attacks are more common. It’s common to see news reports of mountain lions killing domestic pets, including a story from 2016 where an 80-pound pit-bull/lab mix was taken away by a lion.

With nearly 50 percent of California considered suitable habitat for mountain lions, attacks are documented throughout this areas with most clustered in California’s  Central Valley and much of the southeastern desert region. Despite habitat conducive to mountain-lion populations, their numbers have dropped substantially to approximately 4,000 cats in California. Due to the low population, mountain lions are protected in California. This protection extends to cats that wander into human-populated areas according to legislation passed into law in 2013, Senate Bill 132.

Despite the large amount of suitable habitat in California, most local media coverage has focused on issues involving lack of land. In one case, a small number of mountain lions have been sectioned off by urbanization. They’ve been essentially trapped amongst the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area and the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains near Los Angeles. Currently, as Grand View Outdoors reported last fall, a movement gains traction for the development of a mountain-lion overpass.

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Predator Attacks In California

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with numerous other government organizations, provide tips online for what to do if you live in mountain-lion country. These pages exist for a number of predators, especially with coyote populations thriving in Los Angeles. But the simple fact is these are wild animals — predators, nonetheless — living in populated areas. Attacks are going to happen. And they do.

A quick search shows attacks, like the one involving the coyote hunter, do happen. And although these types of attacks are less frequent, as recently as last August a park in Montebello, California closed temporarily due to attacks.