Travis Kauffman, Trail Runner Who Killed Mountain Lion with Bare Hands, Details Attack

Travis Kauffman spoke publicly for the first time since his life-and-death encounter with a mountain lion in Colorado, describing in vivid detail how he wrestled with the cat before killing it.

Kauffman, with scars from the attack visible on his face and neck, spoke Thursday, Feb. 14, about trying to scare off the mountain lion before it lunged, then tumbling down a hill with the cat’s teeth locked onto his wrist. He stabbed it with sticks, repeatedly struck it on the head with a rock, and finally got on top of the cat and suffocated it.

His girlfriend, Annie Bierbower, sat by his side during the nearly hourlong press conference in Fort Collins organized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Kauffman, 31, a resident of Fort Collins, said he began his trail run on Feb. 4 in Lorrey State Park, heading out for an anticipated 12-15 miles. About a quarter mile after taking a spur off the West Ridge Trail, he heard pine needles rustling. When he turned to look, he saw the juvenile mountain lion about ten feet away and felt his “heart sink into stomach.”

Map of attack location. Courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Kauffman began yelling and threw his hands into the air to appear as large as possible, but the cat continued approaching. It lunged forward and latched onto Kauffman’s right wrist, clawing his face and legs. “I was screaming the whole time,” Kauffman said. “As I tried to throw it off of me, we both left the trail tumbled off the slope to the south side of the trail.”

From there, Kauffman, who is five feet, ten inches, and 155 pounds,  said it was essentially a wrestling match. With his wrist still locked in the cat’s jaws, Kauffman was able to get his left knee to pin down the cat’s back legs. In the moment, Kauffman was able to recognize that getting a cat onto its back allows the hind legs to “go crazy,” and he was able to consider the subsequent potential for a tear to his own gut or groin. Kauffman grabbed at sticks, attempting to stab the lion in the throat. He was able to grasp onto a large rock with his left hand and get several blows to the back of the lion’s head.

Travis Kauffman

Travis Kauffman from the press conference Feb. 14 Fort Collins, CO. Photo: Zach Davis.

Using what he described as “bodyweight transition,” Kauffman threw his right leg onto the cat’s neck and stepped down, eventually suffocating the cat. Kauffman then ran back to the trail junction and headed down the north side of the trail system for three miles, toward a different trailhead from where he had started.

The run back was worrisome, he said. “The potential for ambush (by another mountain lion) was very much on my mind.”

He encountered another trail runner who accompanied him back to the trailhead. Kauffman was driven to the hospital, where he received more than 20 stitches for his cuts.

Kauffman began the press conference by asking, “Who is disappointed I’m not Chuck Norris?”

After laughter from the audience, he continued by thanking the medical workers at the hospital where he was treated.

He said that at one point during his struggle with the lion, “I didn’t think I was going to come out of it.”

“Luckily,” he continued, “I am able to spend Valentine’s Day with my girlfriend.”

Bierbower was asked if she was concerned about Kauffman receiving email marriage proposals or requests for dates.

“Nope, he won’t. Because I’ll be taking him on some dates,” she said to laughter.

Kauffman said he’ll continue to run on trails, but with a buddy, and might consider carrying a knife.

Would he write a book? he was asked.

“It’d probably be a pamphlet,” he replied to laughter. “It’s not very long.”

As for all the attention since the attack, Kauffman said, “It is weird… Weird to get fame that’s not earned.”

One of the last questions, the only one that seemed to give Kauffman pause, was what he had learned about himself.

“Oh, man,” he replied. “That’s the toughest question of the day.”

He’s a calm person, he said, and staying calm during a scary situation is probably what saved him.

Necropsy findings from Colorado Parks and Wildlife are consistent with Kauffman’s descriptions of the events. The mountain lion was estimated to be approximately 4-5 months old, and the weight at necropsy was 24 pounds, although estimated weight prior to scavenging was likely 35-40 pounds. The mountain lion was likely male, and necropsy findings included “blunt trauma to the head and petechial hemorrhages in the region of the larynx and trachea.”

Two juvenile lions that wildlife officials consider siblings to the one that attacked Kauffman were trapped and taken to rehabilitation facilities, and will eventually be released to the wild again.

Kauffman has no prior wrestling or martial arts experience, and has stated regret and sadness that the outcome of the incident ended with the death of the mountain lion.

Living with Mountain Lions

Image via Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Wayne Lewis

Mountain lion attacks are exceedingly rare, and the fact that this mountain lion attacked a human is likely indicative of the age and inexperience of the animal. Only 27 fatalities have been documented in North America, and just two in Colorado, over the last 100 years.

In the scenario that you cross paths with a cougar, under no circumstances should you turn your back and run, as this may trigger the cat’s chase instinct. Conversely, the best course of action is to back away slowly while looking as big and intimidating as possible, leaving the lion the opportunity to flee the scene.

In the event that a mountain lion does attack, the correct course of action is to do whatever possible to fight back.  “The runner did everything he could to save his life. In the event of a lion attack you need to do anything in your power to fight back just as this gentleman did,” says Mark Leslie, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northeast Region manager.

Featured image via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

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Comments 13

  • Mike S : Feb 15th

    It is good that Mr. Kauffman had the physical ability to save his life, however, I’m sure there are many that are less able. Those people should consider carrying a weapon.

    A .38 revolver, loaded with “snake shot” would work well. The gun shot and the sting of the pellets, would get the big out of predator mode. The cat would not be fatally injured and may consider other humans to be similarly armed.

    Like it or not, when you are in “their” habitat, you become part of the food chain.

  • PD : Feb 15th

    24 lbs?!… He killed a baby. I’m sure the 4-5 months estimate and the “pre-scavenger” weight “estimates” were generous to save the guy further criticism. At that age, I’m not sure they are even capable of being trained and aggressive enough to even conceive of attacking a large potential prey, much less actually attempt to do so. I mean, this is a baby that is still preoccupied with constant play. They are entirely dependent on their mother to provide all sustenance at this point.

    24 lbs… There are domestic house cats that easily weigh more than this mountain lion baby did.

    Do you know which human demographic by far gets more snake bites than any other? That’s right, young males. Why do you think that is? Because, spurred on by their testosterone-fueled bravado, many of them tend to want to engage the wild animals for whatever foolish reasons. Of course, the answer given later is always “I was just minding my own business, when this crazed wild thing attacked me for absolutely no reason.”

    The last thing wild animals want to do, even adults, is to risk getting injured trying to engage a large, potentially harmful, non-standard-prey animal. They are keenly aware that any significant injury endangers their chances of continued survival greatly, and so do what they can therefore to avoid unnecessarily hazardous situations. Even venomous snakes, when sufficiently threatened that they are left with no choice but to defend themselves, tend to withhold their venom when defensive-biting a human being. A human being is not its prey, it is not intending on immobilizing the human being to consume him, and it cannot afford to waste its venom on fool’s errands. It needs it for its very survival. Most snake bites on humans by venomous snakes are free of venom injection.

    The point is, most wild animals, especially inexperienced baby ones, do what they can to avoid potential confrontations with humans. It is far more likely that this baby mountain lion felt the same way, than to have “hunted down” this “ideal prey.”

    We got the story that this man decided to tell. We’ll never know if in fact it is the truth. May be he saw the little cub, and was overcome with a desire to engage it, and overstepped his bounds. May be the cub was forced to feel he had to defend himself. We’ll never truly know.

    Most dog bites of young children paint the dogs in a horrid light. Of uncontrolled, irrational aggression. Well, most of the time, little children, especially without proper supervision, without proper guidance, are very aggressive with dogs. Some of the dogs aren’t able to tolerate the abuse of the children as well as most dogs will to unfathomable levels of patience, and retaliate. These dogs are then branded as dangerous dogs. But, really, it’s the child who instigated the whole affair.

    It’s possible this “Chuck Norris wanna-be” may have been an unruly, aggressive child.

    • Shepard : Feb 16th

      If you read the article, it states that the weight at time of necropsy was 24lbs, with a pre-scavenging weight likely in the 35-40lb range. Buzzards likely had a meal before rangers arrived to collect the body.

      As for the rest of your comment, while emotionally meaningful, it rings false in the face of reality. I own and operate a small sheep and goat farm, and have had to deal with plenty of predators. When they’re young or hungry, they’ll often make an attempt on prey significantly larger than they can actually handle. Inexperience and starvation cloud their judgement, often with fatal results.

      • PD : Feb 17th

        Yes, of course, your “reality,” which, as we all know, is the only “true” reality. We all, of course, know how ardently ranchers, livestock/pasture land operators, farmers appreciate and champion the rights of predators to exist on land they have done so for thousands of years, but have nearly been exterminated out of.

        • Shepard : Feb 17th

          You paint with the broadest, angriest brush you can reach, don’t you? At this point, I can’t tell if you’re trolling or genuinely believe what you’re saying.

          • CK : Feb 20th

            Yeah, he def is trolling. Who would care this much

    • Marc Smith : Mar 4th

      Do the world a favor and kill yourself. You know nothing about wild animals, do you? Never been up close, have you. You are a piece of shit.

  • PD : Feb 17th

    Classic gaslighter. You’re just another one of these people incapable of seeing any faults in themselves. It’s always someone else’s fault. You’re always right. If someone disagrees, they’re just wrong. They’re shallow. “Emotional.” Now, “angry.” Just call ’em names, try to discredit them, if you yourself have nothing other than a selfish, narcissistic, dogmatic viewpoint, devoid of an ounce of introspection, to argue with

    I’m done with you. If I want a more constructive conversation, I’ll go engage a brick wall.

    • Joby : Feb 23rd

      PD– I hear you. I’ve been an advocate for wild predators for years, have seen lots of data, and your original post is spot-on. Thanks for your comment.

  • Lorrie : Feb 22nd

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’m always interested to hear how someone reacts in the moments when it really matters. I often go by myself into mountain lion territory, and am rethinking the risk now, especially since there are other kinds of trouble, like a bad fall, when a partner would be handy.

  • Maureen : Mar 3rd

    I dont know why Im commenting on this story. Im tired of reading about it everyday. Move on the poor cat is dead. He did what he had to do, unfortunately another beautiful creature is gone


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