When a young mountain lion clamped its jaws onto the wrist of a Colorado trail runner and clawed at his face, Travis Kauffman screamed out a “barbarian yell,” and jammed his right foot onto the animal’s neck, holding it there until he ultimately prevailed in a fight for survival.
After a couple of minutes, Kauffmann recalled Thursday, “it finally stopped moving and then the jaws opened and I was able to kind of scramble back up the hill and get the heck out of Dodge.”
Through it all, Kauffman recalled, the cat remained eerily silent.
It was the first time Kauffman, 31, publicly recounted the Feb. 4 ordeal that left the cat dead and him with 28 stitches and a reputation for toughness and bravery that belies his wiry frame.
“I will never be able to live up to the reputation,” said Kauffman, who stands 5-foot-10 (1.5-meters) and weighs about 150 pounds (70 kilograms). “The story is bigger than my puny form.”
Kauffman said he was running a trail in the mountains west of Fort Collins when he heard pine needles rustle behind him. He turned to see the mountain lion about 10 feet (3 meters) away.
“One of my worst fears was confirmed,” he said.
That cat lunged. Kauffman raised his hands and screamed, “doing my barbarian yell,” he said.
The animal locked its teeth onto his wrist and they tumbled off the side of the trail.
A wave of fear rolled over him, he said, and he worried that the animal’s full-grown mother would join the attack to defend her offspring, but no other cat appeared.
Fear then gave way to the fighting instinct, he said.
Kauffman grabbed a rock with his free hand and beat the cat on the back of the head. He also tried stabbing it with twigs, but nothing worked.
“I knew with two pretty good blows to the back of the head (and) it didn’t release, that I was probably going to have to do something a little more drastic,” he said. “I was able to kind of shift my weight and get a foot on its neck” until it succumbed.
Bleeding from his face and wrist, he jogged back down the trail, where he met other runners who got him to a hospital.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers retrieved the dead cat. They said their investigation and a necropsy confirmed Kauffman’s account.
“Travis is a pretty amazing young man,” said Ty Petersburg, a wildlife manager for the agency.
Petersburg said officers set up cameras and traps in the area for several days after the attack. They saw no large mountain lions but captured two young ones in good health. He said both are in a rehabilitation center and the agency hopes to release them back into the wild.
Kauffman, who described himself as an avid runner and skier, doesn’t plan to retreat from the outdoors.
“I will go run those trails again,” he said, but added, “I will go with a buddy there.”