6 miles into a run through ice-covered trails, Travis Kauffman heard a rustling behind him.
He quickly turned to a mountain lion lunging right for him.
But the 150-pound man was able to kill the mountain lion with just his bare hands.
Kauffman, 31-years old, moved to Fort Collins, Colorado about 5 years ago for a more active and outdoor lifestyle.
One day, Kauffman planned a 12-to-15 mile run from Lory State Park to Horsetooth Rock, just outside of Fort Collins.
About 6 miles in, Kauffman heard some rustling of pine needles somewhere behind him.
In normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have turned to take a look, assuming it was the rustling of some small animal. And if he had earphones in listening to music as most runners do, he may have never gotten the chance to turn around.
“In the back of my mind, there’s always that thought that it could be something else,” Kauffman said. “And that something else this time happened to be a mountain lion.”
10 feet away, Kauffman’s instincts kicked in as he threw up his arms and began screaming like a barbarian in an attempt to scare the beast off.
His plan failed.
The mountain lion pounced for Kauffman, hoping to have an early lunch.
In the frantic minutes that followed, the mountain lion latched its jaws around Kauffman’s wrist as he fought to protect his legs, guts, face and neck from the mountain lion’s razor-sharp claws.
Kauffman searched for nearby objects – anything within reach—to strike the animal and even attempted to throw the animal off him.
Kauffman and the mountain lion tumbled down a hill and a “wrestling match” began.
With Kauffman’s wrist still clutched in the lion’s jaws, Kauffman still managed to pin down the mountain lion’s back legs, giving him the opportunity to reach for sticks and rocks to club the animal hoping to force it off him. But not even pounding the lion’s head with a rock worked.
“There was a point where I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out of there,” Kauffman admitted.
“It really clicked after I hit it in the head with a rock, and it still didn’t release my wrist, that at that point, more drastic measures were necessary,” he said.
In the midst of wrestling with the mountain lion, reaching for objects for self-defense, and protecting his vital organs, Kauffman somehow managed to thrust his right leg over the animal’s throat and used his foot to press down on the mountain lion’s neck until he suffocated it.
Only when the mountain lion was killed was Kauffman’s wrist released from the lion’s jaws.
A bloodied, battered and injured Kauffman still worried for his life.
He had to run 3 miles down a trail, warily eyeing his surroundings in case more mountain lions appeared.
Eventually, he spotted another runner who accompanied him to a nearby parking lot where other runners were. One runner took him to the hospital while others went to get Kauffman’s truck.
Kauffman doesn’t remember any specific smells or sounds of the attack but did say how “visually intense” it all was, as he recalled the cat’s claws retracting before it swatted at him.
“I was surprised by the silence of it all.”
Kauffman received 19 stitches in his cheek, six along the bridge of his nose and another three in his wrist. And to prevent infection, he was administered antibiotics.
According to wildlife expert, Jeff Corwin, host of ABC’s “Ocean Treks,” Kauffman “did everything right to survive this potentially deadly attack.”
“If he had fled, it would have triggered the predatory pursuit response of this mountain lion,” like that of the African lion and jaguars, Corwin said.
Most runners and hikers, however, don’t need to worry about a mountain lion attack the next time they hit the trails.
“This is a remote, rare occurrence,” Corwin said. “We can count on our hands the very few people killed or injured by a mountain lion in the last century.”
Kauffman says he plans to run with others during his long or remote runs. And because he wasn’t wearing earbuds during the attack, allowing him to hear the mountain lion, he strongly recommends others ditch the music to be more aware of their surroundings.
“Be aware that you are sharing that space with wildlife…fully appreciative of the sights and sounds of nature,” Kauffman said.