With perfect snow conditions, cats and dogs can run on top but deer crash right through.
It’s a dangerous combination of conditions for ungulates, when their sharp hooves are not helpful to basic survival.
Conservation officers are speculating that’s what’s causing the sudden flurrry of sightings of big wild cats like cougars down in the valley bottom.
CO Terry Myroniuk says they’ve had a lot of cougar complaints, particularly from further north in the valley, where dogs and a mini-horse have also been taken by the big cats.
But it’s not abnormal, he says.
After the snowfall, there was a thaw and when it froze again, that formed a crust on top of the snow, hard enough that the big paws of cougars allow them to walk on top of the snow, even if it’s four feet deep.
Deer, on the other hand, have trouble walking on it, so they head for the valley bottoms where the snow isn’t as deep, and survival is more likely.
Cougars follow the deer, because deer are their main diet.
“The valley bottom is where deer and cougars normally would hang out in winter,” Myroniuk says, except that there are a lot of humans there now as well.
Cougars will turn their attention to dogs and other pets too, warned Myroniuk, so he recommended that pet-owners keep them inside, especially at night, and that they keep them close when walking with them.
He noted that both restrictions would also prevent dogs from running deer, which is also a danger when snow conditions are like this.
It is illegal to permit your dog to chase wildlife, and the dog can be shot by authorities and the owner fined.
Keeping your dog under control when in the wild will also prevent it from getting caught in a trapper’s trapline.
If you meet a cougar, he advises you to stand your ground; make eye contact (opposite from the advice if you meet up with a bear); and make yourself look bigger by raising your arms and make lots of noise.
“Let the cat know not to mess with you. Be threatening,” suggested Myroniuk.
If you spot a cougar in an area where it could be a public safety issue, call the Report all Poachers and Polluters toll-free line at: 1-877-952-7277.