Arizona Ambush: Who Wins a Bear vs. Mountain Lion Battle in the Grand Canyon State?

by duceditor

Are you ready for an exciting animal showdown right in the heart of Arizona? It’s a bear vs. mountain lion matchup.

In one corner of the forest, we have the black bear. They’re big, strong, and ready to swipe. In the other corner, we have a slender, smart mountain lion who can pounce quickly. Which of these amazing creatures will have the skills, the strength, and the smarts to be crowned the champion?

Every animal in the world plays a special role in its ecosystem. Animal matchups help us learn about their strengths and weaknesses in a fun and engaging way. Come along as we look closer at bears and mountain lions living in Arizona. Let’s figure out which one could have the advantage if they got into a fight.

Black Bear vs. Mountain Lion: Key Points

Black Bears

  1. Black bears are large, strong mammals with a stocky build and thick fur.
  2. About 75% of the diet is plant-based
  3. Black bears have a slow and lumbering walk
  4. Usually non-aggressive
  5. Swipe force of 560 pounds

Mountain Lions

  1. Mountain lions are also known as cougars or pumas
  2. Primarily eats meat
  3. Can leap up to 20 feet horizontally
  4. Stalk their prey unnoticed.
  5. Mountain lions like to bite the neck of their prey

Competitor #1: The Bear

Black bear with powerful pawsIf you encounter a black bear in the wild, the Arizona Game and Fish Department says to alter your route.


When encountering a black bear in the wild, the Arizona Game and Fish Department recommend altering your route. Male black bears are larger than females, and the average weight of black bears ranges between 125 and 400 pounds.

Black bears are the only bear species in the state. Arizona’s last grizzly bear was killed on Escudilla Mountain in Eastern Arizona in the 1930s. Interestingly, black bears in Arizona are closely related to those in the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico and share genetic similarities. This connection could be due to migration patterns or historical land bridges.

Despite their name, black bears’ color can range from dark blond to deep black. These large mammals don’t usually duke it out with mountain lions. Instead, black bears focus on finding tasty plants and small animals to dine on. Sometimes, large bears will hunt deer.

How will the black bear do against a mountain lion? You might assume it’s an instant win. After all, black bears are much bigger and likely stronger than their feline competitor. But don’t assume the victory goes to team bear just yet. Arizona’s mountain lion is a mighty creature with many advantages in an animal matchup.

Competitor #2: The Mountain Lion

Mountain lionMountain lions are widespread throughout the western hemisphere of North America

©Warren Metcalf/

Cougar, puma, and panther; are all common names for the mountain lion. These felines are widespread throughout the western hemisphere of North America and can be found in various habitats in Arizona. Many mountain lions and bears are roaming the Coronado National Forest. This forest encompasses portions of the historic Old Spanish Trail, a trade route used by Spanish explorers in the 19th century.

Arizona cares deeply about its wildlife, including the mountain lions. The Desert Museum has a tradition of adopting orphaned mountain lions that can’t be released back into the wild.

One of their current residents, a male cub named Cruz, was found in San Jose, CA. The tiny mountain lion weighed a mere 15 pounds. They were able to nurse the rescue back to health with the help of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The adoption of Cruz by the Desert Museum was arranged through the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Since coming to the Desert Museum, Cruz has grown to weigh about 65 pounds. He enjoys swimming and playing with his favorite toy, a big red ball.

In the wild, adult mountain lions range from 6 to 9 feet long and weigh between 80 to 275 pounds. They’re stealthy, agile, and always aware of their surroundings. If a black bear tries to sneak up on a mountain lion, the feline will sniff out its foe within seconds. There’s no fooling these wildcats.

Top Factors in a Bear vs. Mountain Lion Animal Battle

The key factors for a bear vs. mountain lion battle are size, strength, hunting techniques, and movement.

There are no rules for choosing opponents in the wild and wacky realm of animal battles. You can put a rhino against a mosquito or even a tiger against an otter—there are no limits to the zany matchups we can dream up! It’s all about flipping our perspective and seeing these incredible creatures in a whole new light. With that in mind, let’s compare the size of our two competitors, the bear and the mountain lion!

Round 1: Size

Black bearBlack bears can weigh 200-600 pounds.

©Menno Schaefer/

In this first round, brace yourselves for a clash of proportions as the slim and sleek mountain lion dares to challenge the humongous and mighty bear.

Black bears can weigh 200-600 pounds. Their body length can be anywhere between 4-7 feet long. They carry themselves around on large paws with sharp claws. An average black bear’s paw size has a diameter of 8-10 inches.

Adult mountain lions are no small kitty. These wild cats have sizes ranging from 115 to 220 pounds. Their sleek bodies possess a surprising amount of strength and agility. Mountain lions are designed for pouncing precision, with bodies stretching 6 to 8 feet long. Their smaller paws have a strong swipe force, measuring around 3 to 4 inches in diameter. And proportionate to their body size, a mountain lion’s head has a diameter of around 9 to 10 inches.

Round 2: Strength

Mountain lion screamA mountain lion’s bite force ranges from 350 to 450 PSI.

©Chris Alcock/

It’s time to compare each species’ strengths for our second round. Will the agile mountain lion have what it takes to win against a black bear?

Black bears are strong in every way. They’re fast, muscular, and designed to eliminate anything threatening their safety. These mammals have a powerful bite, exerting a force of around 750 PSI. It’s not the bowling ball crunching bite of a grizzly, but it’s still enough to snap a mountain lion’s spine in two.

Let’s talk lift force, something mountain lions don’t have. Black bears can lift and carry heavy objects, including logs and boulders, weighing several hundred pounds. And they also have push abilities. Bears have a lot of strength in their limbs and can push or topple objects weighing hundreds of pounds.

Finally, there’s the bear’s other secret weapon: their swipe force. With their strong forelimbs and sharp claws, black bears can deliver powerful and even deadly swipes.

Mountain lions have a fatally strong bite. Their bite force ranges from 350-450 PSI. They don’t have any lift force, but they have some push ability. Their limbs allow them to move items of moderate weight. But you won’t see a mountain lion moving a boulder like a bear can.

Paw to paw, our feline competitor does stand a fighting chance. Mountain lions possess sharp claws and can deliver forceful swipes to subdue their prey. But if this wild cat suffers a single blow from the bear, it’ll be hit with a swipe force of 560 pounds. That might not be something the mountain lion could recover from.

Of course, mountain lions are known for evading trouble with their super stealthy tactics. Let’s see how their hunting techniques can help them gain an advantage.

Round 3: Hunting Techniques

Black Bears - bear fishingBlack bears are excellent fishermen; they wait patiently for the perfect moment to strike.


Black bears are omnivorous. When they’re targeting animals, they use an ambush strategy. Like sneaky alligators, they patiently await the right moment to surprise their prey. Then, when the timing’s just right, they launch a fast and powerful attack.

Black bears are also skilled fishermen. They can patiently wait near rivers or streams for fish to swim by. Again, they’re waiting for the perfect moment. They use their paws or mouths to catch the tasty fish when they see their moment.

Mountain lions use ambush and pursuit hunting. They rely on their stealth and camouflage to sneak up on meals. Similar to black bears, mountain lions can use ambush tactics when hunting. They may hide in the thick brush or wait in a rocky outcropping. It’s all about waiting for the unsuspecting prey to be within pouncing distance.

Round 4: Movements

Female mountain lion chasing preyMountain lions can run in short bursts of 50 mph.

©Michal Ninger/

Round 4 is all about movement. How an animal moves can tell us a lot about how it finds food and escapes danger.

Black bears have a slow, lumbering gait. Watch; you’ll notice their front and hind legs move in sync.

Along with walking, black bears can also run, charge, stand upright, and climb trees. Check out this video of a charging bear, and you’ll get an idea of their scary fast speed.

Sometimes, black bears roll around. Rolling around is more common in juveniles who are just goofing off. Adults tend to be a bit more serious and solitary.

Mountain lions are graceful. They move fluidly as if floating on the ground. They can stalk their prey unnoticed with their powerful muscles and flexible bodies.

One thing mountain lions have against bears in this battle is their ability to leap. Mountain lions can leap 20 feet and outrun deer for short distances. Adult males can travel up to 25 miles in a single night, and their home range extends up to 100 miles.

Mountain lions and bears know how to navigate all sorts of terrain. But there’s an argument to be made that mountain lions are more agile. In a race, the feline could turn on a dime and leap from branch to rock. The bear could make impressive moves, but it wouldn’t change direction as rapidly as the skilled mountain lion. If this battle were based on movements alone, we’d have to give the win to the mountain lion. They’re the nature ninjas of Arizona.

Animal Battle Advantages: Speed and Senses

Tucson, ArizonaBlack bears and mountain lions can see in low-light conditions.

©Ste Lane/

Day or night! Both of our competitors will be ready to fight. Black bears are crepuscular, meaning they are more active during twilight hours. If the battle occurs in the evening or at dawn, the black bear will have enhanced vision and heightened senses. On the other hand, mountain lions have excellent night vision. They’re also well-adapted to hunting in low-light conditions.


Who can see better? The mountain lion. A bear’s eyesight is average compared to other animals. They have a decent vision that helps them navigate their surroundings, but it’s not the same stealthy vision the mountain lion’s working with.

Mountain lions have excellent eyesight, an important tool for their hunting success. There are a few key points to make about a mountain lion’s eyesight. They can see clearly over long distances. Their eyes are adapted to detect movement and spot prey even in low-light conditions. These amazing felines possess a specialized structure called the tapetum lucidum, which enhances their night vision. This reflective layer behind their retina improves their ability to see in low light. Mountain lions also have a wide field of view due to their enhanced peripheral vision.


Speed is another advantage both of our competitors bring to the table. Bears can charge over 20 mph, and mountain lions can run in bursts of 50 mph. They usually reserve these top speeds for surprise attacks. Several factors influence each species’ top speed. Their age, health, and location all play a role. The type of prey they’re going after and how hungry they are matter too.

Does Arizona Have a Lot of Mountain Lions?

Arizona has around 2,000 to 2,700 mountain lions. If you see one, don’t freak out.

Don’t approach the mountain lion. Don’t try to run. And don’t bend over or crouch down (this could make you appear vulnerable). Instead, slowly back away while making yourself look larger.

Remember to report mountain lion sightings and encounters to the appropriate authorities, such as the Forest Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, or the specific national forest’s contact information provided.

Tracking Arizona Bear Activity

Black bears were first discovered in Arizona in the early 1800s. In the past, some black bear populations in Arizona were in danger because they were classified as predators and nearly disappeared. But now, black bears are protected and classified as big game in Arizona.

In Arizona, black bears mainly live in forested areas known as sky islands, which are isolated mountain habitats. Counting and monitoring black bear populations is difficult due to their low numbers and secretive behavior. Scientists use direct observation, tracking, and genetic testing to make guesses about the black bears’ population.

Where You Might See Bears and Mountain Lions in Arizona

Mingus Mountain ArizonaMountain lions and bears live throughout the forests of Arizona.

© Wayne

In the peaceful wilderness of Arizona’s forests, mountain lions and bears roam around. Here is a list of national forests in Arizona where you might see them:

  • Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
  • Coconino National Forest
  • Coronado National Forest
  • Kaibab National Forest
  • Prescott National Forest
  • Tonto National Forest

At Tonto National Forest in Arizona, black bears can sometimes wander around in the higher parts of the forest. Along with bears and mountain lions, keep an eye out for other big animals Arizona offers.

If you venture into the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, elk herds might wander around. During the fall mating season, you can hear their beautiful bugling calls.

Who Wins?

For this bizarre animal matchup, we have a tie. The bear doesn’t win, and our feline fighter can’t take the trophy.

Bears and mountain lions don’t pay much attention to each other in the natural world. They’re not friends, and they’re certainly not enemies. If an unlikely fight broke out, there would be a big brawl, and it’s hard to say which species would walk away a winner. There are a lot of factors to take into play.

After looking at size, strength, hunting strategies, and movements, it’s clear that each animal will have its approach toward gaining an advantage. The mountain lion can leap on the bear’s back, covering 20 feet in a single pounce. The bear can pick up the mountain lion and swipe at it with paws that crush bones. Each creature is designed for survival and could continually turn the odds in its favor. For this Arizona ambush, the outcome is unclear.

You may also like