Based on my understanding of how wild cats stalk and hunt, you probably wouldn't even know what hit you. They jump at you from thirty feet up in a tree without making any noise at all and have the strength in their jaws to break your neck like a greasy chicken bone.
I carry a 12 gauge double barrel coach gun and my .40 HK USP if I'm going even ten feet from my front porch. Might sound paranoid but the wilderness is the wilderness and I'd rather be rolling heavy than not, (especially when my closest neighbor is six miles away). I remember reading an article about a forest ranger in Canada in the past couple years that was stalked, mauled, and partially eaten by a black bear. Totally uncharacteristic of their usual behavior, but with the steady decrease of their natural habitat, usual behavior no longer really applies. I remember another article about bears in Colorado that were breaking into cabins and lodges by climbing thru windows and using door knobs.
I typed in mountaion lion in Wikipedia just out of curiosity, and here's what it said about attacks on humans:
Due to the expanding human population, cougar ranges increasingly overlap with areas inhabited by humans. Attacks on humans are rare, as cougar prey recognition is a learned behavior and they do not generally recognize humans as prey. Attacks on people, livestock, and pets may occur when the cat habituates to humans or is in a condition of severe starvation. Attacks are most frequent during late spring and summer, when juvenile cougars leave their mothers and search for new territory.
Between 1890 and 1990, in North America there were 53 reported, confirmed attacks on humans, resulting in 48 nonfatal injuries and 10 deaths of humans (the total is greater than 53 because some attacks had more than one victim). By 2004, the count had climbed to 88 attacks and 20 deaths.
Within North America, the distribution of attacks is not uniform. The heavily populated state of California has seen a dozen attacks since 1986 (after just three from 1890 to 1985), including three fatalities. Lightly populated New Mexico reported an attack in 2008, the first there since 1974.
As with many predators, a cougar may attack if cornered, if a fleeing human stimulates their instinct to chase, or if a person \"plays dead\". Exaggerating the threat to the animal through intense eye contact, loud but calm shouting, and any other action to appear larger and more menacing, may make the animal retreat. Fighting back with sticks and rocks, or even bare hands, is often effective in persuading an attacking cougar to disengage.
When cougars do attack, they usually employ their characteristic neck bite, attempting to position their teeth between the vertebrae and into the spinal cord. Neck, head, and spinal injuries are common and sometimes fatal. Children are at greatest risk of attack, and least likely to survive an encounter. Detailed research into attacks prior to 1991 showed that 64% of all victims?and almost all fatalities?were children. The same study showed the highest proportion of attacks to have occurred in British Columbia, particularly on Vancouver Island where cougar populations are especially dense. Preceding attacks on humans, cougars display aberrant behavior, including: active during daylight hours, unafraid of humans, and stalking humans. There have sometimes been incidents of pet cougars mauling people.
Just from a little reading, it sounds like the chance of having a problem with one of these things is slightly less than being hit by lightning. What a bad way to go though. One of those things trying to go for your neck.
You mentioned that Calif. has had quite a few people attacked. When I lived there, I think it was about 1990 the state decided to have the public vote to decide if they should end the hunting of the Mountain Lion or protect this animal that has no predator except man. Well the animal lovers won and the hunting stopped for the first time in the history of the state. BIG MISTAKE!!! So over a few years time the lion population grew and there were too many. So the lions started coming down out of the mountains and into the foothills of populated areas. And Guess what? people started spotting the lions in their yards and eyeing kids playing in the backyard. And then Guess what? They overturned the law to protect the lion from being hunted. And they started hunting them again. If the Dept of Fish and Game had done their job in the first place instead of letting the public to decide, they never would have had a problem that severe.
I know I have seen more than a dozen Mountain lions in the foothills and Sierra Nevada mountains in Calif. Sometimes with a deer rifle in my hands and sometimes with nothing in my hands. The closest was maybe 20 yards away. I never found them to be a threat if you stayed still and watched them walk away and most times they ran away as quick as they could.
I don't think they prefer attacking people but you definately cannot trust them to behave themselves, like a pussy cat.