Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Mountain Lion Encounter

Hunters sometimes find themselves among the hunted. My son B learned this lesson recently.

B went to a valley a few miles from his home in a northwest mountainous state to bow-hunt deer. He stalked quietly through a wooded area on the edge of a large open meadow, just to take the lay of the land and decide where to put his pop-up deer blind.

Suddenly, he was looking into the eyes of a large mountain lion about 25 yards away. He realized his bow and arrows lay on the ground in a clearing behind him. He reached for his bear pepper spray, but the belt was empty; he usually carries it only when he goes up into the mountains. He had not brought a pistol. He opened his pocket knife, which has a three-inch blade, and thought about its insignificance.

He and the lion stared at each other for a moment, and then the lion glided away into the trees and brush. Quite relieved, B went on with his setting up, about twenty yards out of the woods in the edge of the meadow. Before long, a group of deer wandered into the meadow to graze. B watched them, hoping they would come his direction, and readied his bow.

Mountain lions are an endangered, protected species that range mostly throughout the western United States and parts of Florida, according to an Internet search. An adult lion can grow to seven-eight feet long, from nose to tail, and weigh between 120 and 180 pounds. Mountain lions are said to be highly effective predators that consistently kill larger animals, such as deer and elk, and unprotected livestock.

They are territorial; a male lion may rule over as much as 100 square miles. They often attack people or other animals that come too close to their food stashes. Silently stalking their prey, mountain lions usually attack from behind after a short, fast sprint.

Two yearling deer, too young to shoot, meandered past B’s blind, about fifteen feet away. One stopped to graze, and the other walked into the edge of the woods behind B. After a few seconds, the young deer burst out of the woods with the mountain lion in hot pursuit. The two young deer and the others outran the lion. It sank onto its haunches and watched them disappear into the distance.

Then the lion turned and stalked back toward the edge of the woods, passing close to B’s blind. It stopped to stare at him; this time he had the bow ready. Then B yelled, “Git! Go on, cat! Get out of here!” But the tawny animal just lowered to its haunches and continued to watch him, unafraid. Then it rose and disappeared into the woods.

A few minutes later, B had a sudden realization that the mountain lion was frustrated and hungry, probably even then watching him from the cover of the brush, waiting for the right moment to attack him. He would not have known the lion was still there if the yearling deer had not wandered into the woods.

He thought about his family and his life and his chances of fighting off a full-grown mountain lion, and it was not worth the risk. So he took out his sharp, long-bladed skinning knife for defense if needed, and rolled up stakes and ropes and deer blind; he put on his backpack, hoping to look very large and frightening, and made his way to his pickup.

On his way home, he thought about the beauty of the animal, its rippling muscles and fearless grace. And he understood a little better the fear of the hunted. He realized how unusual it is for a human to be a close witness to such an encounter. Next time, he would take a gun--and a camera.

Picture and information borrowed from National Geographic website.

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