Yikes! Big cat encounter

lfrj(7)October 5, 2007

Sept. 30 was my b-day. We went out for the eve and returned late. This means critter care in the dark, which is not uncommon in these parts anyway since evening comes so early.

I have a flashlight apparatus that straps to my head and keeps both hands free. Very handy! Its a halogen light or something and has a surprising ability to reflect retinas. Eyes in the dark simply glow. I can spot an owl (or a rat) from a long distance, in fact itÂs so bright (and annoying), I try not to look at my own critters directly.

Cut to Sunday nite  The geese are clumped next to the paddock fence whimpering  theyÂre probably hungry. In the adjacent pasture, about 30 ft from the goose paddock, is a tree and an old stump. I glance that way and see two eyes. Oh thereÂs Elliot, our house cat sitting on the stump, me thinks  I better rescue him before a marauding band of coyotes come thru. (Believe me, if anything ever happened to that cat, RJ would be brokenhearted!) As I head toward the stump, the eyes flicker and disappear. Elliot must have gazed away or jumped to the ground. 14 ft to go - I donÂt see the cat  so maybe itÂs a coon, which I ought to scare off just the same. 10 ft from the tree, I didnÂt hear anything scramble off  must be the cat after allÂ."here kitty kitty". Eight, maybe even six feet from the stump, a big face moves into view  big eyes, round ears  HOLY CAMOLE  wrong cat!

Some how I gather my nerves and begin to back up very, very slowly, keeping the headlamp directly on the face of that cougar. Lord, please donÂt let me trip on that pile of rocks! I somehow achieve a position with the goose paddock between me and the big cat, whose eyes are still pierced on me. No growl, thank goodness. Door #1 or door #2? Do I enter the goose paddock and dive into the crate? Or keep backing up until I can make a break for the house? I evaluate my options while my tongue explores the contours of my heart which is now so deeply embedded in my throat I canÂt utter a syllable. I opt for #2 and keep backing up.

Safely inside I explode! RJ (in PJÂs) saunters off to get the rifle. I return to the safety of our deck and aim my trusty headlamp out to the stump. Yep! Still there! 2-mins. pass, 3 minsÂ5? The big cat finally  EVENTUALLY retreats. I watch, amazed as its big gray body literally floats toward the neighboring farmstead. RJ FINALLY arrives. Why so casual? Awe, probably wasnÂt really a cat. Probably a big coon, maybe even a bewildered deer. By morning  even IÂm no longer sure. It was dark out after all.

The fish & game commissioners were sure! They responded in person to my, "IÂm pretty sure I think I sawÂ" phone report. They ran the dogs along the property and found plenty of evidence to support my claim. Wow! I was told not to worry too much. It may have been passing through. Judging by our flockÂs behavior the past 2 weeks, in retrospect I donÂt think it was a first time visit. IÂm now wondering if the cat is keeping a string round his toe about our locale in case he needs some late night take out.

Since Sunday, IÂve learned to trust the geese. Most times theyÂll happily hit the pasture and graze. Occasionally however, theyÂll bunch up at the fence line honking, but refuse to step foot into the pasture. IÂm following their lead.

Anyone out there with any similar experiences? Any Midwesterners with some familiarity with big cats? What might I expect from here? RJ (law enforcement official) returns to the training academy for 2 weeks starting Monday and IÂm on my own. Time for rifle lessons? So far no losses, but IÂm a little jittery as you can imagine.

Needless to say, I've learned not to assume in the dark but this was defintely NOT in the Basic Farming manual!

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Oh boy, your so lucky! I'm happy your safe and your animals weren't hurt or destroyed. I had my first Mountain Lion attack about two months ago. Ate a bottle baby goat and my best doe. What a mess my life was after that. I free range every night along side our dog while the goats eat all the browse forage they could find. I became a recluse after the incident. Scared and confused.

I'm normal again lol, but carry my hand gun and had a very expensive barn built. *sigh*

Its awful I'm sorry you had to see it (in the dark, scared) but your so lucky you didn't lose anything.

I was so stupid thinking electric fencing along with a solid no-climb fence would keep out a lion, yeah right!

    Bookmark   October 5, 2007 at 7:59PM
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I think of you every night now when I go to do the "bedtime" routine...I read this a while ago and it still freaks me out! Although I would feel safer with an animal watching me than a human! wouldn't that be worse? hahaha! Glad all is well with you and your flock,I don't have a lot here where I live to worry about other than the raccoons and fox,coyotes and weasels...but a wild cat would definately freak me out! take care

    Bookmark   October 15, 2007 at 8:53PM
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Miss_Kitty(6a KY)

I'm so glad that you didn't get hurt! But you didn't say where in the mid-west you are located. Here in our part of Kentucky, North Central, we have rumors of bear and big cat, but no one has actually gotten a confirmed sighting.

If you are going to be alone and taking care of critters in the dark, you probably should carry a handgun. Are you a good shot? The noise would most likely scare any large animal off. Just be careful if you decide to fire a warning shot, bullets fly farther than you would think.

When we had dogs attack the ducks (killed seven ducks before I drove them off) I was out of practice and caught my hand in the recoil. So it always pays to have a brush up on your marksmanship.

good luck!

    Bookmark   October 18, 2007 at 10:12PM
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Yep Beelize, My eyes were wide! Since then, it's been nervous out there!

Syncal, I wanted to say how sorry I am to hear of your loss. What a horrible thing. I'd have felt frustrated, heartbroken, a host of emotions. Miss Kitty, we're in the Pac NW, about 30 or miles north of Seattle, though in the foothills of the Cascades. We have predators of every variety, but they usually remain aloof and we don't see them much, hence the surprise.

The encounter was on Sunday. The following Fri-nite, we lost a bird. That cranked the nerve switch up a notch. One of our best muscovies mind you. We were still working on their permanent structure, but they had been fine all year in their pen. Whatever it was left a real mess. Based on all I've read about predators and their leavings, I couldn't i.d. it. Raccoons go for the head (I imagine becuase it has the bird by the neck) but our muscovy was not decapitated. Possums go for the guts, but ours was not disembowled either. He was on his back and filleted at the breast. What ever it was chowed straight in from that angle, and left the remains. Cougars, I'm told, usually haul away and bury their prey, but not always, so I'm not sure. Coincidence? Outside of a dog attack in broad daylight, it is the only loss we've suffered.

Three days later, our neighbor saw the cougar in his driveway when they pulled in. It lingered for awhile as they waited in the car. The Wildlife Fish & Game were contacted again. We haven't seen Freddie Cougar since, so don't know. Maybe he went home. Sad fact is, he may have been homeless altogether. They're being pressed out of most territory thanks to so much development. It's not his fault. But I sure feel silly walking up to it like some cougar whisperer saying "here kitty, kitty". Call me Mr. Magoo.

RJ gave me a rifle lesson. Doubtful I'd ever use it, but I shot my first tin can! Am thinking about mounting it on the wall over the mantel. :0>

    Bookmark   October 21, 2007 at 12:56AM
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softmentor(z9/sunset13 CA desert)

WOW! Glad you are ok. I have never had an encounter myself, but several years ago I took a class from the University of California on the wildlife of our local mountains. the instructor had and encounter where he was VERY close to a wild cougar just as you were. He did not know what to do at the time. He just followed his gut feeling. He did as you did and backed off slowly, never taking his eyes off the cat. At one point the cat started moving tward him, keeping his distance the same, so every time my instructor backed up a foot the cat advanced a foot.
Well, finally he got to his car and drove away. He later went to ask some people who knew about cats. He says they told him he did the right thing. that if he had turned to run, he would almost certainly have been attacked.
So, I guess, it sounds like you did the right thing. Back up slow. Never turn and run.
Hope you and your critters all stay safe.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2007 at 6:11AM
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songbirdmommy(UT 5)

We had a cougar jump from a large tree limb that shaded our very large chicken run. The chicken run was completely enclosed by chainlink fence, including the top.
This was to keep the racoons out.
Or as my daughter would say, keep the Gingers in(if you have seen "Chicken Run", you know what I mean.)
Anyways, the cougar, jumped in the middle section, right where to 6 foot sections came together and were clamped with ties.
The weight of the cat caved in the chainlink enough to pop the ties right off.
The cat got in and killed the entire flock(nearly 100 birds)
Most were killed for fun, maybe 20 or so were eaten completely.
Sad, sad day for us all.
An awful mess to have to clean up too.
We have had chickens since then, once one of the kids left the gate open and two dogs got in and scattered the flock and killed 8 of them, just for fun.
Thankfully, we have not had a racoon problem in years.

I am a little afraid to go out there at night, I picture the cougar sitting in the tree watching me.
One time a neighbor said she saw one late at night laying on her roof, just waiting like a loyal hound for them to get home.
They call the sheriff and waited for them to handle the situation.
She said it left before the cops arrived.
She now drives into the garage and parks, rather than parking in the driveway if she comes home late.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2007 at 7:36AM
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Hi Softmentor, thanks for the advice. I think anyone in my situation would likely do the same...that is, instinct seemed to tell me that backing up slow was a far better tact than turning and running...at least I think it was instinct. I know the only weapon i had was that blasted light.

SOngbirdmommy, wow! What a massacre! I find your story interesting though because the friday after my encounter we too lost a bird. The Fish & Guy guy INSISTED that it could NOT have been a cougar because it was not dragged off and buried...but I'm not so sure. It's the only loss we've ever had so, awfully coincidental me-thinks. Sounds like your cat didn't bother burying his kill either. Maybe I was told this so I wouldn't worry...

Heck I sweat bullets twice a day, every morning and eve! Ignorance was sure bliss. Daylight savings hasn't helped either. I tried to comfort my mother by explaining that I'm in more danger on I-5 on the way to work...but if I'm right about that muscovy we lost, I honestly feel like the Fish & Game guy, placating her with facts and logic. They're out there. All I can do is minimize the risk as much as possible and deal with the sting of knowing.

Kind of reminds me of a quote by, Frank O'hara, whose dry, sarcastic wit conjured up the phrase - "Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you". He must have faced a cougar everyday of his life.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2007 at 4:58PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Lessons learned:
1. You learned a specific warning signal given by your geese. Don't forget that signal.
2. Headlamp works great and leaves both hands free for faster running. You might want to invest in a better one (longer battery life and longer "throw" for the beam.
3. In the dark, cats can see you better than you can see them.

I think you need something to protect yourself, but it has to work in the dark. You cannot aim a rifle/shotgun in the dark with a headlight. The headlight reflects off of your gun parts and you can't see the target. There are some "tactical flashlights" made for military and police work but they are priced so that only governments can afford them. These flashlights clamp onto your rifle or pistol barrel and shine a focused beam at the target. Then you can use your gun's normal sighting (scope or the notches) to aim. If I wanted to make a light for a gun myself, I would get a relatively inexpensive 3-watt LED MiniMag Maglite flashlight. I am a flashlight junkie, and I am very impressed with the output from that little light - especially for the cost. It easily lights up a target over 100 feet away. You can also get barrel mounts to mount the light to the gun. Here is one example, but there are many others. Be sure you practice aiming and shooting in the dark. Let your neighbors know what you're doing if you do it at home.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2007 at 5:11PM
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songbirdmommy(UT 5)

You better beleive that there are cougar around Seattle!
My in laws have a "cottage" @ Sammish and there are big cat there.
Also up @ Snoqualmie pass, so why not where you are?
We were told if we encounter a cat to make ourselves real big looking by raising our jackets over our heads as a group and look bigger than we are. Children were to never run ahead and small child were to be on Dad's shoulders to help him look larger too.
Never ever run.... this is a cardinal rule.
Also never go alone.
Do you have a big dog?
Your dog will sense when a cat is around and protect you(hopefully)if it attacks.
You have a 40 miles of commute on I-5? Any commute in Seattle is torture! I am glad you have your farm to relax on, but do not let the fish and game woman allow you to relax too much....
And do not believe that a cat will bury the evidence..... trust me... NOTHING was buried.... is was a gross sight, all over the ground, not in it!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2007 at 2:41AM
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We have a slight problem with cougars in our area. Neighbors have seen the Fish and Game people turn them loose to control the deer population. Yet strangely enough if you try to call and report them we are told there are none in the area. Also they are electronically ear tagged so if you shoot them you COULD be seriously fined. Everyone take care to check your laws and make absolutely sure how they are worded. It is a very nerving experience to find these cats unexpectedly. A neighbor of ours walked around to the front of his tractor and loader and came across a "den" built in his shed in the hay bales. Luckily the mother and babies were gone but had been there. And I must say, the size of their footprints says it all!!!

    Bookmark   November 16, 2007 at 12:59AM
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Please NEVER shoot a wild Cougar.

We have them here in Massachusetts and no one would ever think of killing one.

When you kill a cougar you are killing a part of yourself.

They do not kill for fun. They kill to survive. You go to the food store and buy chickenDo not put human emotions onto wild animals trying to survive.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 4:58PM
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