Saturday, March 9, 2019

Don’t Say Never

         A couple of weeks ago a hiker in Colorado was attacked by a mountain lion they say was only 6 or 7 months old.  It weighed only 40 pounds, so the man was able to kill it by choking it to death. Some house cats get to 20 pounds, so it was a small panther. But he is lucky that even a kitten lion, on its back, didn’t rip a pretty good hole in him with its back claws. I kind of wonder if it wasn’t sick or injured.

         It is amazing that such a thing would happen, but in the west, a number of people have been known to have been killed by mountain lions, at least four women in the past ten years, all while jogging. That is something to think about, in each case, the victims were running. The animal kills most prey by waiting on a ledge or tree limb hoping the deer or elk or goat or whatever, will pass beneath it, then it drops down onto prey that passes beneath them and bites through the spine while trying to open an artery with their claws.  Sounds gruesome doesn’t it? Usually they don’t get lucky enough to have prey right beneath them so they make a leap and chase down a fleeing animal. The humans they have killed recently must have attracted the cats by running away from them as most all their prey does. A grown mountain lion male might weigh more than 200 pounds.  No man could fight one and win.

        I don’t know how many mountain lions are found in the Ozarks of south Missouri and north Arkansas, in southeastern Kansas and Oklahoma, but all those areas have some and in general they are going to avoid people.  There have been mountain lions in the Big Piney-Mark Twain region of the Ozarks since I was a boy.  In the woods with my grandfather, I saw plain, obvious tracks in the snow when I was only 15 or 16 years old. I photographed a clear track of a mountain lion a couple of years ago and in my life I have seen two in Missouri and four or five in Arkansas. I have no idea why conservation agencies have wanted to insist there were none in the Ozarks, but they angered many, many country people who would call them to report a panther sighting and get laughed at, receiving a very condescending insistence that they surely saw a big dog.

         Now I know that if 20 people say they saw a mountain lion, that some of them were mistaken. But you can’t tell 20 people that all of them are making it up or just making a mistake.  Finally conservation agencies had to cave in and admit that there were a few in their state after photographs and some of the prey animals, which did in fact involve a calf or sheep or goat every now and then, were shown to have mountain lion DNA on carcasses. Twenty years ago I wrote a column about the different mountain lions I had seen between Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains and the Ozarks of southern Missouri, and it was answered by a conservation agency writer who ridiculed me as a writer who just made up much of what I wrote about.   The newspaper published his letter, and then about six months later published the story about mountain lions found and verified by that agency’s same people…one in Texas County, where I grew up.  Within a year the state agency reversed it’s official policy from “There are no mountain lions in the state and never has been” to “Mountain lions do in fact occur in the state but in very small numbers.”

        Today the official position appears to be…”We admit there are wandering males in the state, but none are ever actually born here.”  You can believe that if you choose, but I don’t.  I remember interviewing a biologist who told me he was the head member of the group working on finding mountain lions in Missouri.  He told me that panthers never take their prey carcass up on a ledge or limb, always covering their kill on the ground. I didn’t argue, but a few years before, a young deer was found up off the ground about 20 feet, in a deer hunter’s old board platform.  It was determined through DNA to have been killed by a mountain lion and I am fairly certain that crows didn’t take it up there.

         The trouble is, some of today’s younger experts often don’t realize what true older outdoorsmen soon learn… there is no such thing in the wild as ‘NEVER’ and ‘ALWAYS’.  No wild creature can be exactly figured out, none do just what you think they are going to do in every situation.  A wild predator is unpredictable.  Not long ago a fellow was killed with a three-second attack by a young tame grizzly with its trainer right there beside it. A man in Arkansas was mauled by a wild black bear not long ago that he was baiting for a couple of months with day-old donuts.  Should we be telling people in the Midwest that panthers or bears, or some wild sow with piglets is nothing to worry about?

         If you hear that, don’t believe it.  What a knowledgeable outdoorsman will tell you is, don’t take chances.  The next person attacked by a mountain lion may be 30 years away or it could be tomorrow.  But in the history of settlers coming into the Midwest, there have been attacks on humans by great horned owls, coyotes, bobcats eagles, even deer and bison. No one can predict what any wild creature will or will not do.

         Don’t forget our Outdoorsman’s swap meet at Brighton Missouri on March 16.  Free tables still are available for those who have outdoor items to sell and there is no entrance charge.  You can get more info by emailing me at or just calling my office… 417 777 5227.

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