By Chris Jackson
September 2, 2011
A Face to Face Mountain Lion Encounter
Growing up in the mountains and semi-arid canyon lands of the Northwest United States of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, I have had several experiences realizing both how peaceful and dangerous the outdoors can be. I have logged many days hunting, fishing, hiking, but it was not until a few days after my 31st birthday during an early season archery mule deer hunt that I truly realized that us as humans are not exactly the top of the food chain.
We were only a few warm days into the archery mule deer hunt, as my brother (Shawn) and myself road double down a steep four wheeler trail on my Honda Trail 90. On the way down it was obvious that the trail was steeper than I had expected and that we were surely going to have fun trying to get out of this hole with the two of us on the little trail bike. A four wheeler was sounding real good at the time.
We spent a fair amount of time down in the canyon that morning looking for deer. As it began to heat up, we decided we had better think about getting us and our gear (back pack full of water, supplies, and two bows, out of this hole.
We gave it a little go and realized pretty quick that we were going to have to start by packing our gear out first, and then attempt to ride both of us out. So the plan was for Shawn to drop off the gear at the top and then come back and get me. But instead of me waiting around for him, I decided to hike up the hillside with only my hunting binoculars, and then side hill on a rim around to a timbered, north facing slope.
It was very steep (at least a 45 degree angle) as I walked along some rim rock. The rim petered out and I circled down below it. That is when I caught some movement in the vegetation above the cliff. I thought “that was more movement than what should have been,” but I figured it was just grass popping back up from where I had stepped even though I thought I saw something black! Then, not more than a few seconds later up jumped a mountain lion atop the cliff 13 yards away from me and probably 6-8 feet higher (I actually went back and ranged it). As soon as it realized that I had seen it, the big cat stopped and just stood on the rock starring a hole through me. He was expressionless and just looked at me without any fear whatsoever. The feeling was not mutual. I yelled at him and threw my hands up to make myself appear intimidating. The big, full grown Mountain Lion just looked at me, both frightening and beautiful at the same time.
Unfortunately I was weaponless as Shawn had all of our stuff. At this point a knife was sounding real good. I tried throwing rocks at the cat, but they were in short supply and too big to throw accurately. One rock landed right at the cat’s feet, but did not phase him. After 3 or four rocks, my supply of throw-able ones was exhausted. I tried throwing up my arms and charging at the cougar, but he was not scared. Even at this point, I felt that he realized I was not exactly the food he was after and he would keep his distance (13 yards) so I stayed relatively calm and knew that I should not turn my back and run as he could surely out run me in any country, let alone that steep, rocky, brushy hillside.
After at least a minute of him patiently watching me, I guess the Mountain Lion decided I was nothing to be to scared of. That is when things got extremely intense. He jumped down off the cliff and was heading right at me at full speed. He moved at me just like you see them as they are going after a deer on T.V., only more intense. That is when my instinct took over and I threw my hands up and ran at him yelling as loud as could. At no more than 5 yards he halted, turned around and headed back to just below the rock he had been standing on. I backed up and then charged him again, yelling as loud as I could. Finally he took a few leaps the other direction and was out of sight.
I sighed a huge sigh of relief as I began backing down the hillside, but it was premature. Just as quick as he left I heard foot steps coming my way. The cougar came back to its spot just below the cliff and again starred me down. That is when Shawn called me on the radio. “Copy Chris?” I glanced over to see his white pick up 600 yards away as far down the road as he could back it down the four wheeler trail as the Trail Bike had overheated on his way out.
I can only imagine the sound of my voice when I responded “I have a Cougar at ten yards, do you have your rifle?”
“Come back and talk slower I can’t understand you?” he replied.
Again “I have a cougar at ten yards, do you have your rifle?” I think I may have even had to say it once more.
Then I just put my radio back in my pocket and began whistling as loud as I could (which is loud). I followed that up by another charge and yelling “GET OUTTA HERE!” several times. Just as he turned to leave, pistol shots began to ring out across the canyon as Shawn emptied his clip, followed by another clip full. I began backing down the hill side and once I felt I was a safe distance away I turned and bombed down the hillside, making it down to the four wheeler road just as Shawn went running by, loaded pistol in hand.
We sat there discussing what had just happened and what we should do about it. We decided we would have to come back with more fire power as there is a possibility that the cougar had a kill in that area and was just trying to scare me away. If that is the case, he did well, as I was not sticking around to find it.
We found ourselves back at the mountain lion encounter area the following day with shotgun, rifle, pistol and a video camera. We crept in there quietly and did some “deer in distress” calls to see if we could get the lion to show itself one again, hoping he’d be in the same location if he had a kill close by. He never did come in, but at least we gave it a try. We never did find any lion kills in the area either, so why he came after me is still to be determined. You’d think if he wanted to eat me, he would have, but maybe I caught him off guard with my aggressiveness.
I know. Most of you are wondering why I did not have a pistol on my side for protection. Well, I do now! I have always figured there is more chance of shooting myself or someone else than there is me needing to defend myself against a wild animal. Now my opinion has changed and I think I will just rely on extra safety while packing around a pistol. A pistol would have been looking real good about the time that cat jumped on that rock at just a few cougar strides away.
I would not want to relive that exact experience ever again, but give me a weapon to level the playing field, and then I might feel a little more confident. Now that it is over and everything turned out fine, I am glad it happened as it makes for a good story. I hope you have enjoyed it. You can read more of my articles at http://www.BestforHunting.com