Tag Archives: Cougars

Walk softly and carry a big gun

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Mine is a Remington 700 series limited edition .280

The above photo was taken on one of the first days out on my hunt. I was on foot with Clarence and it was my first time walking back into the depths of the Little Rainbow Mountains. To say the least, I was a bit nervous. It was quite cold (even though it was a beautiful sunny day) and we were alone on the mountain. His son and wife had not yet arrived at camp by the time we struck out, and part of me was counting on the fact that they would know where we were if we got in trouble. Not that I expected to have trouble, or even really worried about my 84 year old hunting partner’s ability. Rather it was my ability–or lack of–and the thought of something happening to Clarence, that had me concerned: I wanted to know there was a ‘back-up’ in case one was needed. I know I am inexperienced and that I could make a wrong decision if push came to shove in these winter mountain conditions. Luckily nothing untoward unfolded and we had a great hunt!

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One end of the Little Rainbow Mountain range.

The early part of the day was spent in preparation and getting to camp, and then we headed out on the trail. “This trail runs due south,” Clarence kept reminding me, “Mah dear, to get back to camp we just have to walk due north. It’s that simple, um-hum.” What Clarence never seemed to understand that–for an inexperienced greenhorn–nothing in the hunting/outdoor survival world is ‘that simple’. He is so comfortable in this world that it is beyond his comprehension that someone wouldn’t be. Without him seeing, I got my compass out and verified his statement. Then I set the dial and tried to convince myself that I felt more at ease.

Over the years of knowing him I’ve realized that he has difficulty teaching these kinds of skills. He is sometimes quite unaware of the depth of his knowledge, and thus can’t seem to separate what should be highlighted  because of its importance, sometimes even when I ask. For example, today while we were traveling along the trail I asked how he knew how to find his way. “Well it’s flagged,” he said matter-of-factly as if the answer was obvious.

As I stood there looking perplexed a look of bewilderment crossed his face then his chin jutted out in front of him nodding towards some trees ahead of us. My eyes followed his chin and looked for trees wrapped with ‘flagging tape’ but saw none. If I was going to get a clear answer from him I had to press further, “I don’t know what you mean.” He walked towards a tree and pointed at a yellow mark made from the tree’s own sap, “My sons and I made these marks nearly 40 years ago with an axe.” The trees then produce the yellow sap to heal the scar which becomes the ‘flag’. That, is what I needed to know.

Once I had these two crucial bits of knowledge the going was easy and I soon lost some of my nervousness and began to really enjoy myself. However, it did not last long. Minutes into our hunt we cut some fresh tracks; ones that made me glad to be carrying a big gun. I was out in front so I saw them first. My mind filtered through all that Clarence had taught me about tracks last year and ruled out most critters. I was just working my way round to the realization that it  was not a wolf, when Clarence caught up to me and looked down at the tracks.

“Oh my aching back,” his eyes widened with delight as he surveyed the scene, “that’s a cougar track. Wow…  it’s fresh and it’s a big one.” Oh good. Cuz that’s what I wanna hear… I looked due south along the nice little ‘moose hunting’ trail that I had–until that moment–felt relatively safe on. Then I looked due east towards the cougar tracks and felt a chill run down my spine: I wanted to get as far from this spot and those tracks as I could, and fast. As my mind worked in overdrive trying to keep my emotions in check, I was only dimly aware that Clarence was verbally reconstructing the scene for me. Suddenly he said something that brought his voice to the foreground, “Well looky here mah dear… there’s three of them traveling together!”

As ridiculous as it may sound, like the Spanish Inquisition, I wasn’t expecting to see cougar tracks, let alone three sets of cougars all traveling together close to where I stood. I was, after all, out looking for moose. Why would there be anything else out here? “A mama and cubs?” I ventured, my mind grinding back into focus. “Noooooooo. See that track here,” he said pointing at the largest of the three sets, “That is a huge Tom print… biggest I ever saw.” In light of the fact that Clarence has hunted cougars for more than 50 years, that statement is saying something (and that something is not something I was comfortable with at that moment!). “Why would cubs be traveling with a tom?” I asked still hoping he would reconsider his analysis. “Oh, those other tracks are not cubs… nooooooo, they are also full grown cougars… probably all toms.”

They had come from the west and were headed due east when they cut our north-south trail in two. As if this wasn’t enough to put a chill in my bones, Clarence had declared the tracks only minutes old. He showed me how they had been walking slowly on the west side of the trail, how they had all stopped in their tracks right on our trail, and how they had taken off on the run to the east: “Hey mah-dear… Why they were probably looking at us!”

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Clarence Hall, cougar hunter through and through.

It was not easy to get Clarence re-focused on the task at hand. In his world cougar trumps moose every time. It was in the midst of yet another one of his ‘I-wish-I-had-my-hounds and do-you-wanna-track-em’ reveries that I thought of another use for the parachute cord in my possibles bag: a Clarence Hall lasso.

As I watched him drift east talking more excitedly with each step, I wasn’t sure how else to get him back on track and headed due south again. It took some time but eventually I more or less got him re-focused, but it certainly wasn’t the end of his ruminations. The last thing he said to me before falling asleep was, “I wish we’d tracked those cougars today. You know, in hindsight.”

 

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Filed under Animal issues, Gathering from the wild, Hunting, Politicking with predators

Cougar capers begin again

This cougar has a belly full of dog.

This cougar has a belly full of dog.

Ahhhhh, spring is in the air and my garden is starting to grow. While I’m excited about all that spring and early summer offers with respect to new life and growing possibilities, there are things I am beginning to dislike about it–like the bears and the cougars. When the first signs of skunk cabbage are up, I know it’s time to brace myself for the possibility of ‘bear encounters’, because it signals that the bears are awake and heading down into the valley from their alpine boudoirs. Cougars, of course, don’t hibernate, so we can have trouble with them at any time of the year; but the longer days mean longer hours of worry.

Two Mondays ago, my neighbours’ dog went missing during the night: and not just any dog, but a Great Pyrennese guard dog. He was one of three Great Pyrennese dogs they kept to guard their sheep and llamas. The next night a second dog went missing, and by Thursday night they were no longer dog owners. I suspected there was a cougar in the area primarily because my dog had been barking her head off for several nights over the past few weeks, and in the direction where the cougars ‘hang out’.

The other behaviour that really solidified the idea was revealed last week while she and I were on our morning walk to the usual spot by the river, where I sit, have my morning coffee and enjoy the view. For the first time on our walks together, she behaved oddly. When we were about half way to the river, she suddenly came barreling back towards me, circled around behind me, sat down at my left hand side facing back from whence she came and began whining earnestly. When I walked forward and urged her to come along, she circled again in front of me, sat down at my left and whined. She made it clear to me that she would not continue on the walk. She has never done this before, so I decided to listen to her and head home. The second I turned back to head home she morphed back into the happy-go-lucky girl she usually is on our walks. That was some time last week. Three mornings ago, she repeated the drama with both my husband and me. I told him that she had done this last week. He agreed that we should listen to her, so we cut the walk short and had coffee on the safety of our porch back at home!

Two days ago, my friend Clarence went to have a look at what remained, if anything, of the neighbours’ dogs. He came by to let me know about the incident; he had ascertained it was definitely a cougar kill. The cougar had killed the first dog and dragged it into the bushes near their house. He found four visible beds around the area where the cat had bedded down to eat, or nap. He described finding the dog half buried in the bushes, “cached under some dirt and leaves, it was.” It had eaten the front half of the dog by the time Clarence found it: “From his rib cage on down to the tail was all that was left of that poor dog. That cougar’s coming back,” he told me. He emphasized that I should be on high alert (as if I am ever not!) and watch my dog carefully: “She wouldn’t last 5 minutes with a cougar.”

Cougar claw, front left paw.

Cougar claw, front left paw.

We arranged to go back the next day so I could get some photos and document this incident. We met yesterday, but the cougar had finished off the rest of the dog during the night. It took the cougar twelve days to eat three huge dogs. Since hunting season for cougar closed at the end of April and doesn’t open again until mid-September, our local hunters could not go after the cougar. Consequently, we had to wait for the Conservation Service.  As luck would have it, we got a new CO about the same day the cougar killed the first dog! How’s that for a welcome to the valley? The Conservation Officer came last night and set a snare for the cougar, and it was caught and killed today. I was invited to take a look. Whew,  now I can relax again for a minute or two! (When I started writing this post, I didn’t know what had transpired today).

Incidentally

I am told this is the 50th cougar killed in the valley since 1999–5 cats per year. There have been 5 killed by Conservation Officers, 2 by automobiles, 1 unknown death (it was found lying dead on a river bank), and the balance (42) by locals. Thirty-one of them were females, seventeen were males and two were unsexed. Some think the high number of females indicates that the Toms are killing the male kittens, and thus we have a higher population of females in the valley, which makes sense from a biological imperative point of view. This latest cougar is the biggest the valley has ever seen; a Tom, he weighed in at 146 pounds (nearly twenty pounds heavier than the last cougar I held!). The CO Service has been kind enough to let someone harvest the meat from the cat so it is not wasted. It will keep the hide and put it into a pool of such skins to be auctioned off  to interested folks like my taxidermist friend. Rumour has it that recent changes of legislation have, or are trying to, put a stop to such an auction, the argument being that wildlife should not be used as a commodity. If this argument carries, then instead of being honored in death the animals will be wasted. I wonder why many people find it acceptable that chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, steers, horses, turkeys, goats, and a host of other ‘domesticated’ animals–and their by-products, like eggs–are used as commodities (often with little regard), but not acceptable that bears, cougars, eagles and so on, are made use of upon their death, after a life of freedom?

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Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Cougars

Cougar capers come to an end

These cougar tracks were made in front of the Fish Hatchery buildings.

These cougar tracks were made in front of the Fish Hatchery buildings.

The day before yesterday, two hunters ‘let the games begin’, and came out winners. Not only have we been victimized by marauding bears this week, but also there has been a cougar, as one neighbour succinctly put it, “terrorizing the neighbourhood”. The cougars ‘games’ began several weeks back when it killed and ate several pet cats, attacked at least two dogs and killed one (that I know of). It has also been feeding on deer from the wild, and was finally spotted again two days ago.

Thankfully, cougar hunting season is open and a couple of hunters took up the challenge and started tracking the cat. The first couple of times, it led them through people’s barns, yards, and even through someone’s shop (and the people hadn’t known it was there!). In the end, the the daylight hours proved too short and the cougar too elusive.

The alarm was raised in the morning when a hatchery worker arrived at work and, spotting the tracks in the snow all around the buildings, immediately notified the hunters. It led the men on a merry chase for several hours in the worst of conditions we’ve had this winter: bitter cold, extreme slush, lousy footing, and icy streams. It led them across several streams (they broke through the ice up to their crotches), then back and forth several times until their dogs finally treed the cougar just beyond the airport, not far from my house, and they shot it; it was a healthy adult male, weighing in at 128 pounds.

I’m relieved because I have seen him around my place, prowling at night. Thanks to him and the raucous vigilance of my dog, many a sleepless night was had these past few weeks. It makes for nerve wracking animal husbandry efforts, knowing that there is a cougar on the prowl, particularly when I have to go out to the goat pen in the wee hours of the morning and again at night in the dark (4.30 pm), to fetch them out or in. With a nod to the cougars’ recent habituation to our community, many people have said about my goats, “Enjoy them while you have them.”

I worry for my animals every day, and I’ve lost lots of them to the various species of resident wildlife. When a cougar is on the prowl, I worry about my goats and dog especially. But what is a girl to do? On the one hand, it is good to leave my dog out because she is my ‘early warning system’ and, for an inexperienced cougar, possibly just enough of a deterrent to make him change his mind. However, the reality is that she is no match for a determined cougar and so she may lose her life if I let her stay outside–even during the day (dogs here are often referred to as ‘cougar bait’ because so many are taken each year).

Cougars are getting more and more bold here in the valley, and we are the worse off for it. Not only have they taken dogs from yards; they have begun taking them right in front of the people walking them, and, on at least one occasion, while one was still on the leash! To date they have killed our pets and attacked adults, severely injuring them, and I fear for our school children who walk to school and play on the school grounds during recess (two cougars were spotted on the Native school grounds last year). Is this any way to live?

When discussing our problems with cougars the other night, the Conservation Officer (who had been dispatched from Williams Lake to deal with our chicken-killing marauding bear) told me we shouldn’t fear cougars. Instead, he said, we should respect them. I felt like saying, ‘Tell that to Cindy Parolin’s family, or to her son, who was attacked first by the cougar, and whose life she was defending when she lost hers, because the cougar killed and half ate her alive before someone shot it.’ Or say that to the myriad other families who have lost loved ones to cougars (or bears), sometimes in their own backyards.

If I don’t have to fear cougars, why have there been these deaths? Why does all the literature on cougars (even from our own Ministry!) advise us to defend ourselves strenuously if attacked. It warns us not to play dead because, unlike non-predatory type bear attacks, when a cougar attacks it intends to kill and eat you. Cougar attacks are always predatory, yet this man, whose job is to serve and protect the public, believes we shouldn’t fear them? Puh-leeease.

The cougar I no longer have to fear.

The cougar I no longer have to fear.

Most people in the valley who hear that kind of statement laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Why? Because they know what a cougar can do to you. The doctors and nurses here know what the cougar (and bear) injuries look like. They know that it only takes 4.5 mins for someone to bleed out if a jugular vein is cut by a claw or fang. Not only that; they are acutely aware of the severely limited operating capacity of our remote hospital. They know just how lucky the few who have been attacked were, to get away with their lives.

In addition, the people here know that there has been a recent change in cougar (and bear) behaviour, and that the new Ministry of Environment policies outlawing the hunting and trapping of cougars and bears as a preventative protection measure are at least partially responsible (and likely the major contributing factor) for the change in predator behaviour.

Unfortunately, the majority of our population now resides in cities, and this majority is creating the policies that us rural folk have to live with. The sad thing is, even though many people have lost their lives because of this thinking, the rules and legislative policies are still not changing. Our society is running an incredibly dangerous experiment by presuming we can ‘live in harmony’ with wildlife. We can’t, never have, never will. It’s a dangerous fallacy and a ridiculous fantasy.

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Filed under Animal issues, Conservation, Cougars, Ethical farming, Food Security, Goats, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food