Monday, November 24, 2008

Mountain Lions and Bobcats.



Okay those that know me, know that I like happy and fun things, so sadly I have nothing happy and fun to say about the Mountain Lion or the Bobcat. My first experience with meeting a Mountain Lion was when I was in school in the second grade, when a person by the name of Floyd Holmes was the government trapper. One day Floyd, the father of my best friend at the time, Charlie Holmes, brought a Mountain Lion to school for the kids to see. The Mountain Lion was quite dead and tied across the hood of an old military surplus Jeep. I couldn’t help but think that it was a beautiful cat, and I was greatly saddened by the experience.

The Cat was killed because it was caught killing sheep. Killing sheep was a capitol offence back in the fifties. Not only was the Mountain Lion not protected, indeed there was a bounty on them. The thinking at the time was that the only good Mountain Lion was a dead Mountain Lion. They were hunted or poisoned with strychnine until they were almost extinct. They used baited “getters” that shot cyanide in the mouths of Coyotes, and they used “compound 1080” to kill meat eating animals instantly. The ranchers didn’t allow meat eaters to be around. If the neighbor was dumb enough to let his dogs run, they were also a casualty. The ranchers thought that was fair, and so did the owner of the offending dogs. Dogs were smart back then and they minded well. They didn’t run off and get in trouble. The ones that did, didn’t come back. I don’t think that people around here today appreciate how smart the dogs were back then. The dogs that people have today don’t mind, and all they know how to do is bite things and crap.

Being raised on a ranch, it was well understood that our livestock was our food and anything that bothered our food died. When it came time to slaughter the animals, the children were not protected from it, and were expected to help with the butchering.

I guess what I’m saying is that I understand why the Mountain lions were killed. The rancher thought of it as “survival”. You’ve heard me use that phrase before.

One of my more humorous experiences with a mountain lion was back when I was in high school, my best friend at the time and I went on a “double date” to the movies, and on the way home we went up to the top of the hill on Old Briceland Road. There was a beautiful grassy point that looked over the whole South Fork Canyon in the Garberville area. The moon was full and we tuned in The Wolfman Jack show on radio station XERB. He was real cool with his wolf howl. And, he played that good old rock and roll music.

It was a hot night and there was a full moon, things were real nice, and both of the girls were leaning on our shoulders. Just when things couldn’t get much sweeter, we heard a blood curdling female scream, It was long and chilling and at the end of it was a cough and a low gurgle, like something had ripped the girls throat out. The girls instantly locked the doors and asked us to roll up the windows real quick.
Well, I thought that it was real humorous that the girls thought that someone was being murdered, and I told them that, no, that was the mating call of a Mountain Lion, and I had heard it before. Contrary to my plan of easing their fears, that only compounded their fears and they had to go home right then. Period. No argument!

My experience with a Bobcat has been similar. Other than seeing them running across a field somewhere. Most of the times that I have seen a bobcat is at the scene of a kill, a chicken, a goose, or a duck. When you find the sign of a cat kill, they are easy to find. Usually you will see their tracks at the scene of the kill. You get your gun and go looking. If you look around near the edges of a log or a rock you will see that they have covered their kill with sticks, rocks, dirt, and grass that they have scratched up. If you go to the spot, you will find that the cat has buried their kill. Then all you have to do is look around yourself in the trees, and you will see a bobcat face peering at you. They will never leave their kill while there is meat on the bones. As soon as they finish that they will kill again. That’s when you take your gun, put the crosshairs between its eyes and drop the hammer.

If you knew me, you would know that I don’t enjoy doing that. But if you knew me, you would know that I have thought these things out, and know that I have to do what has to be done, and accept that I did the right thing, and go on.

So you might guess why I didn’t want to do this post. Cats are not a happy experience for me.

All cats of the north coast are similar in nature, they stay with their kills, and protect it until it is eaten up. Then they hunt and kill again. The Mountain Lion has a range of about a fifty mile radius, and they normally travel a complete circuit once a year. If you see one, chances are you will see the same cat in the same place next year. Cat hunters, that pay attention to those sorts of things usually have no trouble finding a cat to hunt. Due to their speed and agility cats are usually hunted with dogs. The cats will readily “Tree” which means that they will climb a tree. Then the hunter will show up, put his crosshairs on the cats forehead and drop the hammer.

Cats are solitary animals and they call to each other in mating season. The air in the mating season in the country is filled with big scary screams and gurgling, Just like that back alley in the city that’s filled with alley cats. Only the Country cats are much scarier.

We have bobcats in our front yard in Benbow, they live on ground squirrels, cottontail rabbit, jack rabbit, quail, and turkey. Mountain lion live mostly on slow deer, and occasionally a sheep or a calf. Sometimes they will kill a human that is dumb enough to run from them. Running will trigger their “kill instinct”. A cat usually won’t kill something facing them, and looking big, and making noises that convinces them that you will kick the crap out of them. If you look around and see their buried kill, move as best you can, very slowly in the opposite direction. It won’t make any difference how big and scary you look if you are moving toward their kill. They will kill you if you get too close. People are usually attacked when they inadvertently get too close to the cats “kill”. Even a Bobcat will attack you if you get too close to its kill.

So, there you have it folks, the good, the bad, the ugly, the happy, and the sad. Such is the life of a country boy, it’s not always pleasant.

18 comments:

spyrock said...

some people we know had a lot of trouble down in big sur and carmel valley with mountain lions before all the fires. so i've done a lot of thinking about them this year. my cousin karen doctored one when she was still married and living on a dairy in petaluma. she got quite a reputation for that. but she does have a healing touch with horses and most animals. she told me that they like to focus and anything that rattles or clangs like empty cans bothers them. of course, i'm into music of the spheres windchimes so i've got them hanging everywhere. the only time i saw a wild mountain lion was on the way to rattlesnake creek in mendocino national forest as he crossed the dirt road ahead of us.
when i was a kid, i used to try to shoot peace eagles with my bow and arrows in the hills behind grandma nye's place above the bolinas lagoon. the bobcats would just sit there watching me the whole time and never move. sometimes i would shoot straight up in the air and the arrow would just miss me on the way down. but it would be a sweet time, the vultures, bobcats, and me.

oldmanriver said...

No judgements here.
My second ten year home in this area came with a lion scratching post(a small madrone),and the story of the previous owner witnessing his small dog carried off.
My cat has been a very reliable alarm system. There is a certain way he runs inside and goes upstairs that has been a good indicator to look around outside.
Second to last lion sighting occurred when Nimbus raced in from the front drive area and before I could warn him, ran full speed into a screen door going out on the back deck. After seeing that he didnt break his neck, I snuck out front to watch a mountain lion strolling down the drive tail erect and swishing casually around.
Last sighting occured first thing one morning when I stumbled out on the deck to give the roses some nitrogen. The older, more zen cat sat at my feet while Nimbus was on alert for something looking sharply to my right. I figured he was watching a bird and went back in, followed casually by the older cat. Moments later I observed Nimbus tensing and racing off to enter through the catdoor and flee upstairs with "saucer-eyes". When I went out to look, there was a large body inside the fenceline forty yards below the deck which I mistook initially for a deer. When I got my glasses on I gasped and understood what they are called mountain lion. I had a pretty good eye to eye til he flung/climbed over the six foot fence. He was big and had I had none of my faux St. Francis "nice-kitty" feelings, but a very healthy respect. I realized that my previous sightings here were probably females. Part of the power of this experience was that the distance from me on the wateringdeck to the fenceline at the angle that the cat was on alert is 20 feet. If I had looked up I might have flown through the catdoor myself.

Anonymous said...

A friend and I witnessed a very dark cat one August day as it crossed the road in front of us. Its unusual charcoal brown color threw us, and led me to ask around. The answer I got back was that the lions and bobcats turn dark in the fall around here. Anyone heard a confirmation of the coloring change?

Indie said...

Since I began attending HSU in 2005, there have been two, maybe even three, mountain lions ON CAMPUS! If I have to walk across campus at dusk, I try to go in a group.

My husband killed one on his small property in Shasta County. His kids were small at the time so he took no chances.

I used to worry sending my kids down to the bus stop in the mornings, and I always made them come inside right at dusk, since mountains lions are creatures of the dawn and dusk (crepuscular).

Also, I saw a bobcat standing on top of our compost bin when we lived in Piercy many years ago. A very striking sight.

Love your stories, Ernie!

oldmanriver again said...

Crepuscular is a great word to teach us Indie!
Beg to differ tho' as all five of my Humboldt within-50 yard mountain lion encounters have been between 8-4in the daytime.
Dawn and dusk are good hunting times I suspect, or conjecture. Or perhaps closer to civilization and dogs they are seen more at those times?
A few hundreds of yards away on my access road a neighbor was "led" up the road by a lion that was ahead of him, As the cat walked on my friend, his stick, and his little dog followed. When the cat stopped--they stopped. It went on a bit until the cat disappeared from the moonlight and the road was in shadow. At that point my friend did something I never would have thought of much less done. He cut around where he had last seen the cat by going off into the underbrush and light forest making lots of noise. It worked but, I would not have done that!
I did stalk that swishy tale cat down my drive very stealthfully and slowly for about 100 feet til the hair on my neck told me that our roles had reversed. Good sense restored I retreated back to the domecile.
These are not even my best mountain lion story but I have blog-hogging something serious. Heraldo's world is watching, we need some stories.

oldmanriverseditor said...

swishy tailed, beg pardon.

ross sherburn said...

mountain lions,badgers,bobcats,bigfoot!!!when i was a kid,hiking the hills between garberville&benbow,i was more worried about those big ol' green horse lizards gittin me!

lodgepole said...

One time, way back when I was a kid in the hills, I saw a mountain lion.
My mom and I were walking on a country road when I noticed something watching us from the knoll above. It was a lion crouched down on its belly. After I pointed it out to my mom the lion realized its cover was blown. It proceeded to do the you don't see me and i'm outta here.I remember it creeped away without ever standing up, and as it was leaving its back remained flat like a table top.

omr said...

I got permission to share my staredown at 15 feet encounter in Colorado, but I need to build up my hot air reserves to tell it. Seems punctuation and grammar take leave of my posts as I do go on and on. My friends don't think it takes as long for me to fill up as I think I do, but I will still wait til this eve.

Catmandoo said...

Jest me, OMR, but after getting the blogmeister's permission to ramble on, I thought I would change my name to show off my background. Few people can claim, or would, that they got a 1/4 college credit in animal tracks and scat. But it is true.
So, having my intellect opened during the darknixon years prepared me for....going immediately into a monastery. And so I lived at the edge of a small Colorado town in a large three story house whose backyard was the Pikes Peak national forest. It was an Esalen stylie Taoist meditation center, thus we had a constant flow of characters passingthrough.
One late morning, a primitive skills fella in all homemade leather clothing was cleaning his muzzle loading rifle on our kitchen table. Much to our amazement, we saw my cat out the window climbing into view going up very small branches of a tree just off the porch outside the 2nd story kitchen. When a large tawny head and body came into view in that windowframe, the buckskinner got excited and yelled he was "gonna get him a pelt", to which I responded I would sooner wrap his rifle around his neck (the meditation effect hadn't yet taken), and we all went out on the porch.
I do not know why the cat stayed in place so long, but five of us got to the railing to watch this cat 15 feet or less away at eye level in the tree. The look in his eyes I will have forever. The Other. After more than a few seconds of breathless staredown, it turned and 'walked' down the tree with enormous grace.
We were all in our twenties and as we all know the young male brainpan takes a while to fill in.
So someone had the bright idea to feed the mountain lion, and went and got some hamburger from the fridge. We went down to where we had last seen him. I was arguing against the feeding idea, but got nowhere at dissuading them, and so I tagged along to watch. Sure enough he was in the bushes at the base of the first story, and three fools tried to get close enough from two angles to toss the meat to the cornered animal. Well, the fellas got about 15 feet away again and got a good rush as the animal shot between them and ran off. Never snarled at us, maybe it could sense we weren't bright enough to be a threat.
When an old mountain lion enters civilization there is usually only one way for the story to go, and the animal control folks did their job.
All of my mountain lion sightings have taken place within 5-10 miles toward the coast from Redway.
I have been blessed with more than a few mountain lion encounters than most, and I hope some of that excitement has come through.
Mercifully, done gabbin'.

Rose said...

Ernie, do you remember the guy - late 1970s - who had a pet mountain lion? Live in McKinleyville, I think. He had a small red pickup truck, as I remember it, and the lion rode around in the back. He'd be in the pickup while the guy was in the coffee shop (Stanton's, Velma's and Toni's, don't know if it was called Toni's back then) -

One story he told was that the mountain lion was smart - it wouldn't eat hot dogs. :)

I don't remember much else, though he was a well known fixture in town, one of those things you don't realize won't be around forever, and all of a sudden it is gone.

Anonymous said...

where is our salmon krick cousin Kym with a cougar story from out thar?

Ernie Branscomb said...

Rose, yes I remember him, but I wouldn't know him now if I saw him. My eyes were always riveted on the cat.

Kym said...

I swear I left a comment here several days ago about how good your posts are, Ernie, but it done got et.

I've got a few mountain lion and bobcat and bear stories but I'm holding on to them hopin' for a photo. I know if I tell the story, I'll never get the picture and I so want to take one of the big predators.

But I will say that when I was a kid down at Smith Point the "painters" as we called them used to scream like a woman being murdered on the other side of the river.

Rose said...

The guy with the pet mountain lion was named fred Billings. He drove an old Mercedes and a small pickup truck. The cat would sit on top of the Mercedes, or in the back of the truck. - The Mercedes had the words "Coffeetime" in the back window. He actually had a series of cats. (I asked around) He died, we think in the late 70s, early 80s.

There also used to be a grocery store at the corner of Washington and School Red in McKinleyville, called Ocean Top or Ocean View - the owner had a Bear in the back, and on Friday nights they had Bear wrestling.

olmanriver said...

Here is a great story about a man who saved a mountain lion cub over on the coast. http://www.humboldtsentinel.com/081103d.htm

olmanriver said...

I should mention that this last article should discourage anyone from rescuing a mountain lion cub...those stinkin' badges types will punish you severely.

olmanriver said...

as of monday (12/15) there is a great photo of a mother lion and three subadults strolling through the area around the n. fork of james creek posted on the arcata eye webpage.
seems unusual for that many cubs to survive out of a litter, but that is me surmising.