By: Marlene Affeld
Cougars or mountain lions, also known as pumas, are large, powerful and aggressive predators. Found throughout Montana, a large male may weigh 130-190 pounds while females average 90-130 pounds. Stretching up to nine feet, nose to the tip of their tail, cougars are tawny colored with a dark tip at the end of the tail. Young cubs have spots which slowly fade. A cougar has a lifespan of up to 20 years.
Cougars were first hunted and killed for a bounty in Montana beginning in 1879. In 1971 the Montana legislature classified the cougar as a game animal and as a result lions have regained much of their previous historical distribution in the mountains of Montana. Prior to the arrival of the white man, mountain lions were at one time the most widely distributed land mammal in the western hemisphere ranging from northern Canada to the southern most tip of South America. Now they are found mainly in the western United States, with a strong population in northwestern Montana.
As carnivores, mountain lions prey on deer, elk, moose as well as beaver, grouse, birds, rabbits and rodents and occasional domestic pets and livestock. Domesticated cats are a favored prey. An adaptive and efficient predator, cougars will often take down prey many times their own weight and size. It is not out of character for a 100 pound lion to attack a 400 pound elk. Silent, stealthy and deadly, a cougar will stalk or ambush its prey, most often with a swift and vicious attack from behind or above.
Solitary and shy by nature, cougars are most active at dusk and dawn when prey is active. Nature has provide the mountain lion with a special adaptation for night vision, yet they are easily blinded when caught in the beam of a flashlight or passing headlight. However, be aware and wary, these dangerous cats travel at any time of the day or night.
Mountain lions first breed at about two years old and will then breed at any time, although in Montana most of the cubs are born during the warmer months. The gestation period is 92 days and lions normally give birth at two year intervals. Young lions become independent and leave the mother at about one year. They will however, travel with their litter mates for several months, so it is not unusual to see this normal solitary cat in the company of other lions.
Lions often cover unconsumed parts of their kills with litter and soil and leaves. Should you ever stumble upon a lion’s cache in the woods, depart the area immediately. The lion is probably watching and guarding its prey from a tree above. A mountain lion in defense of food may suddenly become hostile and attack readily. As human population increases, more and more cougars are sighted near and in urban areas. Drawn by the tantalizing aromas of backyard barbecues, pet food and garbage, the big cats overcome their shyness and visit town.
The following stories of recent cat attacks in Montana remind us to be vigilant:
Townsend man kills mountain lion after it crashes through window and into his house
Posted on August 9/08
By the Associated Press
HELENA - “A Townsend man said he had “a little excitement to start the morning” when a mountain lion launched itself through a closed window at his home and tore apart a room in his basement.
Scott Vine, a 45-year-old ranch worker, said the female adolescent cat set off an alarm on his property at about 6:30 a.m. Thursday. “My dogs started raising hell,” said Vine, whose wife and two stepchildren, ages 14 and 20, were also home at the time. “I looked out the window and there was a lion.” Vine said he grabbed his rifle moments before the mountain lion crashed into his house. “That window exploded,” he said. “All of the sudden I had glass, I had curtain, I had lion coming over my head.” Vine retreated upstairs as the 60- to 70-pound feline made its way to the basement, where it knocked items from shelves and clawed at the walls. Vine and a friend who brought a shotgun and a rifle with him killed the animal about 20 minutes later.
Rusty Ruchert, a warden for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the killing was a legal defense of private property, so Vine and his family only need to worry about cleaning up the mess. The warden said the window looked like a dark hole, and the cat probably thought it was a cave. “It was looking for refuge and picked the wrong hole to jump into,” he said. The Vines live northeast of Townsend, about halfway between the town and the Helena National Forest boundary.”
Lion pounces on hunter - By JIM MANN/Daily Inter Lake
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2007 12:37 AM CST
Backpack saves man from more serious injuries
A big-game hunter was jumped by a stalking mountain lion Sunday in the Swan Valley’s Squeezer Creek drainage. The young man, who was not identified by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, managed to walk several miles to reach his vehicle, then drive himself to Kalispell Regional Medical Center for treatment.
The hunter suffered a gash on his leg as well as puncture wounds and scratches, according to a press release from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He was treated at the hospital and released on Sunday. Warden Chuck Bartos interviewed the hunter several times and said the man was hunting alone Sunday morning when he heard a scream that sounded like a mountain lion. A short time later, he heard a growl and turned to see the mountain lion only 10 to 15 feet away.
“The man dropped his rifle and rushed to get behind a tree. The lion quickly caught up and pounced on the hunter’s back, knocking him into the tree,” a press release from Fish, Wildlife and Parks states. “The collision caused the lion to lose its grip and the hunter was able to reach his pistol and fire a shot.” The noise apparently spooked the lion, causing it to flee. As it ran, the hunter fired several more shots in the lion’s general direction. The hunter picked up his rifle and made his way back to his pickup truck, along the way encountering two hunters from Kalispell, J.B. Stone and Scott Daumiller.
“We asked him if he saw any game and he said, ‘a lion, but it saw me first,’” Stone told the Inter Lake Monday. “I asked him if he was OK and he told us what happened.” The hunter’s pants and backpack were torn, but he did not appear seriously injured, Stone said.“He was pale and his hands were shaking like a leaf,” Stone said. “He was still coming down off of this thing. I mean, he was wound up.” Stone said the hunter told them he had run the four miles back down the road while looking over his shoulder for the lion.
Bartos said the man got to the hospital with help from relatives and received five stitches for a claw wound on his right calf. He was treated for scratches on his back and a few puncture wounds on the back of his head. Bartos said the man’s backpack probably prevented more serious injuries because the pack was shredded, reflecting the protection it provided. Stone agreed, saying that if he hadn’t been wearing a backpack, “he would have been screwed.” Stone said the worst wound was on the hunter’s right calf, where the cat slashed through the man’s gaiter and pants. He related one humorous note from the injured hunter: “He said, ‘Oh, no, my wife is never going to let me go hunting alone again.’”
Eric Wenum, a regional wildlife conflict specialist, said it was the first documented lion attack resulting in an injury in Northwest Montana in many years. Wenum said the chances of a lion encounter increase at this time of year as hunters use calls and rattling antlers that get the attention of predators as well as deer. As deer congregate in their traditional wintering areas, signs of mountain lions can be expected to follow. Encounters between people and the elusive cats have been rare. “Given the number of people who recreate in the forests of Northwest Montana, and the number of lions, there’s always lots of potential for an encounter,” said Jim Williams, regional wildlife manager. “But even considering this potential, documented attacks are extremely rare.”
Wenum said there is no response to a mountain lion that guarantees a person’s safety, but there are some rules of thumb:
• Do not run from a lion. Move slowly and back away.
• Make enough noise in lion country to avoid a surprise encounter.
• Keep youngsters close and in sight at all times.
• Never approach a lion. Give it a way out of a close situation.
• Stay calm and talk to the lion in a confident voice.
• Do not turn your back; maintain eye contact.
• Do all you can to enlarge your profile. Do not crouch.
• If a lion behaves aggressively, arm yourself with a large stick.
• If the lion attacks fight back with whatever means you have.
• Pepper spray is very effective in deterring a lion attack.
Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by e-mail at email@example.com