MOUNTAIN LION SIGHTINGS ON THE INCREASE

Discussion in 'LUKE CLAYTON' started by Luke Clayton, Jul 14, 2008.

  1. Luke Clayton

    Luke Clayton New Member

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    "MOUNTAIN LION SIGHTINGS ON THE INCREASE" by Luke Clayton

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    Luke Clayton


    I have spent a lifetime in the outdoors but have never actually sighted a wild mountain lion. I’ve come close, very close, on several occasions but can truly say I don’t remember ever actually sighting a lion in the wild. Mountain Lions are extremely secretive animals but sightings are becoming more and more common in Texas and much of the Southwest, probably because their numbers are on the increase and the human population is also increasing; there are simply more sets of eyes scanning the woods and roadsides these days than a few years ago.

    Just this past week, I was forwarded an email from a friend that contained a picture of a huge, 260 pound mountain lion that was hit recently by an automobile near Aspermont, Texas. Most cats weigh between 80 and 125 pounds. This one had obviously been eating very well. A rancher in the area reported seeing a huge lion take down a steer that weighed over 300 pounds recently. Chances are pretty good it was the big cat that was hit by a motorists; there simply are not that many lions of this size, even in captivity. It seems the cat was badly injured and had to be put down by local authorities. The set of photos of the big cat included a close up of his paw, which appeared to be huge.

    I’ve been fascinated by these big cats most of my life and, growing up in East Texas, I’ve heard my fair share of ‘cat tales’, most of which I questioned the validity. I grew up in rural Red River County back in the fifties and sixties and remember many tales of neighbors hearing the big cats that made sounds in the night that sounded like ‘the screams of a woman’.

    Much later in life, I actually heard the screams of a mountain lion female in heat on a ranch in Jack County. A friend had two female mountain lions in a big enclosure on his ranch and the cats were about as tame as a mountain lion gets. I remember watching him take the cats for walks on a leash- and wondering just how sane he and his wife were to put so much trust in an animal that made it’s living killing deer sized animals. One night while I was at the ranch hunting hogs, one of the female lions began screaming, sounding much like the amplified version of a house cat in heat. The next morning, we saw the fresh tracks of a male lion around the enclosure. I did observe just how unbelievably fast a mountain lion can be on that hunt. I harvested a couple of wild hogs and my buddy wanted to feed the livers to his cats. He opened the door of the enclosure, tossed the fresh meat on a little ledge near the floor. Both cats eyed the meat with that predatory stare that makes the hairs on one’s arm raise. While I was transfixed by the stare of the larger lion, she made her move. In an instant, she dropped off her perch, hooked the meat with the claws in one paw and in the same fluid motions, jumped back up to the tree limb and began feeding.

    Just this past spring, I had a close encounter with a female mountain lion and her cub-but, I never actually sighted them, only their tracks that were minutes old in the soft clay after a recent heavy rain. I’m certainly no authority on mountain lions but I have read a great deal about them, in efforts to learn more about an animal that, to me at least, is the essence of everything wild. On this turkey hunt, I was hiking to a remote section of the ranch, walking along an old ranch road, stopping often to call. It had come a spring downpour a few hours earlier, the rain had stopped only 30 minutes before I began my hunt. In the soft clay, I noted the very clear tracks of a mature lion and her half-grown cub. I had been hiding in the brush along the road, with my turkey decoy out and making the plaintive yelps of a hen turkey. No telling where the cats were at that moment but one thing was crystal clear: they were on that road thirty minutes OR LESS earlier! Later, I discovered a deeply rutted gulley with undercuts that traversed the ranch I was hunting. I’m pretty sure the cats were holed up somewhere along this drainage.

    THIRTY YEARS ago, on a lease near Antelope, Texas, I had constructed a deer stand on the side of a little mountain, overlooking a creek drainage and little meadow. Deer and turkey were plentiful along the creek and they came out into the meadow early and late to feed. A buddy, Johnny Welch, was hunting with me and I put him in the stand on the mountainside. Later that morning, back at the old camp house, he told me about a big mountain lion he had sighted along the creek and later took me back and showed me the tracks in the sand. I had spent untold hours in that stand and never saw a lion!

    WHILE hunting mule deer on Clayton William’s West Pyle ranch out in the Trans Pecos country of far west Texas, I met an old cowboy that guided on the ranch. The gentleman was well into his seventies and had grown up in Wyoming, working on remote cattle and sheep ranches. He told me about the time he watched a mother mountain lion teaching her cubs to hunt. Through binoculars, over a half mile away, he watched the pen containing about 30 head of sheep. He saw a flicker of movement and spotted the cats stalking the sheep. He put the spurs to his horse and made a mad dash in an attempt to intercept the cats before they reached the sheep. When he arrived on the scene, he watched the year old cubs chasing and killing one of the sheep. Ten of the animals had already been wounded or killed. Mountain lions are very efficient predators. It’s said they eat, on the average, one deer per week.

    With the boon in numbers of feral hogs in much of Texas and the southwest, I wonder if all the available wild pork is not one of the reason for the obvious increased number of lion sightings. My buddy Jason Bonner who runs a hunting operation up in northeast Texas near Jefferson, once showed me a spot where a lion had hidden the remains of a recent kill, a big wild boar. My friend Buck Criner lives on the edge of what has become a pretty heavily populated area about 25 miles east of Dallas. A couple of years ago, he watched a mature mountain lion traveling down a heavily wooded strip that led from the Trinity River bottoms, probably a mature male on the prowl for a mate during breeding season.

    I was hunting the Richards Ranch near Jacksboro, Texas with Randy Oldfield ten years ago. I was in a bow stand about 300 yards from Randy when a female lion walked under the stand from which Randy was hunting. As luck would have it, I never got a glimpse of the cat.

    Two years ago, I was in Schleicher county in western Texas, deer hunting with my buddy Sam Henderson. Sam told me about a recent close encounter with a mountain lion that occurred on his ranch. Seems he was guiding a hunter on a deer hunt and, from his deer stand, heard a commotion that sounded to be coming from thick cover 75 yards or so back in the woods. After the hunt, Saw took his rifle and walked back into the brush to take a look. He found a dead yearling buck with it’s neck broken with claw and tooth marks around it’s neck. The ground was covered with mountain lion tracks. Sam had obviously spooked the cat from it’s recent kill.

    Another good friend, Roger Hill had his deer stand set up in a remote section of woods not far from Lake Texoma. Roger saw a couple of mountain lions on several occasion over a 6 month period around his deer feeder. It was obvious the cats were eating well, probably on fresh venison they killed around the corn feeders.

    I seem to always miss sighting a wild mountain lion by a matter of minutes. I’ve seen their sign and even heard their blood curdling screams. Hopefully one day, I’ll actually spot one in the wild. But, if not, it’s enough just knowing there’s a much more efficient predator than me roaming the wilds!

    Listen to Luke on the radio at www.catfishradio.com and check out the new videos at lukeshotspots.com