Mountain Lions used to roam this country coast to coast and top to bottom. But after settlers came and tamed Missouri they disappeared to more remote areas shoved out by progress. Back a few years ago, it was unheard of, downright silly, to tell anyone you saw a Mountain Lion, Puma, Panther or Catamount depending on your vernacular or raising and subject yourself to much ridicule. But now it is becoming more common place to hear folks tell about seeing these secretive cats and tell stories of missing livestock in the wake of these killing machines.
With the increase in the placement of trail cameras, the secret is getting out about the expanding territories of these magnificent creatures, but yet, at least here in Missouri, we know very little about them.
Ranchers, hunters and outdoorsmen in the west are well familiar with these big cats. I remember one call I received while working in Wyoming for the Game and Fish. A rancher was concerned about tracks he had found near his barn. I arrived and found not only were there tracks surrounding his barn but a nice trail of tracks leading to the house just outside the big picture window. Apparently the cats are just as curious about us as we are of them. My advice to him was to keep your livestock close and your kids closer.
Theory is that young cats are coming from the west in search of new territories and finding the hunting rather easy in Missouri. If the self re-introduction theory is true, then the next logical step is a stable breeding population supplying the Show-Me State with a steady supply of big kitties. Not only is the Mountain Lion a good hunter but he is at the top of the food chain with man being his only predator. Given what is known about their biology, adaptability, and their extremely secretive behavior, they are most likely and are currently reproducing in Missouri.
All a good cat needs to survive are the basics. Shelter, food supply, a place to make baby kittens and enough remote habitat to hide and catch supper. Missouri’s got all that in spades and then some.
So what does that mean for the average Missourian. Nothing if you never leave the concrete jungle. But for those who still venture out into the wild it is one more thing to watch out for. It used to be when I was a kid you didn’t have to worry about things that could eat you when you went for a walk in the woods. Not so much anymore. Any prudent outdoorsmen that wants to remain an outdoorsman should be aware of the possibility of an encounter with one of natures greatest hunters and stealthy creatures.
Now these cats are not supernatural, but they do have the ability to sneak up on you without you knowing it. There are several tales of encounters with big cats stalking people and even attacking full grown individuals. Although rare it does occur where populations of lions coincide with human traffic into the wild. I remember while elk hunting in the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho, I was sitting above a creek on an outcropping of rocks. I glanced to the creek below and saw a lion step out into the creek, and then faded into the mist like he was never there. Goose bumps were crowding out goose bumps and the hairs on the back of my neck was trying to stand on its neighbor. Another time in Wyoming I was Mule Deer hunting and was sitting in a rock bluff overlooking the valley below. It was dark when I arrived and when it got light enough to see I noticed I was sitting between two, well defined, cat tracks. Another uneasy moment brought to you by Mother Nature and her kids.
The hard truth is they are here and they are protected. Now comes our responsibility as stewards of the wild to deal with them and to give them their rightful place in our wild areas of the state. So if you are out and about this fall doing your best to bag what ever it is you are hunting, be aware that you may not be alone in the woods. Ol’ Mr. Catamount just might be hunting the same thing you are.