“Adoration is as alien to wild nature as blasphemy. Nature transcends love, goodness, malevolence or evil. It is simply a primordial force – shining, aloof and brooding, a vast sweep of power too awful to be imbued with human emotions, virtues or mischiefs. It is presumptuous to adore nature as it is to kick a redwood”.
Many of our followers are aware that I have done a lot of security work over the years, and I still do. I’ve spent many sleepless nights on one type of patrol or another, and I’ve learned to notice many things that most people miss in the world all around them.
Last night I missed a chance to see a big mountain lion moving just a short distance from my solitary post. It was reported to me by an excited and breathless observer, who apparently had some trouble believing his own eyes. He just had to tell somebody, and I’m glad it was me.
The sighting took place on the black top and concrete of a two-track bridge over a cold, clear river in western Colorado, not far from the unfenced yards of several exclusive homes and the manicured grounds of a large country club and golf course. It seemed an unlikely spot to find such a magnificent predator, or so he thought. For his part, the tawny beast was no doubt chagrined to find himself caught in such an exposed and vulnerable position.
The lion enjoys good company as he hunts. Coyote, the all-seeing trickster grows more bold and opportunistic with each passing year, having learned long ago to take advantage of the nonchalance of the family pet. He may have learned it from the big cat. Likewise, encounters with black bears are increasing, as are people and bear conflicts. As a result we receive many complaints about coyotes and bears on the property that I roam, and it looks like it may become particularly bad in this time of terrible drought.
After all, we are surrounded by the rocky mountain west, with national forest and other undeveloped lands close at hand. Still, a mountain lion report is big and electrifying news which will surely surge throughout the small community by morning. This creature rules by stealth, and it is no surprise that most people have never seen one outside of a zoo or animal park.
I have been quite fortunate to study them several times in my adventures and wilderness travels. I’ve spied them without them seeing me, and I’ve noted their reaction when they realize they haven’t seen me first. I’ve hunted them several times, and have found myself standing with the bawling hounds under the killing tree, with an angry and snarling cougar above. I’ve followed their distinctive paw prints over hill and dale, and on more than one occasion found their tracks following me. I love to watch them under any circumstance, and to see them do their thing for any amount of time is an awe-inspiring experience that marks an indelible impression. I can see a stalking cat right now, in my mind.
What I don’t like is this long-tailed ghost watching me, particularly when Idon’t know it. I have absolutely no doubt that it’s happened, countless times, at close range and but a primordial fang away. I’d take a bet that it’s happened to you too, if you have spent any significant amount of time in puma country. Fates can change quickly, as the tip of a cat’s tail twitches, measuring what to do. But of course, we will never really know, and it only adds to the mystery and magic of it all.
I would have explained this to my wide-eyed mountain lion man, if I could have gotten a word in edgewise. There are some noteworthy visitors out there in the black night, just out of reach of headlight beams or human consciousness.
Think about that the next time you enjoy a hike on a shadowy mountain trail in a quaking aspen grove, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up for some unknown reason. You may wish to honor that sense. It’s there for a purpose.
Keep it in the back of your mind the next time you go out at night to check on your chickens or other animals in your backyard or back forty. Catch a breath, and take a second to wonder about what just made a nearly silent footfall, behind or above.
The possibility of a lion nearby reminds us of the wilds at the edges, and grounds us in the realities of the natural world. It’s an unsettling thought for some, and one that many of us have to live with when we spend time in the places that we love. Still, I would rather live where I live knowing that a mountain lion lives here too, rather than in a place known to have no mountain lions, and wishing that it did.
It’s a reality I am happy to accept, in the hope of but a quick glimpse, in the corner of an eye.
There is not a week goes by that someone does not ask if we have had any puma reports, and I must say, I’m a bit anxious myself. The leaves in the high county are beginning to turn color already, far too early it would seem, and it won’t be long before the early snows are as high as an elk’s belly and the mule deer are headed for the lower valleys along the river. The big cats are sure to follow, and it is then that there is a fair chance to record them on a well placed trail camera. We hope that the hunting is good this season, for us, and for mountain lions everywhere.
You can see a short video of our night-time visitor here.
Game trail cameras are an invaluable tool for those wishing to document the comings and goings of our wild neighbors, particularly in those magic hours between dusk and dawn. Strategically placed, they can capture a delightful display of animal movements not otherwise observed. It’s great entertainment, with the promise of true surprise within easy reach. My anticipation of the next photo or the next video can barely be contained. You never really know what you’re gonna get…
We use several cameras scattered about the property, which we move on a regular basis. Our main interest lies in the activities of the creatures with two legs. We watch for trespass, intrusion, and foul play. That, of course, is a story for another time. Animal sightings are the bonus feature to the main event.
Today’s review of the image collection was no exception. They held the usual cast of characters. Marmots, foxes, and inquisitive raccoons. Wandering pets, and the occasional biker. One frame held the faint outline of a bear in the shadows, and another the up close face of a young mule deer.
And as you may have guessed by now, one camera captured a video segment of a mature lion on the prowl. At first there was nothing but the wide emptiness of the night, then the world lit up as the beams of infrared caught the ghostly figure like the flashes from an electronic campfire.
He was big and long and solidly built, with well-defined muscles that rippled on his bones as he padded easily back to who knows where. No doubt he had used this route before.
A house loomed large here too, just out of camera range. I know, because I set the camera there myself.
My reaction was sharp, and visceral. It’s one thing to hear someone else talk excitedly about their sighting and personal experience. You want to believe, yet, there’s always a little room for doubt in undocumented reports. It’s quite another matter when you actually see a lion for yourself, or have indisputable evidence in hand.
Real is real, and but a moment away from memory. It is undefinable proof of the untamed mystery of our realm, accessible to all just inches from the comforts of our daily routines.
I shall do my best to stay out of the big cat’s path and unseen wanderings, yearning, for his eventual return.
Big Mule Deer bucks are experts at stealth, evasion, and concealment, and they always seem to completely vanish during the annual rifle seasons.
I have watched this guy come along for several years now, and he has returned once again to his favorite doe-chasing country on unhunted, private lands. A battered old warrior, for sure, and a survivor of bears, mountain lions, and the relentless coyote hoards.
He may be even bigger than ever, certainly taller, but not wider, and perhaps just a bit on the downside of his prime. Still, he seems unchallenged among his competitors, though no doubt, some will run the gauntlet of horns before the end of the current breeding season.
My guess is he will die of old age before some lucky hunter can surprise him in his transitional haunts, if, in fact, they be anywhere where he could be legally hunted. I should know, for I have tried.
But there is hope, there is always hope…and there is always, God Willing, next year!
I am honored to announce that I have recently been approved for active membership in the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
The OWAA is the world’s leading organization of outdoor media professionals. They are the largest association of its kind too, and the oldest, having recently turned 90 this past April.
I am not quite that long in the tooth, but I can say that membership in this group is something that I first aspired to belong more than 50 years ago.
As stated on their website:
The mission of Outdoor Writers Association of America® is to improve the professional skills of our members, set the highest ethical and communications standards, encourage public enjoyment and conservation of natural resources, and be mentors for the next generation of professional outdoor communicators.
What we’re about:
OWAA is a nonprofit, international organization that represents a diverse group of professional communicators dedicated to sharing the outdoor experience. Members of OWAA are experienced outdoor people, the nation’s best:
film and video producers
bloggers and new media communicators (e.g. podcasters, webcasters)
communications and PR professionals
We aim to offer world-class resources, support, and inspiration for our members as they inform the public about outdoor activities, issues and the responsible use of our natural resources. Through OWAA membership and adherence to its creed and code of ethics, members are commissioned to provide honest, thorough, informed, responsible and unbiased outdoor coverage.
Join OWAA as an Outdoor Media Member
APPLY NOW!OWAA is comprised of nearly 800 individual outdoor communicators from the broad, modern spectrum of outdoor beats, from shooting to camping, backpacking to kayaking, wildlife watching to mountain climbing. From these diverse backgrounds and disciplines, members gather beneath the OWAA banner to hone skills, share philosophies, develop profitable business strategies and network with peers, conservation policymakers and industry trendsetters.
Criteria for Individual Membership
You qualify as an Active Member of OWAA if you meet one of the following:
You have sold and published—in any media—five stories, articles, photographs, videos or illustrations on outdoor-related topics in the past year.
You have published a book or worked on an income-producing film or any form of audio on outdoor-related topics in the past five years.
You are a full-time outdoor communicator in any media. Please see below for a list of qualifying positions.
You are a citizen journalist who writes for a blog or other digital media that is updated with original content at least twice a month and receives 500 AUVs (Average Unique Views) per month over a 12-month period, or generates income.
If you do not qualify for Active Member status, you qualify as an Associate Member if you are paid for some work described above. If you do not join as an Active or Associate Member and are enrolled in a course of study at the secondary or higher education level, you qualify as a Student Member.
OWAA’s bylaws and Board regulate the membership classes, criteria, and application process, and supplement and control what is said here. All applications must be made on a form approved by the OWAA Board, which will require that the applicant agree to be bound by certain principles of the organization, including the OWAA Code of Ethics.
Applicants for Active or Associate Member status must be sponsored by an OWAA Active Member. Both the applicant and the sponsor must verify that the applicant qualifies for the membership sought. Headquarters may be able to recruit sponsors for those desiring to apply and lacking a sponsor. An application for Student Member status must be signed by a teacher or educational advisor of the applicant.
All members must continue to meet membership criteria while in OWAA and may be subject to periodic credential reviews.
OWAA individual membership is intended to improve the personal and professional skills of our members. Individual membership should not be used to promote products, agencies, organizations or businesses.
Professionals working in the following areas qualify for OWAA membership. Other professionals may apply; consult headquarters with any questions.
Newspaper or Magazine writer, columnist, editor, designer or staff member: Works in one of these capacities for print or online publications.
Newspaper or Magazine freelancer: Works for print or online publications on a contract basis.
Photographer/Videographer: Works for magazines, E-zines or other outdoor-related publications.
Illustrator, Cartoonist or Artist: Published in any medium.
Film Editor, Scriptwriter, Director or Producer: Works in one of these capacities on a full-length film or video.
Broadcast Scriptwriter, Editor, Photographer, Director or Producer: Works on television or aired video or audio production in one of these capacities. Guest appearances do not qualify, but guest-hosting does apply.
Book Author, Editor, Designer or Producer: Works on a published book in any of these capacities.
Lecturer/Educator/Instructor/Nature Interpreter: Works in any of these capacities.
Full-Time Employee of Nonprofit Conservation or Recreation Agency: Public relations, publications and public information staff, and others who disseminate outdoor or recreational information.
Employee of Outdoor-Related Industries, Agencies, Associations or Organizations: Public relations and marketing staff.
You can read more about The Outdoor Writers Association of America Here
Pronghorn can provide an almost endless parade of entertainment for the perpetual watcher of wildlife, and I am always a most captive audience.
The most common sighting of an antelope for most people is that of an animal running away at an almost unbelievable speed, or perhaps just a view of their ears and head as they watch you from a long, long distance, before turning to leave.
Setting up in a blind near a water hole is a sure way to gain some close encounters of an animal not so easily observed. With luck you’ve already put in some blind time yourself, and if not, I hope that you will get to do so soon. You will not be disappointed.
With that in mind, here are just a few images from my August bowhunting adventure in Northern Colorado.
And yes, I did get my buck…but that, is another story!
A fine pair of Mule Deer bookends, taken near my ground blind while on a bowhunt for Pronghorn Antelope in Northern Colorado.
“From that day on I have been a lover of mule deer…They were my first love and still remain my strongest…Somehow he sight of an old mule deer buck, head high, antlers lying along his broad back, returns me definitely to my childhood and the day I first felt the mystery of wild game and wild country”.
Jack O’Connor, Game in the Desert, Revisited, 1977