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PHOTO The case of the deer-stealing cougar

Some hunters would shoot a mountain lion on sight.

But not Dan Kreitman.

He had the chance, too, while deer hunting on a ranch in the Pine Ridge of northwest Nebraska. Had he shot the big cat, most people likely would say he had just cause.

After all, the cougar stole Kreitman’s deer.

Dan Kreitman’s trail camera captures a mountain lion feeding on a whitetail buck Kreitman killed in northwest Nebraska. (Courtesy photo)

The 61-year-old Ceresco man, who owns a dental laboratory in Lincoln, was hunting in a tree stand with his wife, Patty, on Nov. 19, 2009, in Dawes County. It was late in the afternoon when he shot at a nice whitetail buck, which ran out of sight.

Kreitman tracked the deer to the edge of a bluff, which led to a nearly vertical drop to a canyon below.

“I couldn’t imagine the deer was going off that bluff, but that’s what it did,” he said.

So Kreitman carefully made his way down to the canyon. He found his deer, but so had a mountain lion.

The deer was still alive, but the cat had brought it down. Kreitman is no expert on animal behavior, but he interpreted the cougar’s posture as “possessive/defensive.”

“It waved its claws at me and snarled,” he said.

So Kreitman raised his .300-caliber Winchester and fired — a warning shot. The big cat took off. Kreitman fired again to dispatch the deer.

But now he had a quandary. The deer was in a deep canyon and it was nearly dark. Concerned for his safety, he decided to climb out.

The next morning he returned and found the cat had dragged the deer about 100 feet, fed on one hindquarter and partially buried the carcass. Kreitman set up a trail camera and left.

The trail camera captured multiple images of the cougar returning to its cache. Clearly, the cat wasn’t bothered by guilt.

In subsequent days, Kreitman took a young grandson turkey hunting on several other ranches in the area. During their hunts, they saw two other mountain lions.

Big cats were thought to have vanished from the state in the early 1900s. But they have gradually returned over the last 20 years. Since 1991, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has confirmed 124 cougar sightings in the state, mostly in the Pine Ridge.

Of course, many mountain lion encounters with humans end with a dead mountain lion.

“I could have shot it, but I had no desire,” he said.

Kreitman has hunted in cougar country in other states, so having the big cats back in Nebraska doesn’t bother him. In fact, he likes them.

While he takes no special precautions when hunting in the Pine Ridge, he has given Patty a canister of pepper spray to use as puma repellant.

Before he shoots another deer in the Pine Ridge, maybe he better make sure he’s the only one hunting it.

Reach Joe Duggan at 402-473-7239 or jduggan@journalstar.com.

bigcatrescue.org

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