Bow hunter Bruce Rucker of El Centro said he was hunting deer in the Laguna Mountains from a makeshift ground blind during the archery-only season when a mountain lion closed to within 20 feet of him.
Citing self-defense and the threat of death at the paws and teeth of the lion, Rucker shot the estimated 130-pound lion with his compound bow and killed it. He said the lion had its eyes fixed on him and its ears were pinned back.
Rucker said he stood up, drew his bow and yelled, “Hey,” in a futile attempt to scare the lion, but it kept moving toward him. So he shot it.
At first, responding state Department of Fish and Game wardens ruled the killing of the lion, a “specially protected mammal” in California since voters passed the Mountain Lion Initiative in 1990, was self-defense.
It is the second lion killed and reported by a bow hunter in San Diego County in the last four years. In April 2007, bow hunter Jonathan Stillman killed a lion, which was wearing a radio collar transmitter, as it stalked and closed on his hunting partner, John Vega, during a turkey hunt. The kill was allowed because the wardens determined Vega’s life was in danger.
But this case turned out much differently for Rucker.
After a review of the forensics, the game wardens, Gary Rasse and Erik Fleet, discovered the lion had a cut on one of its paws.
Rucker initially told the wardens he shot the lion once in the chest. When he was questioned later at his vehicle, he admitted he shot it twice. He said the second shot, which merely grazed one of the lion’s paws, was done to put it out of its misery. The wardens didn’t buy it. They felt he’d changed his story too many times and cited Rucker for illegal take of a mountain lion and obstructing justice.
Reluctantly, Rucker accepted a plea bargain last month in El Cajon Superior Court and paid a $500 fine for what was reduced to the equivalent of a traffic ticket. He’s in the process of getting his bow back that the wardens confiscated.
The wardens never took his hunting license or his A-22 archery tag, but Rucker said he’s done hunting in San Diego County.
Rucker was born and raised in Idaho. The Navy brought him to San Diego in 1983. He’s now fleet manager for the El Centro Sector of the Border Patrol, maintaining the agency’s vehicles. He has never been cited for anything, he said, and has always abided by game laws.
Rucker felt the investigating wardens arrived with an agenda when they reached the Laguna woods. Rasse, the warden who cited Rucker, is standing by his reasons for doing so, saying the forensics didn’t match Rucker’s story and that Rucker didn’t kill the cougar in self-defense.