HAMILTON MONTANA- They say God works in mysterious ways (but I doubt God would have approved this.)
After an eventful day, Geoff and Karen Mahar were just sitting down to a late dinner Saturday evening when their prayers were answered.
That morning, the couple had discovered that one of their sheep had been killed by a mountain lion at their home northwest of Hamilton.
Geoff Mahar followed a 50-foot-long blood trail from his backyard pasture to find the sheep’s carcass buried under some leaves and sticks.
“It was a real obvious lion kill,” Mahar said. “It had teeth marks on the back of its neck and rake marks down its sides. The front shoulder had been eaten away.”
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Lou Royce gave Mahar permission to shoot the mountain lion. A friend showed up with his hounds, but they weren’t able to locate the predator.
Later, a U.S. Wildlife Services trapper set some traps around the carcass. Mahar spent the rest of the day working on a new shed. The day was nearly over when the couple finally sat down for their evening meal at about 8:30 p.m.
“I remembered that I hadn’t asked the blessing,” Mahar said. “I prayed: Lord, it would be a small thing in your sight if we could get this lion thing finished.”
About 10 minutes later, the couple heard a ruckus coming from the front of their home. When they looked out the window, they saw a mountain lion racing up the driveway and leaping over the fence to pounce on their goose not 10 yards from their front door.
“Karen was immediately outside yelling at the lion,” Mahar said. “I told her to get back in the house and I grabbed my gun. All of this was happening in a flash.”
Mahar shot the lion in his front yard.
This wasn’t the first time that a mountain lion has killed domestic animals in the area, but Mahar said it did seem odd that it didn’t show any fear when his wife started yelling at it.
“It didn’t shock me at all to have a sheep killed, but it was disconcerting that the lion wasn’t at all afraid of us,” he said.
Royce said it was unusual for the mountain lion to return so quickly to the Mahar home.
“Typically, you would see them return at night,” Royce said. “Having it come back so soon and kill a goose, it was probably a good thing that Geoff had a chance to get it before it could kill anymore.”
“I think it probably would have kept getting in trouble,” he said.
With the late winter and cold spring, Royce said people who live in the wildland-urban interface should be aware that predators may stick around in the lower elevations a little longer than normal this year.
“Bears are just now starting to come out in force,” he said. “They didn’t have a great summer last year to put on weight and now they’re facing this long cold spring.”
“They’re hungry and there’s not a lot of feed up high yet,” he said. “People really just need to get rid of attractants. Those bird feeders and cat and dog food on the porch attract bears.”
In some cases, people are going to find that bears aren’t going to be afraid of them while feasting on food that’s been left outside.
“It’s not the bear’s fault,” Royce said. “They’re just hungry and they want to get some calories. It’s not their fault that it’s right up against people’s homes.”
Royce also cautions homeowners against using attractants like salt or grain to bring in deer.
“Many times when we have a problem with predators, we’ll find that someone in the neighborhood has been feeding deer,” he said. “I’ve seen 30 deer in a front yard of someone’s home. I understand that people like to see wildlife, but they often don’t realize that it also brings in predators.”
Mahar’s place was not the problem, Royce said.
“He has livestock, but he keeps it cleaned up,” he said. “There are not a bunch of turkeys or deer eating the leftover grain that his livestock wasted, but I’d put money on a bet that within a mile of his home there is someone feeding wildlife.”
Mahar is happy that he doesn’t have to worry about the mountain lion anymore, especially since there are young children residing nearby.
The mountain lion was estimated to be about 3 years old and weighed somewhere between 100 and 130 pounds.
“It couldn’t have worked out better for us, although my wife was pretty upset to lose her goose,” Mahar said. “It was 2 years old. It was a mean old thing, but you still hate to see your animals killed like that. It didn’t have a chance.”
The lion was a powerful animal.
“The wether was big,” Mahar said of the male sheep. “I couldn’t drag that wether five yards. The lion had no problem dragging it 50 feet.”
Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300, Ext. 30, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.