A trail camera set up by Courtland resident Caleb Mahin captured this image of a mountain lion last week in Republic County. The camera was set up to shoot in "burst" mode and several pictures only seconds apart were taken of the big cat. It's the fourth documented lion in Kansas in the past three years.
Trail cameras are an outdoor enthusiast's best friend. Most are used by deer hunters but turkey hunters and trappers also use them. They can monitor an area 24/7 and provide valuable information as to the size and frequency of deer using a particular area or what furbearers are passing through.
They're often set on trails, scrapes or bait piles to get pictures before and during a particular season. While most pictures are of deer or expected animals, every once in a while something else shows up. Such was the case recently as two trail cams captured images of not-so-common critters in our state.
The first trail cam added another chapter to a decades-old on-going saga: Does Kansas have mountain lions or not? That question has been sufficiently answered with three confirmed cougars within our confines in the last three years. And a trail camera in Republic County snapped a few photos last week of yet another big cat.
"I bought my first trail camera two years ago," said 25-year-old Courtland resident and deer hunter Caleb Mahin. "I've got two now and I basically use them for scouting and I like to see what is out there."
Mahin had images of bobcats and he saw those while deer hunting. Redtail hawks have commonly been photographed as have turkeys.
"But there wasn't anything too surprising, especially compared to this," he said.
His camera was on a spot on family land and he picked up the camera last Sunday evening but hunted a different spot. It wasn't until after he got home that he checked the images. He had a hard time believing what he was seeing when the first photo popped up.
"I first looked and looked again, and I yelled to one of my roommates to have him come down and make sure of what I thought I was seeing," he said with a laugh. "It snapped like nine pictures right in a row and it really did look like a mountain lion."
Mahin said many of the locals have said they've seen mountain lions in the past.
"I've never seen one myself but I believe a lot more stories now that I have these pictures," Mahin said.
Employees with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks visited the site last week to look for more signs and possibly some physical evidence for DNA evaluation.
"And they wanted to measure that stump to get an idea of how big the cat was," Mahin said. "They looked for more signs but didn't find any."
Mahin said he plans to look for more evidence of the big cat's presence. He'll also walk a bit faster into and out of this stand site in the future if solo, but he might have a better plan.
"I was joking with my friends that I now need a buddy slower than me to take hunting," he said, laughing.
Another interesting photo surfaced from a trail camera stationed near Hiawatha.
Steve Titus, 36, who lives near Reserve, got a great trail camera photo last week. With the help of his 3-year-old daughter, he put out some food scraps at the edge of a field to see if they could get some photos of furbearers prior to the upcoming trapping season.
"She always goes with me to set them and check them so this is something we decided to try ahead of the season to see if we could see a coyote or other furbearers," Titus said.
But when Titus checked the camera he found something much larger. He posted the picture on www.trapperman.com and asked the question, "Elk or deer?"
The responses were resoundingly, "elk." Although the photo doesn't show the head to determine whether the elk is a cow or bull, there's little doubt it is an elk.
"It's only 400 yards away from my house," Titus joked, wondering how something that big can go undetected.
Titus even checked with a couple neighbors to see if they'd seen an elk in the area and they hadn't. When he showed them the picture they, too, had little doubt it was indeed an elk.
"I just can't believe it," Titus said. "I think the closest elk to here is over at Fort Riley and I've never heard of any around here."
Titus surmises it might be a young bull looking for cows during their rut and wandered far off course. That's a logical explanation and not the first time elk have been encountered in places where elk aren't normally seen.
"It was surprising for sure," Titus said. "It sure looked like an elk."
Marc Murrell can be reached at email@example.com.