Nevada man faces jail for killing cougar

Man could face year in prison for killing mountain lion

By By Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer,

Jack McCormick told a judge Friday he shot a mountain lion that had charged him in the Painted Rock section of Storey County last January. Nevada Department of Wildlife officials have another story.

Ed Lyngar, public information officer for the law enforcement division of the department of wildlife, said what really happened was McCormick and two associates, Rodney Bruns and Darrell Mueller, were legally trapping in the north Virginia Range near Painted Rock when they found a mountain lion caught in one of McCormick’s traps, and McCormick then shot it.

Lyngar said after McCormick shot the animal he sent Mueller and Bruns to Reno to purchase a tag to hunt the animal, so he could keep the pelt. The lion was brought to the Department of Wildlife on Jan. 29, and the arrests were made several months later after an investigation.

“You can’t trap a lion and shoot it,” Lyngar said, adding that the animal’s paw clearly showed it had been injured in a trap. “This is not at all being threatened by the animal.”

McCormick pleaded guilty Friday to the gross misdemeanor of conspiracy to commit unlawful killing of a game animal for the Jan. 26 incident. He could face a year in jail for the offense at his sentencing Nov. 21.

McCormick told Judge Bill Maddox after his guilty plea that he was trapping legally and “wound up having to shoot a mountain lion. I took it to town and I did not have a tag, so I purchased a tag for it.”

“I walked down and the mountain lion jumped out of a bush at me and I just shot him,” McCormick said. “I did go and get the tag, and I’m willing to take responsibility.

Bruns pleaded guilty earlier in the year to two misdemeanors: transportation of a game animal and unlawful hindering of a game warden, and was fined $632 for each count as well as a $500 civil penalty.

Mueller also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor unlawful hindering of a game warden and was fined $632 and a $500 civil penalty.

Lyngar said if the mountain lion had jumped out of a bush at McCormick he would have been legally justified in shooting it and would have faced no penalty, but the investigation showed the animal was shot while in a trap.

Lyngar said it was not unusual to catch a mountain lion in a trap, but since they are considered a big game animal, it is not legal to kill it and keep or sell the hide, even though mountain lion hunting is legal in Nevada.

“You don’t take them that way,” Lyngar said. “Trappers do run into this once in a while. It’s the same if you trap a deer or elk, you can’t shoot them. That’s not how these big game animals are taken.”

He said when a mountain lion is caught in a trap, the trapper must contact the Department of Wildlife and a wildlife expert will come out, tranquilize the animal and release it.

To get a tag to hunt mountain lions is not difficult, he said. They are available online at www.ndow.org or over the counter at any Department of Wildlife office, or licensed dealer, for $29. The season is year round, with statistics gathered Feb. 28 of each year.

But successfully bagging a mountain lion is another story.

According to Kevin Lansford, department of wildlife predator biologist staff specialist, there are probably 2,500 lions in the state, about 1,900 tags were sold and only 189 mountain lions were taken last year.

“The success ratio is low for tags sold to how many get harvested,” he said. “People buy tags in hopes of seeing one. The best way is to have hounds, and if you don’t have hounds you have to hire someone who has them.”

Though they aren’t sure exactly how many lions live in the area, the difficulty in killing them eases any concern about harvesting too many, he said.

He said mountain lions are elusive animals, and you can’t go out in a helicopter and count them like deer or elk or wild horses.

The state uses studies, the number of animals harvested and other data to create a formula to estimate the numbers.

“We use old lion studies that have been done in Nevada and elsewhere, and use a population model which extrapolates data from harvest to give us an age structure. Since we’ve been collecting it for 30 years, we have good comparative data.”

He said about 1,600 of the 2,500 lions in the state are over a year old.

Lyngar said hunters often sell the hide, which generally goes for about $225.

“The value of the hide isn’t that much, and a lot of people pay up to $5,000 for guided hunts to go hunt the lion with dogs,” he said. “It’s a completely different kind of hunting.”

* Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1351.

http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20080924/NEWS/809239948/1070&ParentProfile=1058&title=Man%20could%20face%20year%20in%20prison%20for%20%20killing%20mountain%20lion

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