T here are moments in your life you cannot unsee.
I wrote about that a few months ago One of those amazing times for me came in 1997.
My friend and hunting show host Keith Warren invited me out to appear on an episode about cougars in Encinal.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) had a radio collaring to track the cats movements in the Lone Star State. We accompanied TPWD biologist Jim Hillje and his team into this large field with matted, waist high grass. He held a radio receiver and when we got about 150 yards into the field it sounded off.
“Beep. Beep. Beep.”
A slow but steady series of beeps according to Hillje revealed the cat was within 500 yards, and the closer we got the faster the beeps would be.
“Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.”
A quicker series came when we crossed over a ravine in the field. I was believed this female had cubs because she had not moved more than a mile in several months, and cougars typically move long distances. The rock crevices in this spot would an ideal spot to raise babies. We did find her tracks here, but she had set up somewhere else.
Coming out of the ravine, the beeps intensified and Hillje asked me the strangest question.
“Chester, do you wade-fish in the bays?”
“Yes sir.“Well, I am sure you shuffle your feet so you do not step on the stingrays.”
“I sure do.”
“Shuffle your feet here. This cat is in that thick grass, and she might not move until we’re right on top of her or step on her,” he said.
I began executing the absolute perfect foot shuffling which in wadefishing allows you to kick the stingray instead of stepping on it. Being hit by a ray would hurt. Getting hit by a cougar might be fatal, so shuffle I did.
The receiver was going crazy beeping, and Hillje said we were within 50 yards. Tensions mounted as the team looked for the cat, which they hoped, would be with her young, not out on the hunt. The goal was to fit them with radio collars that would grow with them for a period of months, then recapture them to put a permanent collar on at adulthood.
“Look there!” Hillje said pointing at a deep hole in the grass.
He poked a large metal rod in there and the classic boat motor-sounding growl of a cougar sounded back. She then jumped out of the hole and stood less than 10 feet away from the six of us. It was a tense moment, but the cat opted to retreat and shot down through a faint trail in the grass.
The team found two cubs in the den and immediately got to work fitting them with collars. I have always felt that baby cougars are the cutest of any animal as they have big ears, beautiful eyes and a gorgeous spotted pattern that they gradually lose growing into adulthood.
We wore thick gloves and wrapped the cubs in burlap sacks to take pictures with them so that we would not get our scent on them. They look darling, as you can in the accompanying photo. The truth is they were vicious little creatures and were trying to rip our faces off.
Beautiful but wild after all.
Around the same time, I brought a cougar of the South American variety on a live television program. They are the smallest of the cougars and at the time Mariah probably weighed 80 pounds. My job was to pet the cat and keep her calm while the owner of the refuge where it lived did the interview.
When we got to the station, the owner said she needed to go to the bathroom and wanted to bring Mariah with her. I handed the leash to her, and she winked at me.
I knew why shortly when a lady came storming out of the bathroom.
“There’s a leopard in the bathroom! There’s a leopard in the bathroom!”
I would have never pulled that prank and to this day never use any of my animals to scare anyone, but I laughed my head off and so did frequent texas fish & game photographer Gerald Burleigh who drove the cat to the taping.
I have written numerous articles on cougars, bobcats, jaguarundis and even jaguars for this publication. I do this because I think it is important that hunters and fishermen need to have a deep understanding of the role these creatures play in the environment.
I do a lot of outreach to non-hunters, and it is never the deer, turkeys or largemouth bass that grab their attention. It’s the cats, coyotes and rattlesnakes that instill in them a sense of awe. Many of these people will never buy a hunting license but they might support hunting at the ballot box if they have had a positive experience with a hunter who also shows awe of nature.
We should never apologize for what we do, but showing them photos of the prairie dog you blew to tiny pieces will not win us any respect. A true understanding of nature and people can go a long way into keeping this outdoor lifestyle thing we have going.
And that’s one reason I would like to ask if you have any photos of cougars, bobcats, jaguarundis and perhaps even jaguars from your game cameras that you would like to share with our readers.
By far the biggest response to any article we have gotten since I have been involved with this publication was the Texas Lynx article I wrote three yeas ago. People dig the wild cats and love to see photos.
Send your pics to [email protected] and let’s share a bit of Texas wildness with our brothers and sisters.
Email Chester Moore at [email protected]