Last week, a young hunter perched in his deer stand near Nashwauk got the story of a lifetime without even firing a shot.
Here’s the description from an article by Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
I wasn’t there, but I know this: Jordan Bowen saw a big wildcat try to attack a deer.
The deer escaped, and the cat bounded up a tree. Way up, especially for such a big cat. Then it started snarling and howling and went down the tree. Then it got into a brief fight with another big cat.
And Jordan, a 16-year-old from Rush City, got to see it all from his deer stand.
A kid could do worse than that on a day in the woods.
What’s not clear, however, is whether Bowen saw two cougars, he and his family’s assertion, or whether the he saw bobcats, the conclusion of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Now before I continue with the details of this controversy, know this.
Every back woods roustabout, Good Time Charlie, and wily rustic sage this side of the Dakota border has a story about a cougar, also known as a mountain lion. They saw one on a trail cam. They dodged one on the highway. Walked out back to take a leak and there it was, big as life!
And near every DNR big cat expert has a response. No, they didn’t.
YES THEY DID YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW!!!
The identification of cougars remains a touchy subject for Northern Minnesotans. Cougars are rare here, but do appear once in a while. No one has documented a breeding pair in Minnesota since the days of tall masted ships on Lake Superior. And yet, the DNR seems to have an almost pathological aversion to admitting that the large predators might be moving closer to the state’s North Woods.
The seeds of this conflict may be found in the Minnesota DNR’s original 1878 motto, “Quidquid est, fringilla non cougar.” (English: “Whatever it is, it’s not a cougar.”)
So, we return to Orrick’s story of Bowen’s big cat sighting and the response of the DNR.
After Bowen reported his story last week, Orrick talked to DNR large carnivore specialist Dan Stark. Stark came up with the idea to bring a large cardboard cutout of a mountain lion to compare to the picture Bowen took of one of the cats.
Stark concluded that the cat in the picture looked smaller than the cutout photographed in the same tree. (See for yourself).
However, like a dicey pre-election poll, there are problems with the methodology. Stark put the faux cat in a lower branch, a few feel below where the real cat was seen. So there’s an optical illusion at play that makes one wonder what the picture would look like if the cutout was placed where the cat actually stood.
The Bowens swear up and down the cats were larger than a bobcat. They even allege some sort of cougar denial conspiracy at the DNR. Meanwhile, wildlife biologists say that bobcats are deceptively big, often faking out those who see them.
The big cat question remains. Cougar or bobcat? Decide for yourself. Just be sure you’re confident before you lock in your feline answer.