Hungry cougars surprise two Northland hunters
Ted Kline and Ron Smith did what deer hunters are supposed to do -- wait a few minutes before tracking a doe that Smith shot Monday morning near Culver.
But in the 30 minutes from the time Smith, of Lakeville, Minn., took his shot to when they found the downed deer, two hungry cougars had moved in on the kill.
"When we got there they had both been eating on it. We scared them off, but they kept circling us. They didn't want to leave," said Kline, who owns the land where the two were hunting along the Artichoke River, about 25 miles northwest of Duluth.
The hunters called for help so two men could drag the deer out while Kline could keep two hands on his rifle.
"The chunks they tore off that doe were huge. The claw marks were huge," he said, estimating the cougars ate about a third of the usable meat in the few minutes before the hunters arrived.
Photos of the carcass show that the deer's neck, rear leg and intestines were ripped apart. Kline said it appeared the cougars came upon the animal before it died.
Kline said the animals had long tails and were three feet long and definitely weren't wolves, dogs or bobcats.
Kline's wife had reported seeing the cougars cross their driveway, and Kline had seen cougar scat before in the yard.
Cougar sightings are fairly common across northern Minnesota, including by Department of Natural Resources employees and other wildlife personnel. The question is whether the cats are released or escaped pets or part of a small but nomadic population of wild cougars. The closest established population of cougars is in the western Dakotas, although cougars are native to Minnesota.
Kline and Smith reported their story to a DNR conservation officer.
"We probably get 200 cougar reports each year ... but most turn out to be bobcats or house cats or yellow dogs," said John Erb, DNR forest wildlife biologist in Grand Rapids. "We do get confirmation on occasion. We had two confirmed last year, including one near Floodwood ... but they are very, very rare. And for there to be two cougars together in one spot, that would be the first time in Minnesota probably in 75 years."
Cougars are protected in Minnesota and can't be shot, although law enforcement officers have wide leeway in deciding if an animal may be a threat to people.