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Mountain lions


September 06, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

I read in PROBE where those golfers at the Rio Bend Golf Course saw a mountain lion.

They need to be concerned because we have mountain lions here in the Imperial Valley. That woman, the wildlife specialist from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, that PROBE consulted doesn't know what she's talking about.

I saw my first mountain lion at our ranch in Victorville when I was 8 years old. I was crossing the damp, sandy bottom of the Mojave River that ran through our ranch. A dense stand of willows formed a forest 50 yards wide and I was following a cattle trail as I crossed to the other side.

At one point the trail made a 90-degree turn around a large willow bush and as I followed the trail around it I was face to face with a real live mountain lion not six feet away. Obviously this was something I had always dreamed of. Me, with my trusty Winchester Model 61 .22 rifle, ready to take on the ferocious tawny cougar.


It didn't turn out like that. Both of us were startled and jumped back. I screamed, dropped my rifle and ran like hell. As the grown-ups found out later, when we returned to the site to collect my gun, me with a fresh change of underwear, the big cat had taken off in the opposite direction just as fast I had.

My next exposure to a mountain lion was on a deer-hunting trip north of Santa Margarita Lake. We had hiked five miles in to a beaver dam and that's where we set up base camp. That night, after dinner, as we were drifting off to sleep, my Labrador retriever, Teddy, started growling as he lay next to me. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up, but after five minutes everything calmed down and we went to sleep.

The next morning when I walked down to the beaver pond to wash my face, I found big cougar tracks that showed the puma had walked by our campsite the night before. That afternoon, not a 100 yards from the beaver pond, we discovered a half-eaten deer under a pile of brush and leaves. The mountain lion had covered his kill to keep away other predators. Our camp had kept the big cat from returning to feed.

Five years ago, during the winter, my wife, Patti, was going for her morning walk around the alfalfa field by our house before the sun rose. She returned soon after she left, saying she heard a baby screaming. When we drove to the other side of the field where Patti had heard the noise, we found mountain lion tracks in the soft soil beside the road. I had often read about cougars making a similar noise.

Two weeks later, when we irrigated the same field, the irrigator had quite a story for me the next morning. He said a big "gato" with eyes that glowed bright green in the light beam of his lantern lay in the water and watched him all night when he walked out to check the progress of the water. He said he wasn't afraid because he had his shovel and machete. He said he spent all night between water changes sharpening the blade on his machete.

I spotted the cougar numerous times that winter catching wounded snow geese on the federal refuge close by our house. The lion returned every winter for a few years but failed to show last year. My guess is that it followed the San Felipe wash down the hill by Julian, in search of food, during the winter months.

So before all you duffers down by Seeley become puma poop, I need to give you some tips on golfing among cougars.

Don't take young children golfing with you. Mountain lions are drawn to tasty morsels, especially young children.

Play in foursomes. There is safety in numbers but if confronted by a mountain lion do not run. It may simulate the lion's instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact and do all you can to appear larger. Never bend or crouch. It makes you look like a four-legged prey. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.

Since Rio Bend is close to the Mexican border, be sure to try Spanish. If you're not fluent in Spanish, use the Spanish cuss words we all learn in grammar school.

If attacked by a mountain lion, fight back. Don't give up! Try to remain standing and face the lion. My personal choice for self-defense is the Callaway "Big Bertha" driver. With the proper stance and follow through, this club is actually capable of dispatching a cougar.

One final tip. If you expect cougar attacks while golfing, wear shoulder pads and a football helmet. Body armor has shown itself effective in preventing cougars from reaching the vital area at the base of your skull.

Outdoor Tales columnist Al Kalin may be reached by e-mail at

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