Cougars spotted locally
I’ve had a long interest in cougars, or as they are often called, mountain lion or puma. These animals can reach a total length of five to nine feet, including two to three feet of tail and can weigh from 100 to 200 pounds. They’ve been found to live as long as 12 years. They can jump up to 20 feet in a single bound and prefer to live in mountains, hilly woodlands and southern swamps. Deer make up 80 to 90 percent of their diet. They feed mostly at night, attacking their prey from trees and normally have a range of 25 to 35 miles.
The DNR has long believed that cougars sighted in Minnesota are usually young males being forced out of other male’s hunting grounds from North and South Dakota. Cougar sightings in Minnesota are becoming more common but often cougar reports turn out to be bobcats. It is just very difficult for some to identify cats in low light conditions.
The cougar is making a comeback in the west. Cougars once roamed large portions of North America but with the arrival of people they were hunted and forced out of their habitat to the point where one would rarely see them. There is evidence that they are really doing well with cougar sightings in the Dakotas becoming very common and they are even being seen as far southeast as Iowa.
I’ve heard of cougar sighting in Central Minnesota by various deer hunters on trail cameras, but I’ve not witnessed cougars myself until the past two years. Two years ago, I was traveling south of Pillager on Highway 1 when a young cougar ran in front of my truck across from Camp Ripley. It was not very large, but its tail was long and it was flying. It was about 30 feet in front of me and I thought I was going to hit it, but it got out of the way just in time.
My second sighting was on Highway 64 north of Motley last year. This cat was bigger and it too was very close to getting hit by my truck. The part of the cougar that stands out when it is running is the tail length. It is really long!
This summer the police chief in Motley showed me a photo someone had sent him of a cougar walking, in the daylight, across a lawn in downtown Motley. It was a distant shot but the long tail was very distinctive.
The first known female cougar discovered in Minnesota was hit by a car in 2009 on a road near Bemidji. According to the DNR, that animal weighed 110 pounds. But even with the discovery of a female roaming the state, there still has never been evidence of cougars breeding in Minnesota.
Nevertheless, it would seem that Minnesota is becoming a state with a population of cougars. It’s probably just a matter of time before we see breeding cougars in Minnesota. Better start looking up when walking in the woods.
Ray Gildow, Staples, is the author of “Legends & Legacies, A History of the Nisswa Guides’ League” and is owner of Gildow Guide Service. More information can be found at raygildow.com.