Tuesday, February 14, 2012

BIG CATS ON THE PROWL IN TEXAS

Three years ago, on a Christmas vacation to the Big Bend area, whilst we were relaxing in the Fort Davis State Park, we spied a very young and small mountain lion walking through one of the camping areas, in as relaxed of a mood as it could be. Sauntering, as if it owned the place. Which, knowing that where there is a baby of nearly any mammel species that there is likely a momma nearby, I gathered the family into the SUV and caught a peep of the momma in some brush as she watched her young spawn. We left that area pretty quickly.

Over the past few years, as perusing news articles will tell you, there has been an increase in sightings of mountain lions and bobcats and perhaps other types of non-domesticated cats in Texas. As the articles say, whether this means an increased number of these critters or that due to drought, water and food shortages they are just making themselves more public is anyones guess. We've also had hog and deer population explosions throughout many areas in Texas. Although deer don't attack, the larger numbers have led to many auto-animal collisions as deer seek forage near roads in near more populated areas as the drought and as overcrowding of their species mandates.

Again, on that same trip to the Big Bend, we hung out in Alpine, Texas, one of our favorite Texas towns to visit. At sundown, hundreds of deer descended from the nearby mountains to invade the front yards and the city golfcourse. Although deer are very cool animals, they become pesky like a rodent infestation in certain parts of Texas. At about that same time, I was watching a friend's cabin that was located near the town of Blanco, north of San Antonio, Texas. My friend Billy Ray and I had to take a night time roadtrip from nearby San Marcos, Texas to the area south of Blanco known as Twin Sisters, which refers to two mountains/hills located in that area.

The route we took was Ranch Road 12 (RR 12), and I actually slowed to less than 30 miles per hour upon much of that trip because foraging deer were EVERYWHERE on the roadsides, leaping hither and yon as the car lights approached. Never mind that I had one of those ultrasonic deer whistles on the front of my SUV, which is supposed to deter and make deer go away when they hear it. It seemed to have little or no effect on the deer we encountered that night. Folks were angrily passing us quite frequently but I was not going to speed through such an area with so much roadside deer activity. I've had a friend whose F 150 truck was broadsided by a large fast moving deer some years ago in Fort Bend County and his truck was actually knocked over onto it's side by this deer. And the truck was totaled out by the insurance company from the damages to the frame where the buck struck the truck.

Recently, in a part of central Texas ravaged by wildfire, a friend of a friend was guarding his home from vandals and looters. The home, and in fact the entire sprawling subdivision in which it was located was out of power, since the power lines had been burned by said fire. This is a very hilly subdivision, replete with many ravines and hills and has many brushy and wild areas. Firefighters had been all around that area, dousing homes that had not burned and fighting the fires that raged, which resulted in some large puddles in certain areas.

At the friend of the friends home, there was a huge puddle on the back portion of the several acre spread he lived on, with wilderness coming right up into the lot. As this fellow sat there with his AR-15, a campfire and some auxilary lighting provided by the small generator he had, he spied a very large mountain lion creeping up to the edge of the brushline. He said the lion was side-eyeing him as the lion approached the large puddle of water, as if to say that "hey, I've lived through this dang fire and I'm just here for something to drink.". The lion drank for a long while from the puddle, and when finished again crept away back into the woods, still side-eyeing the man as if to say "Thanks for letting me get a drink." He said the cat was clearly aware of his presence, and he was drawn down with his rifle attached laser on the creature during the entire event, but the cat never attempted to approach him.

Last week, the newspapers had the story of an Austin area boy, six years old, snatched from his parents in the Big Bend National Park. Walking hand in hand with his parents, the unusal thing about this attack was that it occurred at the park's lodge. The family was returning to the lodge from the adjacent restaurant when the cat lept onto the boy and grabbed him from the grasp of his parents and drug him into some nearby bushes.

Fortunately, the parents were not weeping willows and the father jumped into the attack and began punching the lion while the mom held onto the cat's hind legs. They described the cat as thin and sickly looking. Finally, the news reports indicate the father got his pocketknife out and began stabbing the critter, which convinced him to move on. It's unfortunate dad didn't have some sort of handgun present, as this would've instantly solved the problem. Fortunately, although injured pretty badly, the young man is apparently  recovering as I write this.

Mountain lions and even black bears reside in the Big Bend area. Mountain lion sightings are really not unusual for that area, but they mostly occur in areas of the park that are not regularly occupied by humans, mostly happening at remote sights and trails as far as I know. 

Today, I saw in the news where a large gray cat was spotted in Chambers county, which borders the bays that feed ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico and is located to the east of Houston, Texas. Several huge wildlife preserves are located in this county as well. This cat was spotted by several folks, including the mayor of Beach City, Texas according to news accounts. Mayor Billy Combs described it as bigger than a coyote, and gray in color. Although I was aware that Texas has it's fair share of big cats of several varieties, until today I was not aware that these cats resided in coastal areas.

For those unfamiliar with the coastal areas of Texas, the bay areas are often populated by gators, rattlers, various species of hogs, copperheads, water moccasins and other creatures who bode ill for the unaware sportsman or tourist. On more than one occasion, I've seen beachgoers rapidly fleeing sand dune areas near the beach, where these folks decided to go when nature calls, because they stumbled onto a rattler or rattlers.

One time about 12 years ago, whilst driving the family jeep down some trails that wound through sand dunes just off the beach at Matagorda Island, Texas, Mrs. El Fisho and I (actually it was I, because I was driving that day), acccidently took a corner too quickly and the back end of the jeep slid or rather slammed into the side of a sand dune, collapsing the dune and revealing what can only be described as a "nest" of rattlers. We were lucky we had the top up and closed, otherwise a few of the snakes were positioned at a height where they could have fallen into the back of the jeep.

Talk about a scene that reminds of the movie Snakes on a Plane. Yikes!

I'd heard of "nests of snakes" all my life, but had never actually seen one until that day. Unfortunately, I didn't have a shotgun with me because the natural instinct I had was to start shooting into that writhing nest with birdshot until it moved no more. After that, I reflected on the tens if not hundreds of times over the years I had traversed dunes and other coastal areas in snakey territory and upon how lucky I was that I had not stumbled into a nest of rattlers during some of these journeys to either heed nature's call or to get to areas I wanted to fish.

I don't go walking in the dunes anymore. And that cured Ms. El Fisho of wanting to buy a beachhouse in Matagorda.

I'll wrap up with another wild cat sighting from my formative years. When I was about 12 years old, we were up at the family place, fairly deep in the woods of East Texas. Our property was divided by a year round, twenty foot wide and twelve foot deep creek, and we had a large amount of frontage on that creek. Needless to say, as the only live water in that area, it daily attracted a wide variety of critters, both seeking water and some seeking those critters who came there for the water. Big snakes of several poisonous variety were in abundance, as were hogs and deer and possums and raccoons and nutria and turtles and all sorts of animals.

My dad standardly carried one of his .38 Special revolvers with him as we traversed or worked on the property. There was a large four bedroom, two story cabin on the easily accesible side of the creek, and as with most cabins, there was always something that needed repairing. The cabin, indeed the whole property of about 45 acres, was comprised of many huge pine, pecan, magnolia and oak trees. Really tall and big old growth trees.

Those trees that lined the creek tended to be tall, and formed a canopy over the creek. One day, when working with our hired handyman Charlie repairing the tin roof on the cabin, some kind of mouse or rat was stirred up out of the attic and onto the roof by their hammering. As the handyman took aim at the rodent with his Ruger .22, what was described by my father as a very large bobcat lept down from the canopy of trees onto the roof in pursuit of the rodent. Apparently, the cat had been poised somewhere in the tree canopy for at least a little while, which after the fact gave my father pause to think as to how long the bobcat had been watching him and Charlie and whether the bobcat thought they were meal size or not.

The arrival of the bobcat onto the roof spooked my dad, but not so much that he couldn't draw and fire a shot at it before it again lept away into the canopy of trees. Likewise, Charlie got off several shots. One of the shots did hit home, as there was a blood trail across the roof, but beyond that they didn't know who hit it or where it was hit or what happened to the bobcat.

Before we went back out to the land, my dad acquired a Ruger Blackhawk in .41 magnum with a 7 and 1/2 inch barrel. He was determined that the next time a bobcat was in his vicinity that he was gonna make sure his bullet did what it was supposed to do. Over the next few years, in addition to accounting for dozens of dead water moccasins and copperheads, he took out two bobcats that dared come into his comfort zone. He called that Ruger his "Bobcat Medicine".

Every now and then, Mother Nature reminds that it is she who makes the rules and that those who don't abide her with caution can deal with the sometimes fatal results that spring forth. And as the attack last week in Big Bend shows, it's not just hunters, hikers, fisherman and other wilderness trekkers that tempt fate by virtue of their activities, but regular folks just walking from a restaurant to the motel at a National Park are not immune from attack.

EDIT: Mike Leggett, the sports columnist for the Austin American Statesman, ran this commentary today. I'll note that, although he hasn't responded to my email suggesting that soaking in the Hot Tub at the Big Bend National Park be added to his bucket list of x number of things a Texan needs to do before they die, I enjoy his writing and outdoor columnists are few and far between with in the struggling newspaper business. Nonetheless, great minds think alike. LOL.

1 comment:

  1. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, great job!

    ReplyDelete