The tree-stand was located in a multiforked oak tree about 30 yards from the pond. The opening day of archery season would most likely be the best chance to arrow a nice buck. It doesn’t take long after the first disturbance before the bucks shy away and only does continue to drink at the water’s edge by daylight.
Rob, my brother and hunting partner, sat in the stand as a four-point buck cautiously approached the pond and began to drink. As he ranged the distance to the buck, Rob was surprised that it took the buck so long to drink his fill. The buck’s antlers were unusual, as four by four bucks are rare in the hills of the East Bay where Columbia black-tailed deer live short lives in habitat limited in size and quality.
The buck stood at fifty yards – a longer shot than Rob wanted to take. He waited to see if the buck would move closer to the stand. Unfortunately, the buck simply reversed his path and exited the same way he arrived. Rob hoped the buck would return another night, but it did not. The buck remained unseen for the rest of the archery and rifle deer seasons.
As the last weekend of the rifle deer season descended upon us, neither Rob nor I had bagged a buck. I was on our ATV driving slowly along our canyon road, checking culverts on my way to pick up a guest, who was still-hunting the road ahead of me in one last attempt to find a buck.
A mountain lion appeared in the road ahead of me at 20 yards – a very large cat, as large as any I’ve seen. He saundered across the road in front of me, fully aware of my closeness, but seemingly unimpressed. Off the road and into a narrow wash he passed – still very close.
He was so close I could not only see him, but also feel his arrogance. If this event had taken place in almost any other western state, I might have had a permit to shoot this lion, but all mountain lions are protected in California.
He showed distain for me and I didn’t like him either. It would have been so easy to grab my rifle and shoot. He’s eating our deer, I thought to myself.
He stood motionless in that crevice for maybe a minute, took two more steps and then vanished. The interaction had been a special event. He was a magnificent animal, a symbol of wildness and I had been fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with such an elusive creature at close range.
The season passed without further ado. Rob returned to the ranch a week later to work on the culverts we’d been concerned about. As he passed the pond where he’d seen the buck during archery season, he noticed something floating on the surface – and an antler.
With a rope he removed the buck carcass from the pond. It was the fine four-point he’d hunted for all season. Cougar-inflicted tooth marks on the buck’s neck belied its fate. In Rob’s mind he envisioned the struggle as the lion rode the buck into the pond. In the heat of the rut, the buck must have exposed himself to danger while following a doe in estrus as she drank at the pond.
Most likely the buck had leaped into the pond with the lion on his back. Struggling in the water, life had left the buck before he could discourage the determined cat. But, the lion accomplished only half his mission. The deep water had prevented the cat from enjoying the fruit of his labor, leaving the buck to float while awaiting some other fate.
(Caption: After the cat passed, I photographed his track in the dusty road. It’s not a perfect track and it appears that the rear foot slightly blurred the print where his front foot stepped, not typical practice for a wild feline walking. Maybe he was nervous, but it didn’t show in his eyes.)